Soko’s interview : « I always had bigger dreams than to remain a little countryside girl »

Article publié le 6 septembre 2016

Byline : Jessica Michault
Photos : Ren Hang for Antidote Magazine : The Freedom Issue  winter 2016-2017

The actress and singer Soko is about to conquer the world. This fall she has the lead role in two tent pole French films, she is currently working on her third solo album and she is already the muse for brands like Gucci, Chanel and Miu Miu. During a one-on-one exclusive interview, Soko The Cat, talks about how her view of the world changed after the death of her father, why she decided to stop using antidepressants and how her belief in past lives helped her prepare for one of her film roles.

The first thing the artist Soko did when she walked into the Wild and the Moon health food eatery in the heart of the Marais in Paris was apologize for being late. She admitted that the place she was staying at while in town was just down the street, but even though she left with plenty of time to spare, she just kept getting stopped by friends and fans that wanted to say hi.
It’s a phenomenon that she is going to have start allotting more time for in the future, seeing as what little anonymity she still has left is about to disappear. In September, two films she is starring in, “The Stopover” and “The Dancer”, will hit theaters in France back to back. Both movies premiered at the Cannes Film Festival this year and Soko’s work was singled out in the press for her range as a performer.
And it’s true that it would be hard to imagine two characters more diametrically opposite than embodying a modern-day French soldier returning from a tour of duty in Afghanistan and playing the role of the legendary dancer Loie Fuller. But Soko (born Stephanie Sokolinski) is the sort of woman who likes to continually challenge herself and push her creativity as far as it will take her.

A little research proved that Soko has always been driven and determined to create her own destiny. At the tender age of 16 she left her family home in Bordeaux to follow her dream of living in Pairs. There she studied at a number of different acting schools but quickly found that life was her favorite teacher. After a few years acting in a series of small parts in films and television, in 2010 she had her first big break when she was nominated for a César award for Most Promising Actress for her role as Monika in the film “In the Beginning”.
Then in 2012 Soko’s talent as a singer-songwriter came to the fore with the launch of her critically acclaimed debut album “I Thought I was an Alien”. This was quickly followed, that same year, with a star turn in the film Augustine about the 19th-century French neurologist and his most famous patient. Both of these projects revealed a woman who is willing to lay herself bare for her art.

Soko @ IMG Models
Gauche : Robe en mousseline brodée de perles, Redemption. Pull en maille résille, Jean Colonna. Harnais en cuir et choker à strass, Zana Bayne.
Droite : Veste en tweed fantaisie fuschia et canotier en tweed, Chanel. Combinaison en dentelle brodée de sequins, Ingie Paris. Choker, Zana Bayne. Chaussures à plateforme, Ellery.

Réalisation : Yann Weber. Stylisme : Charlotte Toffin. Casting : Beth Dubin. Coiffure: Castillo. Maquillage: Jeffrey Baum.

That being said, Soko, who has just turned 30, still has a childlike enthusiasm about life. Her work in the worlds of music and film, and all the trappings that go with success in those fields, have not left her jaded or wary. Her Instagram feed – @sokothecat – is filled with playful and personal images with captions that feature a “soundtrack” song she thinks best represents the mood of each of her posts.  And she seems determined that people take her as she is. She is unwilling to conform to anyone’s preconceived notions about who she should be or represent.
This also holds true when it comes to her eclectic style of dress. Which has made her a popular new muse for brands like Chanel, Ance, Miu Miu and Gucci, where she has found a kindred spirit in designer Alessandro Michele. She even took over the Gucci Snapchat account during the brand’s cruise 2017 collection presentation at Westminster Abbey in London in June.
When we finally sat down for this interview, it was Soko who started off bombarding me with questions about my life. “I am terrible at interviews because I keep asking questions. I am always more interested in learning about other people than talking about myself,” she explained.

What unfolded next was an almost two-hour-long heart-to-heart talk about everything from the effect the death of her father when she was 5 years old has had on her worldview, and why she decided to stop using antidepressants after three years, to how her belief in past lives helped her prepare for one of her film roles.

Soko @ IMG Models
Chemise en brocard, Prada.

Réalisation : Yann Weber. Stylisme : Charlotte Toffin. Casting : Beth Dubin. Coiffure: Castillo. Maquillage: Jeffrey Baum.

Antidote: Is it true that when you are working on a movie, you completely put your music aside and don’t work on it at all?
I am so crazy with music and when I am around it, I just want to do it and it is so much like “my thing” that when I have to become a character, I have to not be myself. I don’t see my friends. I don’t go out. I don’t play music. I don’t write. I can’t be around instruments. Some people say that I am really “method” but I don’t even know what that means. All I know is that, physically, I just can’t do it, I can’t compartmentalize. I live and breath music, so if I take on a different project, it has to be the most amazing thing ever and it needs to make me the happiest person ever. If I am putting myself to the service of a film, a story, a director, I need to fully commit to that. Its like I exist in two parallel universes. They can’t intersect.

