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The sexualization of women in film is nothing new. But when women redirect the narrative, the context is still jarringly new. But if there’s one thing Executive Producer and actor Victoria Lacoste has set out to do so far with her flourishing career, it’s to normalize how we perceive and embrace female sexuality, morality, and power on the silver screen.
Lacoste sits down with us to discuss what she learned from years of being typecast and what she’s doing about it. Not to mention why she chose to play a prostitute for her first feature lead in her self-produced film, Les Indociles (directed by Pascal Arnold).
A recurring theme throughout the projects that your film production company, Edelweiss Productions, takes on is the presence of strong female characters, from dark comedy shorts to music videos. One thing we loved was seeing women play villainous characters that didn’t use sex as a weapon. Was this intentional and can you elaborate on that?
Being pigeon-holed so early in my own acting career made me feel trapped in a paradigm where I felt like it wasn’t safe for me to be sexual, but I was also expected to be exactly that. Back in college, I was cast in multiple sexualized roles, where my characters were often ‘punished’ for their sexual nature, whether by outright killing them or through some kind of physical or mental violation.
It was highly frustrating because as much as I enjoyed exploring my sensual side, I felt like the type of role where that was incorporated also underlined a highly toxic and dangerous societal message. It made me question why many female parts are written to discourage women from exploring their sexual nature through a fatalistic narrative. It made me want to create characters, both for myself and for other women, who are comfortable in their sexuality without that aspect of their personality being their sole defining factor. It is so important to me that roles allow women to be multidimensional.
You yourself have played many characters in your own films, including a serial killer and, in your latest feature, Les Indociles, a prostitute. What is it like to have played such a breadth of characters with such different approaches to sexuality? Do you find aspects of each character within your own experience or in those of women around you?
Absolutely! As an actor, it is a dream to be able to play roles that push the envelope. It has helped me not only understand my own sexuality more, but to also be more open to other women’s point of views. Now that a few months have gone by since filming Les Indociles, I am seeing how transformative of an experience it was.
One thing that really struck me while playing Annabelle, is that you don’t need to be an escort to understand the dynamics that take place between one and her clients. A lot of the themes of the movie are universal and highlight the struggles that men and women face in their approach to relationships and sexuality.
While your female villains have often sidestepped the age-old trope of using sex as power or a means of revenge, your character in Les Indociles is literally an escort. How did you choose this role and how does sexuality come into play here?
I remember being fascinated with sex workers from an early age. My family was incredibly open-minded, but I felt that the area where I grew up was stifling. A developing yearning for self-expression probably informed a lot of my curiosity surrounding the topic. What interested me wasn’t so much the sex itself, but more the power dynamics within the relationship between escort and client.
In Les Indociles, sexuality isn’t actually all that central to the intrigue, despite three of the main characters being escorts. We felt, while writing the script, that it was much more compelling to show the multitude of facets surrounding the profession, rather than to fall into the facility of shock value. Throughout the film, sexuality is always underlying but what really stands out is the humanity and the connection between the characters. In the movie, most of Annabelle’s clients are looking for someone who will listen to them or entertain their fantasies, but most of it comes through talking, rather than through any act of sex.
Can you tell us more about Les Indociles and your character? What made you choose this character in particular? What makes her powerful?
It’s actually pretty difficult to summarize Les Indociles without it being misconstrued. What I can say without giving away too much is that the movie takes place in a clandestine hotel during the first lockdown, where multiple characters find themselves creating a temporary community to keep a semblance of freedom. My character, Annabelle, is a struggling student who decided to be an escort before the pandemic began, not only to pay her bills, but also because she is animated by a deep curiosity. She serves as the link between a great deal of the characters because she is genuinely interested in them and what brought them there. What I think makes her powerful is that she is always looking at the positive side of things, amidst an unstable and unnerving situation. Altogether, she brings much more to the table than her body and is able to deeply touch a lot of the people she interacts with.
This film was also shot in lockdown — which has been considered to be an extremely risky move production-wise in the industry this year, particularly with so much volatility with restrictions. Why did you choose to take the risk? What was the experience like?
I believe that if it wasn’t for the pandemic, we wouldn’t have had the idea to make the movie happen in the first place. Covid has, in a sense, been a blessing in disguise because the frustration of not being able to create was a powerful force behind a decision that I would have otherwise probably waited on, considering it was my first feature, both as an actor and a producer. Pascal Arnold, the director of the movie, came to me a year ago, asking me if I wanted to co-create a story that would take place in a hotel. Having always wanted to play an escort, it felt like the stars were aligned and I immediately said yes. On paper, the odds were seriously against us, but we had a feeling that people would want to be a part of the adventure despite the circumstances. We filmed the whole feature in 12 days at the end of March, which was pretty intense. Luckily, we had an incredible cast and crew, who were all highly motivated. In a sense, I felt like it was an act of defiance to film at all, since a lot of people were naturally skeptical when it came to our ability to film during the third lockdown, let alone to finish the movie.
You recently produced a music video for French Rock Legend and Truffaut Muse, Dani, featuring JoeyStarr (KESTA KESTA). Dani has had an incredibly long, lustrous career, which is actually somewhat unusual in the music industry, and unfortunately, even more unusual for women. What was your experience working with such an established female artist at this later stage in her career?
Having known Dani for a few years, I can attest that this woman is a force to be reckoned with. As cheesy as it might sound, she showed me that age truly is just a number. She has always defied norms throughout her time and carries this immense strength with her, despite the many difficulties she has faced throughout her life and her career. This ‘I don’t give a F’ attitude is so inspiring.
Musing on this, what do you think your career will look like in the later years? What do you expect your biggest challenges to be? And as a woman in the industry? What would be your ideal goal?
I would love to continue to create content that has a unique flair with collaborators who share the same ideas and goals that I do, while simultaneously having an acting career that allows me to be involved in other people’s creative projects. I’m lucky to be in a position where I’m able to choose who I want to work with, and nothing would make me happier than to be able to elevate people who have talent and creativity. Being a woman in a position of power is not something I take lightly, because I think that in some ways it does come with the responsibility of bringing a new perception and viewpoint within the industry. If I could even contribute in the smallest way to changing certain toxic dynamics while bringing new voices to the table, I’d consider it a huge achievement.
What would you consider are the biggest challenges to independent filmmaking in today’s new era?
I believe that one of the biggest challenges is going to keep evolving in an era where we feel simultaneously more free than we ever were before, thanks to all these new mediums and available platforms, while also having never been more policed in our expression. I recently posted a personal film project on Instagram that had some – yet minimal nudity – which got deleted within 24 hours. I wasn’t surprised, but it did remind me that as much as we have greater access to content, we are still behind in our conception of everything that creativity and self-expression encompasses. I truly hope we can manage to shift what is considered ‘acceptable,’ especially when it comes to women’s bodies and sexuality, and that we learn to see a woman’s body not as a threat but as a mode for expression in and of itself.
*film stills from Les Indociles, available next year.