Gaïa is a New York it-girl with Parisian roots. From a distance, her effervescence and charisma mask her internal complexity. She is introspective and committed to her work. She has developed a strong understanding of self, which emanates from her studies in psychology and method acting. With art and influence running through her veins, it’s only a matter of time before the world discovers Gaïa Matisse.
Tell us about your background.
I was born in Paris and I lived in Neuilly which is on the outskirts of Paris. It’s a five minute walk; you just cross a bridge and you’re there. My father is french and my mom is half french.
How did your parents meet?
My mom moved to Paris before I was born and went to the Sorbonne. Then she met my my dad who went to the Beaux Arts. He was an older artist on the scene and my mom was a young college student.
Tell us about your family’s heritage and connection to the arts.
My full name is Gaïa Jacquet-Matisse. My mom is from the Matisse side of my family (she is the great granddaughter of Henri Matisse), and my dad is the Jacquet side. My dad, Alain Jacquet, was a french pop artist that was well known in France. The apartment in Neuilly where I was born was was a family apartment; it was my great grandfather’s which was passed down by Marcel Duchamp. My family tree is very confusing because my grandfather had seven children.
What was the Parisian art world like during the time your parents were starting their careers?
It was the same era as Warhol and Lichtenstein. My dad was known for introducing camouflage into art and fashion. He actually made the first camouflage suit. The American art world only wanted American artists at the time. They didn’t want foreign artists so he wasn’t able to enter that world.
My dad passed away when I was 16, but I remember him talking about Warhol stealing all of his ideas. Warhol was known for taking everyone’s ideas, doing something different with them and bringing them into this whole pop art world. Not that he didn’t create his own movement, of course he did, he is an artist. But imitation is the best form of flattery and I think my dad was always a little resentful that he was not given the recognition that he deserved.
What brought your family from Paris to New York?
My mom had me in France, but her life was in New York and her art was taking off there. We were back and forth until we moved to our loft in Tribeca when I was five years old.
Did you end up going to school in France or New York?
I was always back and forth between the two cities but I went to school in New York.
I graduated from Gallatin at NYU where I studied The Self and Other: Integrative Performance and Eastern Psychology. Gallatin changed my life. I’m not one to push going to college, but Gallatin combined my work with acting and my real life experiences. I learned so much about myself.
How did you get into acting?
When I was 16 years old, after my father passed away, I started working with my acting mentor Elizabeth Kemp. She is an amazing mentor. Elizabeth works with the real art of acting, not just the bullshit. I started working a lot with Jungian psychology and the shadow side. At 16, I was very young for this psychology so I didn’t fully comprehend it. But I made sense of it and made it work. Elizabeth has changed my life in such a beautiful way, and I’m continuing to work with her.
Then, I started going to Gallatin. The first class I took was “Jung and the Postmodern Religious Experience”. I learned everything about Jungian psychology and how it transforms into our everyday life. I realized that I had been doing this my whole life and I finally pieced it all together. It was the most amazing thing ever.
What are some of the challenges you faced along the way?
I worked on myself for so long. With method acting you have to be completely open, and let every door down within yourself. When I took my first class with Elizabeth I ended up sobbing. By the end of it, she said I did such great work that day. I said, “thanks, but what did I do?” I realized that it was my ability to be open and allow myself to feel, which is so important.
In order to have the full experience in anything you have to allow yourself to feel every emotion, even if it’s painful. If you run away from it, there’s no resolution.
How does facing your inner self contribute to your work with method acting?
When you’re so into character, it can completely take over. There have been some points when I have been working and I discovered something that I didn’t know was in me. When I think of someone like Heath Ledger, who played the Joker, I think it’s incredibly sad; his death was tragic. But I also understand how he got to that place. It can be terrifying at some times.
Have you tried visual art since you have a deep-rooted family history with art?
When I was younger, I would take art classes. I was pushed to go to museums, and eventually I kind of blocked it out. I didn’t want to do it. I’ve tried painting, but I hate it. I think acting is an art – especially to be able to fully capture another soul, to become that person and inhabit everything in a way that you don’t even feel yourself.
