Dita von Teese as Mata Hari?

Fetish performer Dita von Teese has been cast to play the role of WWI-era exotic dancer/spy Mata Hari in a new film directed by Martha Fiennes. The full story is here.

Before we get to whether or not Dita can pull this off, a bit of history: the original femme fatale, Mata Hari was born Margaretha Zelle to a humble family that ran a hat shop in Holland. She moved to Java as a newlywed at age 18, but family life was not in the stars for Mata Hari; after a divorce, she resurfaced in Paris, poised to reinvent herself as a sultry dancer princess.

She first performed as a circus horse rider under the name Lady McLeod, but reached true fame when she introduced herself as an exotic dancer under the name Mata Hari (“Eye of the Day” in Indonesian, “Mother of God” in Hindi). An overnight success, she was famous for her seductive performances, elaborate costumes and Oriental origins; she posed as a princess from Java, initiate in the mystical art of erotic ritual dance. After her rise to stardom as a dancer, Mata Hari became a courtesan, then a spy, and ultimately, by some accounts, a double agent.

Margaretha Zelle was not known for being beautiful, but as Mata Hari, she was considered one of the most sought-after courtesans of the day, which led her dealings in espionage. During World War I she traveled freely between borders and her lovers included officers on different sides of the war. In an interview with British intelligence officers, she admitted that she was working as an intelligence agent for the French, but an intercepted German report that spoke of a helpful spy by the code-name of H-21 led the French to identify H-21 as Mata Hari. However, it later came out that this message was delivered in a code that the Germans knew the French had already broken, suggesting that this may have been an attempt by the Germans to take her out of the picture. Regardless, she was arrested in Paris, tried for espionage, and executed by firing squad in 1917. Fashionable until the day she died, Mata Hari insisted on wearing stockings, heels, a long dress, leather gloves and a tricorn hat to her execution.

Though Mata Hari did not escape the authorities, her her head eventually did. Because no one came to bury her, Mata Hari’s body was donated to science. Her head was removed and set up for display at the Museum of Anatomy in Paris. In 2000, the head mysteriously disappeared from the museum’s collection. Museum curators believe that an avid fan of Mata Hari somehow walked off with the head. Perhaps it’s been (re?)-united with the could-be-missing-missing member of Rasputin, who, by the way, was killed within a year of Mata Hari in Russia.

But back to Dita! She’s got a lot to live up to in this role:

So how will she fare, especially with such shoes to fill? Even though she has never acted in full feature film, I think she’ll be great! Although in my fantasy-world Mata Hari would be played by Rachel Brice, Dita and Mata Hari actually have more in common than any other actress I can think of:

  1. Both come from humble origins and are completely self-made personalities. Dita von Teese was originally born Heather Sweet to a middle-class working family in Michigan.
  2. In the early 1900s, Mata Hari “elevated exotic dance to a more respectable status,” Today, Dita has done the same for fetish modeling and burlesque.
  3. Even Dita herself has admitted that her greatest asset isn’t her natural beauty, but her power to craft her own image through clothing and makeup. Mata Hari was much the same way. Like Dita, she knew how to work with what she had.

Of course the above does not mean that Dita will necessarily turn out to be an amazing actress in this role, but I’m rooting for her. If nothing else we know that she can look like a hot spy:

Image by Perou.

Sources and further reading on Mata Hari:

5 Responses to “Dita von Teese as Mata Hari?”

  1. Selina Says:

    Honestly, I can’t think of anyone better suited to the part. As you compared, they both came/come from similar origins, which might make it easier for Ms. Von Teese to “insert” herself into the role.

    As apposed to, say, Keira Knightley, who would just puff her lips for five hours and call it a day.

  2. Tequila Says:

    Not convinced yet to be honest. I like Dita and all as a performer and model but for a character so steeped in myth and legend now…you really need on screen charisma to pull it off. That’ll be the real test…can she translate her personality as a stage performer on camera? Little pressure on her though…if she tanks no one will REALLY care cause none are expecting her to be much on screen outside of a pretty face and body.

    Still the fact the script is still being tweaked and filming nearly a year away…she has serious time to practice.

  3. E. Black Says:

    I think she can pull it off. With the points stated and the fact that Dita is basically a modern day Mata Hari (I’m biased, I suffer from a daunting girl crush on this woman), I think she could do it. Besides I think it would give her a chance to show that she’s a multi-faceted talent.

  4. Daddy O Rama Says:

    Dita has been offered serious roles before but turned them down because she didn’t think she had the acting chops to pull it off. From my understanding this role was written with her in mind so she has been taking acting lessons for over a year. If you know much about her, you know that she is a bit of a perfectionist and doesn’t do anything half way so if she thinks she can pull it off then she probably can. Considering where she started and where she is now, I know better then to underestimate her.

  5. Immortalmortal Says:

    Nice site. Always good to see that name in print.