Soko is weaning herself off antidepressants. “There’re days where I make plans for the whole day and can’t get out of bed. Just cry in bed and be miserable and stay in my pyjamas and order takeout,” she says. “If you hang out with me because I’m this fun little creature, that’s not who I am right now. I could break in seconds.”
Sitting outside a chic coffee shop in Los Angeles, her home for the last eight years, the 30-year-old French-born singer and actor certainly doesn’t look fragile. Wearing a faux fur-collared jacket over mismatched red tartans, scuffed Dr. Martens and her natural dark-chocolate hair, she seems taut and confident, like a fighter who always wins, giving off an air of calm even as her words tumble out in a bubbly stream.
She stares down a saucer of sliced avocado and bowl of spidery, barely-dressed frisée. She ordered a platter of crispy little golden potatoes too, but they weren’t vegan as promised. She’s stuck, then, with this Spartan, stereotypical Los Angeles order, the kind of meal Paleo devotees insist is delicious.
“Model diet! So boring. All I wanted was potatoes for my fat ass to get fatter,” she says in a husky lilt.
Whether she’s tossing off jokes or talking about the suicidal feelings that resulted in an antidepressant prescription, Soko is so frank about, well, everything that you almost feel like you should look away. She first laid bare her soul on the 2007 EP “Not Sokute”, led by cheeky single “I’ll Kill Her”, a dedication to getting rid of the bleach-blonde her crush was dating. Her proper debut, 2012’s I Thought I Was an Alien, was an intimate folk-pop album full of warm, shimmering songs of love, loss and loneliness. Last year, she followed up with My Dreams Dictate My Reality. Before musical acclaim, she already had a busy career as an actress. Nominated in 2009 for the César Award for Most Promising Actress, her voice was in Spike Jonze’s Her, but she really captured critical attention for her title role in the 2012 historical drama Augustine, based on the true story of a kitchen maid examined and treated as an hysteric.
Yet the price of that praise came high. “Augustine really fucked with my head and I felt really suicidal after it,” she says.The experience unleashed emotions she had stuffed down her whole life — growing up in Bordeaux, she lost her father when she was five years old — and the antidepressants served as another avoidance tactic.
“I know there’s a lot of people who hide their emotion through antidepressants, and I really get it. I’m only now feeling strong enough to stop it,” she says. “It started with putting out my first record. It’s so lonely to be a solo artist. Doing all of this for no money because there’s no money in music unless you’re Lady Gaga. Putting your soul and guts out there and thinking, ‘What am I getting out of it?’”
The path to living drug-free started last year. After releasing and touring My Dreams Dictate My Reality, she was signed on to play two very different roles. In Voir Du Pays, directed by Delphine and Muriel Coulin, Soko plays one of two female soldiers who come back from Afghanistan with major PTSD and are sent to three days of decompression therapy before rejoining their families. In Stéphanie Di Giusto’s directorial debut The Dancer, Soko is Loïe Fuller, a modern dancer and teacher who falls in love with her young student Isadora Duncan, played by Lily-Rose Depp.
That she booked such juicy roles back to back is a rarity, particularly so considering a 2014 study by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media found that only 23% of films feature a female protagonist. Even rarer is that she got to work with female directors on both movies. After all, the same study found that France fell behind when it came to female filmmakers. “I love working with women. I have nothing against working with men, but being a strong woman [myself], I feel like other strong women respond a lot more to my energy than male directors, because it’s threatening. That’s why I work with so many women. They find it exciting,” she says.
The experiences were exciting, alright. For Voir Du Pays, her character needed to be closed off and violent, characteristics which bled into her real life. “My personal life always ends up reflecting exactly what’s going on in the film. Before the solider movie, my life felt so good! Once I was in there, I was just like, life sucks!” she says, laughing.
Leaping from a role with masculine energy (“I had a lesbian- looking haircut and I looked tough and heavy. No makeup or hair in the film”) to one with such feminine energy was drastic, and required just as much physical training. She danced for seven hours a day and ran another two. The Dancer turned her love life upside down too: she left her live-in girlfriend for a man. “I never work with an acting coach but I should’ve. I get so lost in the movies,” she says.
Still,she turned 30 during filming of The Dancer and calls the movie her “best birthday present.” Whether it was the milestone date, the film or a combination of both, her life was shaken up for the better. For the past 10 years, she’s zipped from city to city without a home of her own, alighting on a friend’s couch here for a month, a hotel there for a week. Now, all she really wants to do is nest.
“Being unsettled is becoming boring to me. It’s totally flipped since I turned 30. Before I was like, ‘Yeah! All over the place, my life is so exciting!’ Now, the minute I can chill and be home I’m like, ‘Hey! I just made a vegan cake!’” she says, chuckling.
Don’t get it twisted, though. Just because she’s building more stability into her life doesn’t mean her creativity will become static. She wrapped shooting on The Dancer a month ago and within two days, she had recorded two songs with her brother in his bedroom. It may hurt, but the upside to change is that it often sparks creative growth.
“I want to reconnect to my real emotions and deal with whatever is causing me all this anxiety. I don’t want to live a life of lies, where I pretend everything is okay and I’m not in touch with myself. This is 30. Learning patience and self-care,” she says.
She pauses and grins.“Plus, I’ve been writing a shit-tonne of songs.”