Before the exotic-looking, French-accented Algerian actress Sofia Boutella gave a new meaning to scissor kicks, as the blade-footed henchwoman Gazelle in “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” she had acted in only one other film: The musical comedy “Le Defi,” in which she played a competitive dancer. Before that she was a professional dancer, eventually climbing so far up the performance ladder, she became a member of Madonna’s touring group. Boutella, now 36, and a longtime resident of Los Angeles, started dancing professionally at 16, caught the acting bug when she was 17, and spent a number of years doing both, before acting finally won out. Now retired from professional dancing, she’s also had major parts in “Star Trek: Beyond” and “Atomic Blonde,” as well as the title role of “The Mummy.” Her newest part is Nice (pronounced like the French city), a mysterious assassin on a special mission in “Hotel Artemis,” where she once again gets to display her athletic, dance-based, and lethal prowess in some very cool fight scenes. She also plays opposite Jodie Foster in it. She spoke about her career by phone from L.A.
Q: Was it a tough decision to choose acting over dancing?
A: I was dancing professionally when I turned up randomly to audition for “Le Defi.” I ended up getting the part, and that’s what made me fall in love with acting. I immediately started taking (acting) classes in Paris and then in New York. I knew that I had to make up my mind whether I would keep dancing or do acting or do both, then one morning I woke up and I just totally wanted to act. From that point on it took two years to make a paycheck and to get a job. During that time, I refused to take any dance jobs so I wouldn’t be all over the place.
Q: You made “Le Defi” in 2002, but it wasn’t till 2014 that you were in “Kingsman.” How did you get that part?
A: My agent, who was really supportive and patient, kept telling me it could take a day, it could take a year, it could take two years. But “Kingsman” happened very quickly. I read the script, then I went and auditioned, and the next day they told me (director) Matthew Vaughn really wanted to see me. So, I went to London, and they told me I had to read, and that I might have to stay for five months, but also that I might go back the next day if things didn’t go well. But I booked the part, and that changed the course of everything.
Q: What were your first thoughts when you saw what Gazelle was going to look like on the screen?
A: I thought, “How cool is that!”
Q: What led to you getting the part in “Hotel Artemis?”
A: I was in London filming “The Mummy,” and my agent sent me the script. I read it and fell in love with it because it was such witty, clever writing. I also loved the world, the universe, the whole mood of it, which I could feel on the page. I had a Skype with (writer-director) Drew Pearce, which I thought was lovely, then later on I heard that Jodie Foster was going to play the nurse in it and I thought, “She’s perfect for the part.” I was hoping the opportunity would come around and that they would reach out to me, and luckily they did.
Q: In most of the films you’ve been in so far, you’ve done amazing action and fight scenes. What sorts of training did you do for those?
A: My dance background certainly helps. But I had to learn everything on “Kingsman” because I don’t come from any fight training or from the stunt world. I had to learn boxing and taekwondo. That’s the beauty of being an actress. You start to just dive into certain characters and you get to learn things for those characters very quickly. And I appreciate that very much.
Q: You’re always wearing stunning outfits in your films, most notably the slinky red dress in “Hotel Artemis.” Have you gotten to keep any of them?
A: (Laughs) Unfortunately not, but I would have loved to. I loved that dress. It was specially designed for the character to be very elegant and feminine, but also to serve the fight scenes. It’s beautiful how it flows.
Q: Your next film, “Climax” just got picked up for distribution. Can you reveal anything about your character?
A: I play Selva, a choreographer who gathers a bunch of dancers from around the world in order to go on a dance tour. But the audience doesn’t get to know too much about it. It takes place over the course of only a few hours, and a lot events unfold. It’s quite a ride. I haven’t danced in five years, but I do dance in this movie.
Q: Did it come easily to you?
A: In my brain I could do all the moves, but the reality caught up very quickly (laughs). But it was a lot of fun.
“Hotel Artemis” opens on June 8.
— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.