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Interview: Vicky Krieps on Exorcising Her Fears for ‘Bergman Island’

After exploding onto the international scene with her breakout performance in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2017 film, Phantom Thread, holding her own opposite Daniel Day-Lewis, it felt like the sky was the limit for Luxembourg actress Vicky Krieps. Rather than heading straight into Marvel world or some other similar blockbuster, however, she took her time planning her next moves. Roles in smaller films, like The Girl in the Spider’s Web and The Last Vermeer, have kept her busy, but 2021 is really the year that Vicky Krieps has emerged full-force back into our hearts and minds. 

Krieps has appeared in an abundance of films this year, working with directors including M. Night Shyamalan (Old) and Barry Levinson (The Survivor, a TIFF premiere that was just acquired by HBO for release next year), while also notching a role in a Netflix blockbuster opposite John David Washington, Beckett. She’s doing strong work in all three of these films, with the products themselves varying in quality, but it’s really Bergman Island that gives her the showcase we’ve all been waiting for since Phantom Thread

In Mia Hansen-Løve’s relationship drama, filmmaker couple Chris (Krieps) and Tony (Tim Roth) head to Fårö, the eponymous island where legendary Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman made some of his most renowned films, including Through a Glass Darkly, Persona, and Hour of the Wolf

Arriving on the island for Tony to be feted by the Bergman Center, Chris is hoping to find inspiration for her latest project. Hansen-Løve takes us on a journey into the creative process itself, as she blurs lines between reality and fiction, between her own story and Chris’. Krieps navigates this terrain tremendously, holding the audience captivated by her natural performance, and even imbuing a bit of her own experience with self-doubt into the role. 

This is something Krieps elaborated on as I sat down to speak with her about her busy year, and the thrills of working on one of her most difficult, yet rewarding, projects yet. 

Mitchell Beaupre: I feel like I’ve seen you in four films within the last few months. That’s very exciting for me, but I’m sure a bit odd for you, as you’ve been shooting the films for years and they’re all coming out at the same time.

Vicky Krieps: Yes, it’s a little bit odd to talk about all of them as well, trying to remember which one I’m talking about. I feel like my brain is in a strange country. 

MB: For Bergman Island, I’d love to start by talking about your relationship with Bergman’s work in general. What was the first film of his that you remember seeing and how did you respond to that introduction to his work? 

VK: I don’t know if it was the first one, but the first that I remember was Persona. I remember watching it and feeling strangely connected, but also pushed away. It felt so strange and weird in ways that I couldn’t understand because I was so young. I think in all of his movies women are given this special place where they’re allowed to really speak, which I think in his time was a new approach. I couldn’t relate to the film really, but maybe somewhere in my subconsciousness I was already relating to it, and that was an odd feeling to have. 

This is why the film changed so much for me when I watched it later. I watched it once when we were on the island—we all watched it together in the actual Bergman cinema. Then I watched it again after making the movie, and it has evolved for me now, where I can relate to it in so many ways because I’ve grown. 

MB: Bergman Island has this interesting quality where it has so many layers to it, yet it also feels effortless, which is a compliment to both the actors and to Mia Hansen-Løve. How was working with Mia unique compared to other directors you’ve worked with?

VK: That’s a really good question. The effortlessness comes, I think, from the fact that she embraces weakness as a director. She sometimes tells stories where she asks herself, “Who am I to tell this story?” or “Am I crazy to make a movie about Bergman?”, but she doesn’t give into these doubts. Like my character, writing a story for Mia is difficult, so she could see that as a problem, but she accepts it as part of her, and she embraces that and lets it go. So, then it starts to float. 

I think we are very similar in that way. For me as an actor, I do the same thing, particularly in a movie like Phantom Thread, for example. I’m open to my own weakness and to my own vulnerability, and I just let it be. With Bergman Island, the making of the movie was so difficult. It could have become a movie that would be so multi-layered, but way too complicated, and you would feel that. I think it would still be a very interesting movie, but the movie you see was created from the two of us saying “let’s just go with the flow”. 

That’s all we could do because when I was cast I had like three weeks before shooting. I couldn’t prepare. I had two little children that I had to take on the island. We didn’t have the actor to play my husband, so there was no way I could imagine someone that doesn’t exist, but I still had to relate to someone. The movie is not a monologue, you know? It’s a dialogue. So, I needed to find something I could dialogue with or I could relate to, and it was letting go of that fear that created the film. I think that’s what makes the film feel so effortless. It’s the two of us giving into a weakness. 

MB: I’d love to hear more about working without having the actor in place for Tony. You had two actors, John Turturro and Owen Wilson, who were both set to play the role but had to drop out, leading to you shooting all of your scenes without him first, and then going back a year later once Tim Roth was cast to finish the rest. How were you able to capture Chris, and her feelings within that relationship, without having an actor there with you to develop that relationship with? 

VK: The difficult task was to make sure it didn’t seem like a monologue, as I was saying. You could have seen Chris just being Chris, with herself and her problems, but that would not be this movie. There was a great danger of that happening, though, because I was alone on the island. I knew I needed to find a way to make her open and to make her someone who was relating to someone real. I started to relate to the island, and maybe to the ghost of Bergman, in a way. I was walking along the beach, and this whole landscape really, which has Bergman written all over. Then I was in his house, and I was in his kitchen looking at his coffee machine. I tried to start a dialogue between myself and these objects, myself and the landscape, myself and the idea of Bergman. 