You talk about the project needing to make you happy, but the “Stopover” film is a pretty tough movie.
That film was so hard. I basically said yes to it as soon as I finished my second album. They sent me the script, the part was written for me, and at the time I was living this really sweet life in Venice in California. Everything was laid-back and easy and I just felt I needed to shake things up a bit. I believe in past lives and I believe that some people’s souls are older than others and some people have gone through more than others and that you can have residual effects of those lives in your current life. And I feel like sometimes, inside of me, there is this thing that I don’t understand that like opens up what was shut off and makes me extremely sad in a way that is not explicable for this lifetime. So I was feeling like I had been carrying a lot of weight for things that I don’t know how to explain and so maybe exploring that through a movie like this one, which explores PTSD, would be good for me. Also I really liked the idea of seeing how two women directors would approach this story about two women soldiers who are existing in a male-dominated world and how these two women deal with that environment.

But at the same time as you were working on “Stopover”, you were also in the middle of preparing the other film you presented at Cannes in May, “The Dancer”.  You have been working closely with the director on that project for over 5 years. And once again that role was written for you.
I had like three days off after I wrapped “Stopover” and then I started training for “The Dancer”. It was the most amazing and the hardest thing ever. I was training every day. Two hours of sports and then five hours of dancing to prepare for it. I decided to take on the role even before there was a script because I love Stephanie DiGiusto, the director, and Loie Fuller was just such a fascinating woman. The film is a true portrait of a struggling artist.

I heard that you suggested Lily-Rose Depp to play the role of Isadora Duncan in “The Dancer”.
So Lily was following me on Instagram or something, and we had friends in common and then we finally met and we became instant friends. We had someone else for the part that pulled out at the last minute. And I just thought of Lily and it turns out she is just an amazing actress.

Correct me if I am wrong, but didn’t you start acting even before you got into music?  Didn’t your mom put you into acting classes as a kid?
Well, my dad died when I was five and my mom was suddenly a single mom with four kids and she really wanted us to get out of the house. To think of other things, you know, and to try new things. So I did everything – swimming, horseback riding, dance class, piano lessons and also acting class. And acting was the thing I really liked. I was really terrible at everything else. I couldn’t sing, I couldn’t dance, I was the worst at piano.

Soko @ IMG Models
Gauche : Veste et pantalon en laine assortis, Gucci. Pull à grande maille, Jean Colonna. Choker à strass, Zana Bayne. Bijoux personnels.
Droite : Blouson, Redemption. Robe en coton tartan, Olympia Le Tan. Choker, Zana Bayne. Bijoux personnels.

Réalisation : Yann Weber. Stylisme : Charlotte Toffin. Casting : Beth Dubin. Coiffure: Castillo. Maquillage: Jeffrey Baum.

Then at 16 you left home and moved to Paris. How did that come about?
Well, I was just so sure of what I wanted to do. And I really didn’t get along with my stepdad because I was always made to feel guilty about being different. I always had bigger dreams than to remain a little countryside girl. I wanted more culture and I wanted to have access to things I couldn’t find there. I just always wanted to live in Paris. Also, back then I was already a vegetarian and it was like the biggest sin in my family.

So when did music come into your life?
When I was about 20. I was living in New York and I was staying at a friend’s house and he had a lot of instruments and I was looking at them with so much envy because I wanted to be able to play them. So I went to this little music shop and I asked, “what is the tiniest instrument that you have” and I ended up buying a ukulele. Then I started recording voice memos on my phone of songs I had written and I learned to play on my own, watching Youtube and stuff.

I know you have just started working on your third album. You have said that your first one was kind of depressing and your second one was a very happy album. What sort of headspace are you in for this one?
Kind of like right in the middle. I have been listening to a lot of sad music lately, not because I am sad but because I find it beautiful. I am really touched by it because I love real emotions. I was just on antidepressants for three years, after my film Augustine – that film really fucked me up. I went really deep into that character – you know, she was one of the first known cases of hysteria – so I was internalizing everything. And basically right after we finished the film, I had to go out and promote my first album. And I wasn’t prepared for that. I would like faint in interviews because I didn’t want to talk about myself. I was like “everything I have to say is in the record, just listen to it”. I felt like a fucking whore by going out there and talking about things that I made so clear already in the songs. I felt that they didn’t need more explanations. I just felt really suicidal, so I had to get help.

So you were on antidepressants for three years and now you decided to stop taking them. What changed?
I felt numb. Felt like my highs were less high and my lows were still shitty. I have been off them for about 8 months now and it has been amazing. I feel like I have been listening to music in a different way and approaching life in a different way too. I am just embracing the rollercoaster of life.

In the past you have dated both men and women. How do you react to people who want you to define your sexuality?
Some people still want me to justify myself. Those people who keep asking me if I prefer men or women. But I really just don’t care. I am drawn to who a person is and connecting to someone on a deeper level. I can tell you who I don’t prefer – assholes.

