By Nick Romano
September 08, 2019 at 05:04 PM EDT

Jean Smart delivered a Breathless performance in Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 film and cemented herself as an icon of French New Wave cinema, but her life was plagued by the most widely publicized of the often illegal FBI COINTELPRO surveillance operations. So, to bring her story to life in the Seberg biopic, star Kristen Stewart and director Benedict Andrews explains how they go back to “the beginning of the surveillance culture.”

“It goes into one very particular window of her life and is about the destruction of privacy and the invasion of privacy, and the movie is really concerned with her private life,” Andrews says during an interview at the EW and People video studio at the Toronto International Film Festival. “We have glimpses of her on set or glimpses of her in the public eye, but we go into the private spaces and we go in with the FBI into the destruction of that private space.”

In the life of Seberg, who died at the age of 40 in Paris, France in 1979, J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO targeted the actress in retaliation for her support of the Black Panthers in the 1960s. The film chronicles her turbulent life in the wake of the investigation.

“I think now we live in a world of absolute availability in a mass surveillance culture,” Andrews says. “To go into a story which is about the beginning of the surveillance culture we live under, and to see where privacy and truth are used in a war against someone because of their beliefs and because of their idealism, I think is still an urgent message in our times.”

“She’s so subject to this invasion of privacy and completely lacks control in any way of expressing herself,” Stewart adds. “Her agent is sitting in the one interview that takes place in the movie, she’s always being monitored… It’s jarring to see the movie because we just have so much access to communication, whereas this girl was muzzled in a lot of ways.”

Seberg also stars Anthony Mackie, Jack O’Connell, Vince Vaughn, Margaret Qualley, and Zazie Beetz.

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