The Bond girls – youth and experience meet in Monica Belluci and Léa Seydoux

The Spectre stars have 20 years in age between them, but both boast plenty of previous screen credits.

Monica Bellucci stars opposite Craig as an assassin’s widow. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios /Columbia Pictures
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"I think actresses want to do James Bond because they know in some way [it] makes them iconic," says Monica Bellucci. One of the stars of new 007 movie, Spectre, the Italian actress is not wrong – though it's not always been the case.

The so-called "curse of the Bond girl" has seen plenty of actresses fall by the wayside. Take Bérénice Marlohe, who played the female lead in Skyfall. The French actress has been missing in action ever since.

For Bellucci and her fellow Spectre Bond girl, Léa Seydoux, it's different. Both already have impressive credits in western cinema. Bellucci's include The Matrix Reloaded, Terry Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm and Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.

The Parisian-born Seydoux has worked with Woody Allen (Midnight In Paris), Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds) and co-starred with Tom Cruise (Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol).

Even so, Bond means something to an actress, even experienced ones. “For me, it’s my biggest part in an English film. And it’s James Bond – I mean, it’s so famous,” says Seydoux. “I was quite afraid, I have to say.” So much so that the 30-year-old had to take a drink before the audition to relax. Not a good idea as it turned out. “It was terrible! I had a panic attack. I was like, ‘I’m so sorry! I forgot my lines!’”

Fortunately, she didn’t blow it. Yet, cast as the elegant Dr Madeleine Swann, a key link for Daniel Craig’s 007 to uncover the film’s titular terror organisation, Seydoux was particularly fearful of taking on the role opposite the buff Bond. “I have to say, acting with Daniel, I was like, ‘I don’t know. He looks like a man. And me, I feel like a little girl. An ingénue. How it’s going to look? I hope the chemistry will work.’”

Curiously, Seydoux's explicit on-screen role in the Cannes-winning drama Blue Is The Warmest Colour wasn't enough to convince her that she could play the part. "My characters are always kind of tortured," she says. "They don't have a very obvious femininity. It was, I think, the first time I really played a woman. When I saw some footage of the film, I didn't recognise myself. I was going, 'Ah. I'm a woman.' I look like a woman."

Bellucci, 51, has no problem with that. Playing Lucia, widowed after Bond takes down her assassin husband in the film’s spectacular Mexico City-set opening sequence, she is officially the oldest actress to play one of Bond’s conquests.

Just don’t call her a “Bond girl”, she says. “I’ve always tried to think of a name for this lady, you know. That’s why I try to say ‘James Bond lady’ because of course I’m not a James Bond girl.”

First considered for a role in a Bond movie almost 20 years ago when Pierce Brosnan was playing 007, Bellucci credits Spectre director Sam Mendes for the contrasting women Bond meets here. "He's created two different lovers for James Bond. Léa represents the youth; a woman that wants to be and can be equal to men," she says. "Lucia – my role – represents the past; a woman that's still in a world where men have the only power and she doesn't know how to escape."

As for real life, Seydoux isn’t estimating a major change now that she’s in a Bond movie. “It’s not like Daniel,” she says. “He’s a superstar. If he walks in the street, everybody will be like, ‘Daniel! Daniel!’”

Bellucci is simply delighted to have finally heard the immortal words: “My name’s Bond. James Bond.”

“I’m Italian, I take my time,” she says with a smile. “We’re not really fast. We’re very slow. I had my first child at 40, my second child at 45, James Bond at 50. I’m so curious as to what’s next!”