The premiere of the fist part of Nymphomaniac at the Berlin Film Festival was followed by a press meeting with this movie’s stars Uma Thurman, Christian Slater, Stacy Martin, Stellan Skarsgard, and Shia LaBeouf. The press conference began with a question from The Day’s correspondent.
Some of you had worked with Lars von Trier before and some did so for the first time, but I have the same question to you all: what was the most difficult thing in working with him?
Stacy Martin: “I guess, the biggest challenge for me was to be on my first film. Lars was very kind and very trusting, so he made this job very easy, and to just have fun with it, I think, if you are going to do a film called Nymphomaniac, you have to.”
Stellan Skarsgard: “I do not think it is very challenging to work with Lars, it is actually easier than with most directors, and you have a lot more fun. It does not even resemble work to me.”
Uma Thurman: “Those were best days in my life (laughs).”
Christian Slater: “I loved it, it was an amazing experience, he was patient, gentle, kept telling me to slow down, which I guess is coming from how it was very unusual, I always want to move things quickly, and it was nice to be on the set where there was some real time given to capture moments.”
Uma, you seem to have been pleased to play this role which looked as if it was a theatrical production. Did you have to strictly follow the script, how much freedom were you allowed?
U.Th.: “For me it was exactly scripted. Lars kept saying I was overacting, but that is nothing new. It is my very pleasure to do that. But Lars wrote this fantastic monolog, where the fury of a woman scorned, you know, enters this room and really no one else speaks, she just keeps talking. It was a real great challenge to memorize seven pages of Lars’ female diatribe of rage. And then, with the incredible way that he shoots. I do not know how many minutes it is left in the movie, I am going to see it the first time tonight, I’m so excited to see everyone, I mean what you can expect from these wonderful people and it is going to be so good. But for me, it was to do these 25-minute takes. I never did a movie, as Christian is pointing out, you know, this woman comes and stands in the hallway, and she waits. And I’m like, ‘No, no, no, wait... oh.’ And he is filming! And I’m like, ‘Oh, you’re filming waiting? Okay.’ I have never done that before, it is like filming sleeping. But it was unbelievably refreshing, lively, and exciting to get to work, almost to get to act in a way like theater for the first time on film, because you never get that kind of space. So, the whole thing was 25-minute takes all day long. It is quite muscular to do.”
Stellan, your character is the linchpin of the whole story. Did you know the full scope of your work?
S.S.: “Well, I had read the script, so I knew the function of my character. But when you are shooting, I mean, I was left out for two weeks with Charlotte Gainsbourg in a room, and life can be a lot worse than that.”
And what about the bits which were added later, for example, the retrospective scenes?
S.S.: “No, they were in the script, I knew them. I knew what was going to happen between my lines. Sometimes I considered how to do it because of that, but in general, as Uma says, when you work with Lars, you just try things and you do whatever you want. And it is his job to put it together, so you are not too concerned how he is going to use it.”
Did you know that certain scenes might look somewhat humorous? They were unexpectedly funny for the audiences.
S.S.: “I thought it was very funny, and Uma’s scene is one of the funniest I have ever read. Lars is a very funny man. You get to learn to laugh at him a lot more.”
A question to Shia and Stacy: when you chose to take part in the project and learned that there would be a lot of erotic scenes, were you afraid that it was too much? Or you were absolutely confident in the director? And one more: there is so much talk that this film is about nymphomania. Do you think society is still taking a too conservative view of sex in films?
S.M.: “I really trusted Lars and I’ve always really loved his films, so the sex scenes for me were a part of the film. And I trusted Lars and I trusted that so immediately, it makes the job much easier. And I talked to Shia a bit before, it was not like, ‘Oh hi, we never met, okay, let’s get naked.’ No. There was a lot of discussion, a lot of preparation, so at the end of the day you end up just actually wanting to start filming, because there is so much talking, so much worry around it, that you are kind of sick of talking about it, you just want to do the scene, to go on the film, to analyze. For me, that is what important as an actress.”