Does your parents’ background in the arts make it easier for you to pursue acting, which is by most people considered a less traditional career trajectory?
When I was growing up, it was always a hushed thing. You don’t talk about the fame; you don’t talk about money; you don’t talk about a name. My mom struggled a lot with being an artist. She was a painter, and there was a lot of pressure because she was the great granddaughter of Henri Matisse now becoming a painter. But for me, that pressure was lifted because of the way that my mom and dad raised me. They let me have the freedom to express myself.
“It’s insane when you start thinking about yourself and what you have within you, you realize there is that whole psychological world within everyone else. There’s so much in the world that we don’t see.”
Since psychology plays a large role in your acting, tell us about working through your shadow side and how it has affected your perception of your own environment.
Everyone has it within them. It’s difficult work and it’s a never ending process. You never get rid of your shadow side. For example, I can be sitting here and look over and see someone who is 5’10’’ and a model and I think cool, fuck you because I’m not taller. If I was, I could become a model which is something I’ve always wanted to do since I love fashion. That’s just the shadow side coming out.
Reactions are always a reflection of the other person. Everyone gets a different perception me with my boobs. Boobs are associated with certain things, but you never have any idea of someone’s past. I don’t separate people for superficial things because you never know what their past has been like, where they grew up, or what they had to go through. It’s insane when you start thinking about yourself and what you have within you, you realize there is that whole psychological world within everyone else. There’s so much in the world that we don’t see. “What’s essential is not visible to the eye” is a quote from The Little Prince that I had recently tattooed on my arm.
Tell us about some of your other tattoos?
My first one was my dad’s signature, in memory of him. A family friend said at a funeral, “makes sense, you were his greatest creation”. Another tattoo I have says “only through the darkness can you see the light.” It represents the shadow side and my work with Elizabeth. It’s a reminder to join forces with your shadow side instead of letting it ruin you. So many people are unknowingly dominated by their shadow side.
With such a deep understanding of the human experience, one would guess (without knowing you) that you’re much older than you actually are. Do you find that your maturity is partially attributed to your New York City upbringing?
One of the movie projects that I helped write and produce with my New York friends is coming out on September 11th. It’s a commentary on society and brings up the discussion of our generation. It’s about a bunch of kids who grew up in New York trying to make sense of all the special elements that have shaped us, such as social media, addictions, and the drive to become artists. One of the undertones is 9/11. We were right next to the towers and had to literally run. I was in Tribeca when the plane hit, two blocks away from the World Trade Center, so were literally running. We never talk about it and there’s so many reasons behind the way our generation has become due of our past.
What’s are some examples of how our generation has been affected?
The way that we haven’t spoken about it. It’s still such a painful place inside so many people that they just shut it out. We filmed the movie over the course of one night. We talk about how the world revolves around Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. I respect that Kim Kardashian has had so much success but she came from a sex tape and she was cleaning closets. People look up to her and her sisters who have had so much plastic surgery. So many people follow that example, and that is becoming normal. Be happy with who you are and how you look, and take advantage of that. Uniqueness is what makes each person beautiful.
How does this link to our generation’s past?
We have such a distorted vision of what perfect is. That is why I study the difference between the East and West. We’re never satisfied and we’re always searching for something. Our whole society is teaching us we can be perfect if only we look like this, or buy something like this.
In the East, they teach you to look for the other within your unconscious. It’s something that comes from within you, and you might not know it even exists. In the West, our culture like Freudian psychology, tells us that we are born with an innate feeling of lacking – like there’s a missing component. And we’re constantly trying to fill this void with everything like marriage, with shopping, with everything.
Do you find that your European upbringing also influenced your perception of beauty and understanding of self?
I was taught to embrace my natural beauty. My mom wore the craziest things. Fashion is an expression of who you are. I’m not going to dress a certain way just because it’s in a magazine and because they’re telling me to. Yes, I love fashion. But I take some aspects from it and put on whatever I want because I love dressing up.
