French-born Nora Arnezeder began her career in France at age 15 playing a 1930s-era singer in the 2008 musical feature Paris 36.
Twelve years ago, the actress took the plunge and moved to Los Angeles while simultaneously perfecting her English. Over the years, Arnezeder booked roles in such films as Safe House with Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington and shows like Amazon Prime’s Mozart in the Jungle, while also working in French-language projects.
However, 2021 was the year her American career trajectory took a turn. Arnezeder starred in Zack Snyder’s hit Netflix film Army of the Dead, playing Lily (aka The Coyote), who famously steals the zombie Queen’s severed head and destroys it by dropping it from the roof before meeting her own death. The project was a game-changer. “My manager said, ‘Darling, it put you on the map,’” she said, laughing while doing her best to impersonate her version of a stereotypical L.A. talent rep.
This Friday, Arnezeder takes on her first English-language lead role in the futuristic sci-fi feature film The Colony, playing an astronaut shipwrecked on a barren Earth. She spoke to Casting Networks about the role, and looked back on the career-changing year of 2021 with projects like Army of the Dead, and the upcoming limited streaming series The Offer.
A film’s lead can really make or break a film sometimes, and The Colony is your first time headlining an English-language film. What was your audition like for The Colony?
The audition was about three years ago. I was shooting a show (YouTube Premium’s sci-fi series Origin) in South Africa at the time, so I sent in a tape but didn’t hear back for at least six to seven months. Then my agent called me, and they wanted to fly me to Berlin for a camera test and meet the director, Tim Fehlbaum. So I did, and I got the part.
What did you put on the tape that you submitted?
It was three scenes from the movie. Each time I have an audition, I work a lot on it and fill the character’s background. On this occasion, they sent me the script before, and I filmed the audition in between shooting takes of my show. I had my long blonde hair and didn’t look the part at all. But thankfully, Tim had an imagination and decided to cut my hair short, like a boy, and darken it. All of this was way before Army of the Dead came along, so Tim and the producers took a chance on me. They trusted that I could do the job, and I will always be so grateful to them for that.
Speaking of Army of the Dead, a zombie heist film, what did that audition entail?
My boyfriend held up his iPhone, and I was crawling on the floor, being physical. It was a specific scene in the movie. But I had not read the script. I did some improv to try to be as real as possible. Then I didn’t hear back for a couple of months. When I was in New York, my agent called me and told me I got Army of the Dead. Those moments, where you get that phone call after working so hard on an audition and have it work out, are amazing.
Those moments must be happening more often these days.
As actors, we all do a lot of auditions we don’t get. But auditions are fantastic because it’s real training. You get to see yourself in a role. You get to work on improving yourself by seeing what does and doesn’t work. When I first came to L.A., my first audition was Safe House with Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington. I never thought I would get it. I was quite young, new to the city, and my accent was super thick. People could barely understand what I was saying! [Laughs]
Still, you got the part…
I got the part. After I was like, great, I’m going to get everything now. And I didn’t [laughs]. It was a great lesson from the universe, saying to me, Nora, you’ve got to work hard, and you’ve got to work even harder. You were lucky enough to get this one part, now get to work. So that’s what I did. And that’s what I still do.
What does working hard mean to you?
This job is like being a musician. You have to train every day and hone your skills. Each time I’m on a set on my first day of shooting, I always feel like I’ve never acted before. You have to renew and reinvent yourself, put in the hours, and be humble.
In the upcoming Paramount+ limited streaming series The Offer, you play Chateau Marmont hotel owner Francoise Glazer, who falls in love with Godfather producer Al Ruddy. How did you approach playing a real-life person?
She is no longer alive, so I wasn’t able to meet with her and talk to her. I learned that she was Jewish, hid during the Second World War, and reconnected with her mother after the war was over. She was French and moved to Israel before coming to America. She and her husband bought the Chateau Marmont. She met Al Ruddy, and they fell in love. The story is about Al, and the obstacles he went through to produce The Godfather film, but Francoise was a very interesting character, full of depth. She’s a brunette, so I just dyed my hair for the role.
Maybe you’ll get a lifetime pass to the Marmont after this comes out.
Oh, I hope so! [laughs] That would be great! I love the Marmont!