The French-Chinese-Cambodian actress Bérénice Marlohe steps into some big stilettos in Skyfall when she adds her name to the ranks of women from Ursula Andress to Halle Berry to Eva Green who have been called a “Bond girl.” As Sévérine, she is the classic mix of good and evil, strong and vulnerable, aloof and up for some intimacy with the ever-seductive 007. Shortly before the film’s Nov. 9 U.S. release, Marlohe sat down with TIME to discuss what it takes to be a Bond girl—including some very long nails.
TIME: What do you think are the characteristics of a great Bond girl?
Bérénice Marlohe: When I think about a Bond girl, immediately I have an image of a powerful woman with a kind of male charisma and male power. And also a bit of animality.
Were there any elements of the Bond girl model that you felt you needed to update?
For me it was important on set to never think about the Bond girl title. It’s very abstract and it doesn’t tell me anything. It’s a beautiful concept but it’s a concept, and I wanted to create a real human being. This is, in a sense, why she’s modern.
But you get a classic Bond casino scene. Are you a gambler in real life?
No, I’m not a gambler. But I love the [claw] machines with teddy bears where you put a coin in.
Do you ever actually win anything out of those?
Once or twice. You lose a lot of coins.
Your dress in that scene, where you meet Bond face-to-face, is pretty amazing.
I was very happy I could have some say on the dress, because then it would fit to what I had in mind and help me feel comfortable performing the character. It was very challenging getting into the dress. It took a long time and several persons but, once I had it, it felt very comfortable, like a second skin—in my case a snakeskin.
Were you sewn into it?
Yes. Not all of it but one part.
How does what you’re wearing affect the character?
The kind of tattoo [effects] on that dress just gave me a feeling of power and the quality of being salvaged. Most of all I loved having long nails, incredible nails, because I felt like there was a part of a dragon in me. It was like weapons. That helped me be in the character.
Did the nails come off at the end of the day?
No, they were resin—fake nails—but I got to keep them, which was nice, because I would stay focused and in my character.
Just how long were they? Was there anything that was difficult to do while wearing them?
They were like four or five centimeters. Putting my contact lenses in every morning, I tried not to break my eyes or make them explode. I got used to them and I really loved it. It would feed me all the time with that feeling of being dangerous.
So when you went home at night you still sort of felt like you were in a James Bond movie?
Not all the time, but sometimes!
(SLIDESHOW: The Best of the Bond Girls)