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Interview: Joachim Trier on Creating ‘The Worst Person in the World’

Through a string of acclaimed films such as Oslo August 31st and Thelma, Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Trier has established a reputation for soul-searching melancholy. For his latest effort The Worst Person in the World, however, he aimed to bring something new. Featuring incredible turns from star Renate Reinsve and Trier’s frequent collaborator Anders Danielsen Lie, it follows a young woman as she tries to find herself within her relationships and career. The resulting saga is typically introspective while embracing the humorous peculiarities of everyday life. As the film continues its festival run after copping a deserved Best Actress prize for Reinsve, (including a rave review out of TIFF by our own Joey Magidson) Awards Radar spoke with Trier to learn more about his inspirations.

Shane Slater: It feels like you’ve been leading towards this film with your career. How did you come up with this story?

Joachim Trier: It was funny because when Anders Danielsen Lee read the script, he said, “Oh, this is kind of a mix between Reprise and Oslo, August 31st. I think we should call it a trilogy.” And I was like, “Yeah, you’re actually right.” This is a return to that world somehow and some of those themes of trying to find oneself. The existential yearning and the discrepancy between our visions of our future and what actually happens. And now this time, we tried to do that in the context of love and negotiating relationships between people.

I think I also wanted to go back to scratch as a filmmaker and really have fun with this one, make it a comedy. And then of course, it has that dramatic side too. It’s also quite a melancholy film at times, but I wanted it to feel like a musical, full of color and shoot on 35mm for the big screen. I imagined a group together in a room watching it and laughing and crying. So you’re right. I think I have built towards this somehow. It’s my fifth film and I’m happy it’s happening right now as cinemas are opening again. It’s perfect timing for me.

SS: You mentioned how you wanted this one to be more fun, since you’re known for more melancholic films. Was the comedy a challenge for you?

JT: It was letting go, it was liberating. So freeing. I’m at a stage in my life when maybe I take myself less serious than ever. We have a little yellow note that keeps hanging in our writing office – Eskil Vogt and I – and all the other notes come and go, but the one note that keeps hanging there says “remember contrasts.” And I think we wanted to try to achieve a film that is like life. You can laugh your ass off one day and the next day, something really sad can happen. And both of those things are the same reality.

The characters are the core of the story. Like in this case, it’s a drama. It’s a humanist drama about trying to talk about big themes, but through the small events. You can achieve a mixture of emotion. But comedy is really hard. And I needed people good enough like Renate Reinsve and Herbert Nordrum. Both are really talented, funny people. Just hanging out with them humor happens. They’re very talented like that. I had that in my pocket going into it and I was very grateful for that.

SS: Anders Danielsen Lie has been such an integral part of your films. Do you write with him in mind, or do you just naturally gravitate towards him in the casting process?

JT: With this film, I wrote it for Renate. I knew her as an actor. She’d done a small part in Oslo, August 31. And I wrote it for her. I think she’s magnificent. And she hadn’t been given any leads in any films before. And it was embarrassing for the Norwegian film industry that she hasn’t been given a part that she deserved. So I wrote it for her and was very pleased with that. Anders came into it later and I realized, of course he has to be Aksel.

SS: Julie is such a well-developed, complex character. Was she inspired by someone you know?

JT: It was a mixture of many things. Renate, sides of myself, Eskil, people I’ve known, people I’ve been with. It’s a mixture of many things and then suddenly it exists on its own between all of us. And it’s Renate’s talent that will bring her into life ultimately. But since I knew I had her at the end of the line, I knew that I could take a risk of making the character varied in her consistencies or inconsistencies. she’s changing. Like the first part of the film, the comedy comes out of someone who is swiping her identity every five minutes and then as the story begins, she tries to settle in.

It’s a story of someone who is an adult but doesn’t feel like she’s become an adult. And it’s the kind of coming of age story where I think 20 years ago, we would tell a coming of age story about someone who is 16. And today, I think it’s natural to talk about a 30 year old. I don’t know what that says about our times.

SS: This film is the third part of your Oslo trilogy. What makes this city so cinematic for you?

JT: It’s a city I know intimately. And I grew up learning what New York was through very subjective stories from Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese, you know? People who did their New York, which were all quite different. And that’s how I imagined it sitting in Norway as a young person. I think in a way that sense of place is a cinematic scene, as you said. As a director, I know that also very well.

So I get ideas when I write. Like, I know that street in the morning when the sun comes up. That’s great, that will be romantic. Or isn’t it sad, that part of town in the autumn? Yeah, that street, I remember that bench. It comes intuitively, when you work in a space, you know? And let’s be honest, films are about places and images more than anything. It’s visual storytelling. So the space is your image.

But I’m trying to explore new parts of town. This might not be so apparent for people in the US. But it’s also a slightly sociological journey that [Julie’s] doing. She changes her partner and goes to a new part of town which is kind of hipper, more newly gentrified.

SS: There’s a scene in the film that hints towards the current pandemic. How did COVID-19 impact this film and how do you see the industry moving forward?

JT: The effect of the pandemic is apparent and yet, we don’t even know the consequences quite yet. I think it’s going on, it’s happening. We’re in a hopeful moment right now. Coming back to cinemas, it feels like a great moment to release a film. In Norway right now they are opening the cinemas fully as we speak. And we’re opening in two weeks. So fingers crossed, it’s hopefully good timing.

I think our habits have changed a bit. And to change habits back to going to the movies on a Tuesday night as one of the options that comes up in our mind spontaneously needs to be worked on. As a society. I love the movie theaters. So I’m doing my best to spread the love for all movies right now. I’ve never been in a moment where I’m looking so forward to watching anything in the theater again.

The production was delayed for a while, six months. And then it opened up again slightly last autumn and we got the opportunity to shoot. And I’ve never been so happy – and neither have most of my collaborators – to be on set and be allowed to work together after that six months of isolation. So that love of togetherness was fueling the energy of this film a lot.

[This interview has been edited for length and clarity]

Shane Slater is a passionate cinephile whose love for cinema led him to creating his blog Film Actually in 2009. Since then, he has written for AwardsCircuit.com, ThatShelf.com and The Spool. Based in Kingston, Jamaica, he relishes the film festival experience, having covered TIFF, NYFF and Sundance among others. He is a proud member of the African-American Film Critics Association.

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Written by Shane Slater

Shane Slater is a passionate cinephile whose love for cinema led him to creating his blog Film Actually in 2009. Since then, he has written for AwardsCircuit.com, ThatShelf.com and The Spool. Based in Kingston, Jamaica, he relishes the film festival experience, having covered TIFF, NYFF and Sundance among others. He is a proud member of the African-American Film Critics Association.

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