Is it true that you were thinking of quitting acting before you got the call from director Joachim Trier?
Yes, literally the day after I made my decision! It was so strange. I had a big lying in bed moment followed by the release of “OK, I’m done. I’m not going to do this anymore”. For me, it was incredibly frustrating because a lot– not all, but a lot – of productions for film and TV are produced in a way that there’s so little time. They try to save money in all the wrong places. The scripts aren’t ready and the characters aren’t good enough. But they sell it to you by saying that the role is going to be so complex and beautiful, and the reality is very different. They’re just thinking about numbers. I’d done theatre for so many years and that’s incredibly hard work, with no weekends or holidays. So, I was done. And the next day, Joachim called me for the best role I could dream of.
Many women are still ashamed of their sexuality, and it should be a source of freedom.
You previously worked with Joachim Trier on Oslo, August 31st, in which you had one line, and now he offers you your first leading role – that must have been incredibly daunting?
Oh yeah, I was scared to death! The script is so rich and the character is so complex, so not getting all the details and nuances right was not an option for me. But I had a year to prepare, so I read scenes from the script every single day in order to get to grips with the layered emotions. That way, when I came on set, I could be very free.
Were there any changes implemented to the script because of the year-long preparation you had with the character?
Joachim was very humble about writing the character and it was collaborative. I loved being on set with him, because no one is above anyone else. The lighting [team] is just as important as any of the actors. This gave me the freedom to say that I had a few things I wanted a different perspective on. For example, I felt that it was implied that her partner Aksel was the strong one in their relationship because he could articulate what was going through his head, but Julie was in a very chaotic place and was very vulnerable. But I think that’s a very strong place to be. I wanted that aspect to be in the argument. We worked it all in and Joachim was very open to my perspective, and he would re-write some scenes during rehearsals if it sounded weird when I said a line.
The Worst Person In The World feels like a film of rarities in many ways: an honest romantic film that features very complex emotions, but also one which allows the characters to be flawed. Was the absence of tiresome rom-com tropes something which attracted you to the project?
Without a doubt, and it was very important for us to be honest. You see so much polished stuff when it comes to this genre, and it’s so boring!
You want to see yourself in characters, you want to relate and discover something about yourself, and so few films allow you to do that. If you go into a relationship, you want to be charming, cool, smart… but you also bring in your shame, your loneliness, your messiness. All these weird things that are incredibly messy. And Joachim loves that and I was so happy to see it in the script.
He also doesn’t judge. You can see it in the way he writes the characters – he doesn’t judge anyone and they get to be everything. And you’re right, that is a rarity to see these days.
Many are describing Julie as a messy person. Do you see her that way, or is it just the case of another gendered double standard that sees male characters as just “figuring themselves out and they’ll get there”, and if it’s a female character that is unsure about her relationships or whether she wants to be a mother, she must be “all over the place”?
There’s definitely an aspect of that. She’s messy in the sense that she’s full of contradictions. But it’s probable that people see her as a mess because you don’t see a character like her very often. I’ve read and seen everything about male issues and problems in books and movies. You don’t often get to see true female desire, periods or orgasms on screen. And Julie is truer than most of the polished versions of female characters in romantic comedies. It’s important to show more relatable and layered female characters on screen, especially because many women are still ashamed of their sexuality, and it should be a source of freedom.
Without spoiling anything, the film’s resolution isn’t the traditional happy ending. It dares to say that happiness can be being alone…
I’m glad you bring up the ending, because it’s my absolute favourite scene of the film. You see Julie accepting herself. It didn’t matter what choice she made, as long as she made a choice. It’s a scene that accepts that life is chaos and you can’t plan everything.
No one really knows what the consequences of your choices are before you make them and lived out that choice. I think it’s important to show that, sometimes, surrendering to the chaos is important. Especially in an age in which we’re exposed to so much information and social media feels like an overabundance of stimuli. I like that the film shows that even if it’s easier to have a multitude of choices, to change professions or partners nowadays, social media and information overload make it difficult to understand who we are and what we want in life. And the ending shows that you can actually get happier when you limit your choices, which is not something many people want to accept.
It’s also a film that has changed your career trajectory completely, as you won the Palme d’Or for Best Actress in Cannes for this role. How do you negotiate going from nearly quitting acting to getting one of the biggest acting prizes out there?
It’s a tsunami! (Laughs) A completely overwhelming, surreal and crazy tsunami that nothing prepares you for.
When I was in Cannes, before the prize ceremony, I was at a big dinner surrounded by huge stars. I felt so out of place in this context. So I went to the side where a lot of the bodyguards were standing and started chatting to them. And then, Timothée Chalamet and this photographer came and wanted the spot we were standing in. I was just standing there with the bodyguards, waiting for the pictures to be taken, and when the photos were done, one of the bodyguards said to the photographer: “You should take pictures of her too, she’s an actress.” The photographer looked at me and said that it wasn’t worth it!
(Laughs) I was a nobody, so that was normal. But a few days later I won the prize, and now it’s so many photos, so many interviews and talking to so many interesting people, travelling everywhere… It’s great, but I’m always thinking back to that moment and how things have completely changed. It keeps me grounded, because it is a whirlwind and I’m still a little confused about the whole thing to be honest!
Are you now finding that you’re getting offered scripts with more layered characters, or are you still faced with the frustration you felt before of productions selling you something hollow?
I’m definitely getting to talk to directors I would never have dreamt of talking to before! But I think it’s about trying to be a little bit idealistic about choosing roles. There are people out there who want to tell stories that are real about real people, stories that don’t fall into clichéd boxes and that are about trying to figure out the human condition in the time we live in. I really hope I get to do that over and over. I also feel like the big superhero era is slowly winding down and that people are getting tired of the same structure in a film. And that’s a good sign, I think. I just hope I’m strong enough to choose projects that I love and that I don’t fall for the temptation of doing those kinds of typical movies.