Lets talk a bit about fashion. You definitely have your own style!
Well, I have always dressed kind of weird. And I am super-anal about my closet. It would always be organized in rainbow colors, moving from colors to black. I still do it to this day. I just like colors. I really love red as a color and I also collect vintage tour t-shirts.  For instance, even when I was in high school, I would save up all my pocket money to buy like every kind of colored jeans I wanted. Growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money so it was really extravagant and completely superficial of me to want to be cool and want all these colored pants. I was going to school in this tiny town and everybody had such terrible taste. But I had one friend who was from the city and she would buy her clothes in the city and not the supermarket, like the rest of us, and I wanted to dress like her. So I would do odd jobs to save up money to buy real clothes in real shops in the city. Stores that don’t sell their clothing alongside soups and hammocks and stereos. Right now I am really in love with Gucci. It’s a brand that looks like me. Also Chanel and Ance have also been so wonderful to me.

« And in this industry in particular, I think that men have the comfy seat and women are still on the eject seat »

Getting back to your movies, you seem to be drawn to women directors, both of your new films have female directors. Why do you think that is?
I love women. And they just seem to find me. I don’t seek them out. It just so happened that women like to surround themselves with other strong women. And I am very outspoken about being a feminist. And in this industry in particular, I think that men have the comfy seat and women are still on the eject seat, so they need to fight more. And I like fighters. I like people that have a need to make something happen. Like if they don’t do it they’ll die. I feel like all the women I have been working with are very much like that.

You are also a director. You direct your own music videos. You seem to be willing to try anything.
I like keeping myself busy with fun stuff. I think boredom is death and I don’t want to die yet. So I surround myself with people who are interesting and inspiring and that make me want to be creative.

So bouncing off of that idea of creativity, as this is the freedom issue, when do you feel you are at your most free?
I think I have always refused to be caged. I just always do what feels right to me. I have a hard time projecting myself into the future, so I always try and make everyday the best day ever. Basically, if I can live like a kid and have my child spirit come through, that is when I feel the most free. Like Peter Pan is my favorite character and that is pretty much how I live my life. I like magic and I like feeling like I can do anything I want. I just have to dream it to make it happen.

Well, it seems like you have had, other than the death of your dad, a pretty magical life.
But I think that is what gave me the strength to want to make my life good, because from such an early age I had a real understanding of mortality. It was in my face. So being reminded that you are mortal sort of just makes you want to be the best version of yourself all the time and like sprinkle your life with magic everyday. Because, you know, today might be your last day.

What is magical in your life right now?
Well, I am really excited to work on the new record. So, basically, because I just stopped taking antidepressants, it’s been all about feeling feelings in a really real way – without any kind of filters. Unaltered feelings. Deep feelings. Without wanting to run away from it for once.

Soko @ IMG Models
Gauche : Veste et pantalon en laine assortis, Gucci. Pull à grande maille, Jean Colonna. Choker à strass, Zana Bayne. Bijoux personnels.
Droite :Robe en mousseline brodée de perles, Redemption. Pull en maille résille, Jean Colonna. Harnais en cuir et choker à strass, Zana Bayne.

Réalisation : Yann Weber. Stylisme : Charlotte Toffin. Casting : Beth Dubin. Coiffure: Castillo. Maquillage: Jeffrey Baum.

When will the album be coming out? Do you have it all planned?
Not at all. The thing is I am so not a responsible adult. I am just going to do it when it feels right. I haven’t even started recording yet. Basically, my only goal right now is to make this record. But I know I am going to have to do a lot of promotion for the films when they come out, so I don’t want to put pressure on myself with this album. I am very chill about it.

You have said you like to be by yourself and yet you live with a bunch of people in LA. How does that work?
It just takes me a long time to trust people and really let them in. And those people I let in, I cherish them to the max. But then, in like social situations, where people are getting wasted, because I am sober, it’s not my energy. So in situations like that I get the worst social anxiety. All my alarms go off.

You have said in the press that you like to live in a bubble and that you don’t really pay attention to what is going on in the world. Is that a protection mechanism you have set up for yourself?
I just have so much anxiety, it’s either that I am going to worry about everything and be a maniac about it and never want to leave my house. Or I am going to purposefully not want to know and continue living like a normal person. I can’t live like a normal person if I know about all the fucked up shit that is going on in the world. I would feel like a hypocrite if I did know about what was going on and did nothing about it. So I prefer to not know.

I know you just turned 30 but do you ever see yourself settling down, having kids and all that?
Yes! Ever since I finished “The Dancer” and what that movie is about, I feel like I don’t want to live like “the lonely, doomed artist who is all by herself”. I don’t want that. I very much cherish family and relationships and when I finished the film, I was like “I am going to take six months off and just focus on my personal life and being a good person”. My whole life I have been scared about committing to anything – even an apartment. So I don’t know when the right person is going to show up and make me want to do that, but I am totally into the idea of having a family. I am definitely going to have babies. But I am also considering having kids on my own. It’s something that I have been thinking about a lot. I am the most myself when I am around kids because, you know, there is no filter. So I am really open to whatever comes.  

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