When Eugenie Bondurant got a callback for a part in the upcoming and final film in “The Hunger Games” series, it was her first audition in six years. The part was unconventional, but so is Bondurant.
“When I walked into the room, I knew my very first step had to be in character,” said Bondurant, whose gait and posture must have successfully conveyed the “outcast” she hoped to play.
No matter how well you know Eugenie Bondurant, you won’t recognize the New Orleans actress in a pivotal role in the upcoming “Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2,” starring Jennifer Lawrence, premiering Nov. 20.
Bondurant plays the part of Tigris, a woman who has surgically altered her appearance to appear feline. This is the first time fans of the trilogy (a quadrilogy in the film series) actually see Tigris, whose brief presence provides a turning point in the final installment of the series based on Suzanne Collins’ young adult adventure books.
In August 2013, Bondurant’s agent had sent a video audition to “Hunger Games” casting director Jackie Burch, which resulted in Bondurant’s live audition in Atlanta with director Francis Lawrence.
“This is in my wheelhouse; I know this character,” said Bondurant. Being different, after all, was how Bondurant’s early modeling career took off.
Thirty years ago, Bondurant had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Chemotherapy not only turned her into a thriving cancer survivor, but the loss of her hair in the early aftermath of treatment also accentuated her androgynous features and catapulted her into a modeling career both at home and abroad.
At 6’1” with angular features and classic cheekbones, Bondurant can appear both willowy and seductive or exotic and gender-neutral. Setting herself apart from the norm is Bondurant’s comfort zone.
“When you can thread your own life with a character’s life, you can make strong choices (in the portrayal of a character) that resonate with your own personality,” said the fourth-generation New Orleanian whose small, but significant roles, have added up to a career with an interesting resume.
In “Fight Club” with Ed Norton, Bondurant played “Weeping Woman,” and she portrayed Alice Cooper’s favorite dominatrix on Gene Wilder’s TV series “Something Wilder.” She played a seductive transvestite on HBO’s “Arliss” and a hotline psychic with a penchant for rats in the Indie film “Donald and Dot Clock Found Dead in Their Home.”
She also appeared on a Saturday Night Live episode as Madonna’s dominatrix and has balanced out her characters with more traditional roles such as an art dealer in the sitcom “Fraser.”
In addition to modeling and acting, Bondurant (who also teaches acting) has added chanteuse to her repertoire, regularly performing an American Songbook Series with her husband Paul Wilborn, who is executive director of the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg, Florida, where the two reside. The Ecole Classique graduate, who majored in finance at the University of Alabama, maintains the family home in Old Metairie where she grew up.
When Bondurant was notified she had a role in “The Hunger Games,” she could tell only her husband, keeping mum until Lionsgate released the names of the final cast this past spring, six months after the filming. Only recently was she allowed to give interviews.
In “Mockingjay — Part 2” Bondurant plays a former Hunger Games stylist who was banned from The Capital because of her extreme surgical makeover to resemble a tiger. She hides heroine Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and her squad in the basement of her shop, a boutique specializing in fur-adorned underwear. Bondurant’s cat-like character required hours of makeup and wardrobe.
“When we first started, makeup took six-and-a-half hours. Eventually we got it down to four, with two to four people working on me,” said Bondurant. Her character was brought to life with the special effects created by Oscar-winning artists Ve Neill and Glenn Hetrick: a mask made from a customized molds, headdress (or “fur-fro” as Bondurant calls it), dagger-long nails, cat-eye contact lenses (which required eye drops every five minutes), multiple temporary tattoos, coats of lacquer, gravity-defying stilettos and a patient actress who didn’t mind eating through a straw during the 10-hour days she spent on the set.
However, the physical building of the character of Tigris resulted in challenging constraints for the actor. All of Bondurant’s senses were compromised in the final creation.
She had tunnel vision, could barely hear, could not smell, and when she spoke, her words were almost inaudible. At one point, the actress has to kneel down, lift up a rug and open a trapdoor.
Simple enough — unless one’s fingertips have been turned into long cat claws with sculptured press-on nails, one’s feet have been slipped into Barbie-doll arched heels with no actual heel, and the headdress is top-heavy enough to fold one’s body into an “S” shape in the process of bending over.
Defying gravity is simply another skill Bondurant can add to her résumé.