I began to question the movie the character was wanting to make, the story I was wanting to find, and that longing and the missing, and the being in a relationship where you don’t know if that’s your place. Is this where I really am? Or is this just a relationship? What is this vehicle I’m driving? Is it what I chose or have I been put here? Should I question it or should I just stick with it? All of these questions. I tried to go into this space of questioning yourself in order to be more open and influenceable. 

MB: That’s really interesting because it gets into those lines that the movie blurs so well between fiction and reality. While this certainly happens for the character, and indeed for Mia, is that something you found for yourself as an actor? Where you were bringing your own personal experience into the character? 

VK: Definitely. Maybe Mia is different with other actresses, but we didn’t talk much. It was really clear from the beginning that we would just trust each other, maybe because we have the same sensibility. That was quite comforting, in a way, that I knew that I could bring to this piece whatever I felt was right. As long as I was listening to my intuition, and not to my brain, which I did. 

Of course what happened then was what you’re saying. The movie turned out to be almost like an exorcism of my fears, my personal fears of Vicky being an actor after Phantom Thread. This is the first movie I did since then that was a main part, and the first movie that I took on knowing that this was going to be my next movie after Phantom Thread. Because the film was also done over two years, it really became this place where I could let go of my fears and my expectations of myself. 

After Phantom Thread I was in a place of great loneliness. I had done this movie everyone was responding so well to, and everyone was asking, “Has your life changed now? Who are you now? What’s your next movie?” But I wasn’t in that movie anymore. I was out of it, being me in my own house, back to where I live, where everything felt wrong. I felt like I didn’t have a place, really. So, this movie became the journey of Chris which was also the journey of Vicky, where I could go to find pieces of myself and put myself back together. 

MB: That’s so wonderful to hear. It’s a tremendous performance. Given that you did so much work to really establish the character on your own and build out this relationship with someone who wasn’t there, how did things shift once Tim Roth came on board and you began working with him? Did that change your perspective of the relationship between these characters? 

VK: It definitely added a difficulty. The first part was difficult because there was no husband, and we didn’t have much time to prepare for any of it. Then the second part was difficult because suddenly you have a husband. That was difficult for Tim because he had to fit into the system that was already working. Everyone had found their place. The French crew had cases of wine coming in so that they could have their wine, because you couldn’t get it in Sweden after five o’clock in the afternoon. Everyone had found this structure of how to shoot the movie, and Tim had to fit into that. 

There was also this element where Mia Hansen-Løve creates a very different kind of cinema. Usually when you think of Tim Roth, you think of the Tarantino stuff, and him being this young English punk. Meanwhile, I’m this Luxembourgish wood elf, so we had these very different people coming together, and having to find a language. 

Instead of being an obstacle, though, we again used this as an advantage to create a couple that would be more alive than something that you expect to be working perfectly. Tim and I had to find this language, and the one we found was humor. Humor is international, it’s something that has no age, no religion. It’s totally free. So then, anything outside of shooting, we were just laughing all of the time. We were playfully sort of insulting each other, we were like two young dogs that are fighting all of the time a little bit, but it’s not serious. By doing this, we created a friction that became an energy between these two characters, even when they were not together. 

MB: The two of you have such a natural chemistry together, where the viewer really believes that these two have been together for so many years, and have such a history. Does that help with building that camaraderie where you’re able to translate that feeling to the audience? 

VK: I don’t know how I can really respond to that question by being honest, and without saying things that I shouldn’t say. What I can say is that I think the job of an actor is to not only know your role and do a good job, but also to be the person who makes it all work. I think an actor is there to create, like Marlon Brando once said, a social lubricant. Humor is one of those lubricants. There are different ones. How do you make everyone feel good? How do you create a good atmosphere? I can say that 80% of my time on that island was creating a social lubricant for everybody. You saying what you just said feels so good because it means that it worked. If you’re saying that it really feels like we are natural together, then that means I did a good job, I think. 

MB: You absolutely did. I have time for one final question, and I’d like to go back to what you said earlier about developing that relationship with Bergman himself, the ghost of him. How did you feel that aura of Bergman on the set while you were making the film? 

VK: A story I love to tell is that it felt like there was a ghost with us, and afterwards I thought that it was almost as if the ghost of Bergman didn’t want Mia and me to come there with a man on our side. Like he had this sort of possessiveness, and he wouldn’t want us to have another man there with us. So, for our first appearance there we had to be without one to be accepted by him, and then later we came back with another man on our side. 

Maybe this is me imagining things, but it did feel like I had to be approved by Bergman. I felt like I had this silent dialogue with him, where I was like, “Here I am. I’m very respectful, but I’m also me. I hope that’s okay. I’m going to make a few jokes about you. Please don’t be offended.” I don’t know it it’s true, but I felt like he was approving of me there. This is something that I felt being in his house, looking at his coffee machine and everything. It’s a very religious place. Almost like a museum. It’s really something you have to experience. 

Bergman Island is out in select theaters now, and will be available on VOD on October 22nd. 

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Written by Mitchell Beaupre

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