Every time I take Bambi for a walk, I wear a different outfit. I will go out in a wig and heels and walk down St Mark’s because, why not? It’s so fun to be yourself and experiment with that. You don’t need to fit the formation of what society is imposing on you subconsciously.
When did you start noticing that you were different?
I think it started when I was a child. I had freedom when I was growing up because I was raised by two artists that never put restrictions on me. When I started studying psychology and Buddhism, which breaks up your own thoughts and the reason behind your thoughts, I became a lot more conscious of the way society has such a subconscious effect on us.
When it comes to fashion, where do you go in New York City that is not commercialized to embrace your individuality?
I love thrift shopping and consignment shops. I like putting together different things that no one would think of putting together. I think that SoHo has become very commercialized. When you walk through SoHo it’s like walking through a fashion magazine, plus all the people who read it. I love Nolita and the quieter streets. I used to live in the LES before moving to St Mark’s. Now the LES is huge and the place to be, but I honestly didn’t even recognize my old street. Its cute but it’s also just trendy.
Living on St. Mark’s is so inspiring because no one cares. So many people put so much time and effort to fit this unrealistic ideal – and they destroy themselves. I want to inspire people and help them realize that you should be yourself.
Between New York and Paris where do you spend the most time?
If you could inject an element from European lifestyle into your New York life, what would it be?
I love cafes. In France I love the outdoor cafes even though I think it’s kind of a problem when people take five hour lunches – but they enjoy life. The French take the time to have experiences and live life the way you should, without feeling rushed. I love the bustle of New York, but at the same time I never do something as simple as meet a friend for a coffee to catch up. I think it’s something that you miss out on in New York.
What are you currently working on now?
An adaptation of The Seagull by Chekhov which is an old famous coming-of-time play. I’m playing Arkadina. She is a mother and a famous actress that comes back to see her son. There are weird love triangles and Arkadina is an elegant woman with such a different way of living. I was just working on one of my main monologues where she completely manipulates the other characters. It’s so fun to play the famous actress who already has it all. I pull from a lot of different people and parts of my life. I love playing that exuberant character that I can relate to.
“I want to be able to inspire people through my movies and through my work. I want to change people’s perceptions and to awaken things that they are not aware of in their lives.”
Where do you see yourself in a couple of years.
Angelina Jolie. I respect her so much as an actress, from the time she did Gia, to what she has been doing now with directing and her humanitarian efforts. She is such an inspirational person. In a speech she said, we’re all put on this life to do something, to share and to inspire.
I want to be able to inspire people through my movies and through my work. I want to change people’s perceptions and to awaken things that they are not aware of in their lives. I’m working towards film because I want to be on film but my background is in real theater. I like playing psychotic characters who are insane but also so beautiful, and bringing that beauty out of them. That’s why I choose the roles that I have worked on.
What are some of the challenges you face in your career?
I am an artist with all the different parts of me that come together. I’ve picked one of the hardest professions to succeed in. And I don’t have my family’s help with that because yes it’s the art world but it’s different. I have realized this about myself: I don’t like asking for help. I never want to be taken as that person that is using someone for something.
I have to realize that it’s a hard profession because it’s constant rejection but you can’t put that on yourself. You can hear a “no” because they wanted someone with different color eyes. It’s a very frustrating process at some points, but those times have just taught me more about myself and how to deal with it, process it and keep moving forward.
How do you personally cope with the rejection that is apart of the reality of the theater and hollywood world?
Even when it’s completely hopeless, like if I don’t get a role and I feel shitty, I let myself have that moment and then I get over it. It’s done; there’s more. You can’t focus on the past. I’m always present and it’s so important. In our generation there are such few people that know how to be present, especially with the phones. I dedicate my time specifically. If I’m doing something then I don’t need to look at my phone to see that someone is texting me. It’s not more important than what I’m doing in the moment.