Shia LaBeouf: “When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea. Thank you very much.”
One more question to all. Word has it that fear is an essential enemy of every actor. Were your heroes pushing you out of your personal comfort area or retaining you in it for the sake of a better play?
Ch.S.: “Obviously, the script is packed with a lot of sardines (laughs). That is the key and I twisted it, and all was revealed. That’s it, quell the fears and the anxiety, and I was quite fulfilled. There we go... There we go... (Uma Thurman laughs). I can’t even remember the question really, I don’t know.”
On the comfort area.
Ch.S.: “The comfort zone. I had not been on the set like this before, where the director was just in utter command of every department, and where I felt so completely safe in his hands. From the beginning, from the first moment that I sat down and had dinner with Lars, I was placed in the actor comfort zone, I just felt him to be a very genuine person, a very real. I could tell just by looking at him and by talking with him that he had a very sensitive soul. And for an actor that is like the greatest gift, to get the opportunity to work with somebody like that, who understands what it is like to be an actor and to be put in sometimes uncomfortable compromising situations, and know that you’re there with someone who gets it and has a very kind heart.”
S.S.: “Talking about the actor’s comfort zone, and that means usually when you mention the comfort, staying within the comfort zone, it means that you are lazy as an actor, that you don’t take any risks. But the thing with Lars is, he makes you feel really comfortable, you feel safe with him, which makes it possible for you to take risks.”
Ch.S.: “You kind of want to do anything you can for him. If he asks you to do something, you will do it.”
Mr. Skarsgard, you and Shia are Lars’s healthy and neurotic poles, respectively. The two characters form an integrative personality. There is also a thousands-year-old equation: women plus sex is evil. This raises a huge wave of harm throughout the world – from violence to deaths. Is Lars perhaps trying to show us our neurosis and say: “You see? This is what you think about. This is what your society is filled with.”?
S.S.: “I do not think he tries to show you very much, he is not particularly out to send a message. I never heard that women and sex should be evil, I have always found the most wonderful joy in sex with women.”
I mean the harassing of women.
S.S.: “Oh yeah, the persecution, that is true. But that is one of the themes in the film, of course, what are we allowed to say, what are we allowed to do, are we persecuted because of our thoughts, our wordings, what language we use, our sex, or if we live in a different way the normal people do, or that is, the norm, or rather the normal thing.”
I have a question Mr. Skarsgard. It seemed to me that, in the dialogue between Charlotte Gainsbourg and you, she represents the sexual side, while Seligman is an intellectual, creative, parallel to what she says. Could you comment on the dynamics of relationships between them? I have also a question to Ms. Martin: what did you think of the revealing scenes when you first read the script? Did you worry about the reception the film would get since you look so vulnerable in it?
S.S.: “Two characters in that room of course are two sides of Lars von Trier: one is the ‘nerd’ Lars von Trier, and that is me. And the other one is far more interesting and more multi-layered character that is played by Charlotte. It is not a simple representation, but I am basically a eunuch, I am asexual, and she is the opposite, and that is something to play with. But we have to understand that it is not really realism we are dealing with, you do not attack the laws necessarily as you would do a role that was not in a fairy tale, because all of Lars’ films are fairy tales in a way. And you have to adapt to his universe.”
S.M.: “I was not nervous, I think. I did not really have anything to lose, it being my only first film, so that was pretty handy. But reading the script, I mean, I have never read a script, and reading that script in particular was so insightful, there are so many things in the dialog that he wrote, it is just fascinating. It just made me believe in a really great director and I had to jump on the train. The nervousness was more technical, in fact, it was my first film. But the story itself did not make me particularly nervous.”
Ms. Martin, do you think the story of a nymphomaniac can be interesting to the general public? Why is this film worth seeing?
S.M.: “Why not? That is what Lars does, he creates great conversations, he creates debate around things that we might not feel particularly comfortable talking about, and that is important, as it actually is who we are, so why deny it. And it is just Lars, you have to watch his films.”