FILMINK - March 12, 2018

Inspired by a story from Swiss writer Max Frisch, co-written by Colm Toibin (Brooklyn) and Volker Schlondorff, and directed by Schlondorff, Return to Montauk is a quirky, thinking person’s love story with a thinking person’s leading man in Stellan Skarsgård.

Is Volker Schlöndorff someone you’ve known for a long time? Somebody you’ve always wanted to work with?

Stellan: Of course, he is one of the stars of heaven. Practically everybody from the German ‘70s. It was a fantastic time. First film I saw was Katharina Blum. Was it ‘74 or ‘75? He is a great director. So, when he called…I met him here and there and now and then, but then he called, and he said "Stellan, I saw you at the EFA Awards, when you handed the prize to Mads Mikkelsen, and… you were very funny! Would you like to work with me?" And I was like "Yeah! Of course." And then he sends this fucking impossible script.

Did you know the original story Max Frisch story Montauk?

Stellan: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But it was such beautiful literature. I love Colm Tóibín as a writer. I was wondering "How the fuck do you do this?" And of course, you had to learn a 5-minute monologue that’s not acted. That is pure literature at the beginning, and that was really hard. But we worked on it. We had several readings in Berlin… almost a year before we started shooting, and we did corrections to the script, and worked with Colm Tóibín. It’s a rare animal this film.

Essentially, you’re playing Volker. Did that make things kind of complicated?

Stellan: No, and I didn’t see it like that. And he didn’t say ‘this is autobiographical’. And the more interviews he does, the more and more autobiographical it becomes… And he didn’t push it at all. And I ignored Max Frisch, and I ignored Volker Schlöndorff’s story as well, and concentrated on the script.

It’s kind of odd that it’s a very European cast, but shooting in New York, which you don’t often see. And there are many Americans in there. Even the best friend is played by an Irish actress [Bronagh Gallagher]. So, did that strike you that you guys were all slightly… not exactly interlopers, but…

Stellan: Well it struck me that there are very few Americans in it. I mean Isi Laborde-Edozien is probably the only one who is really American. Some are half-American. But it was so wild anyway. We had a very low budget, and we were shooting guerilla style in New York, and trying to survive shooting traffic without permission, and without blocking the streets. It was fun.

And you carry the appearances of real New York writers?

Stellan: Well you actually have Colm Tóibín in it. At the library, that I meet on the stairs. That’s Colm Tóibín.

Why did you do it guerrilla style? Isn’t it illegal?

Stellan: Yeah, it’s illegal. Or it could be, of course, but we’re out of the country. They can’t catch us. I’ve done it before in New York. It’s so expensive, and so difficult to shoot there otherwise. And we didn’t have that budget. And there’s no way you could get away with it. And when we shot hand held and in New York and all the noise and everything, it gives a strange energy, that we wanted in the film as well. That stands in contrast to the serenity of Montauk.

The book that he’s written, that he’s then speaking about …it is auto biographical really isn’t it?

Stellan: But he won’t really admit it, and he said, "No, it’s just fiction." But on the other hand, he fictionalizes reality as well. His memories are totally fictionalized by him, and I know writers who do that. I have friends who are writers, and we talk about something that we’ve experienced together, and it’s a totally different experience, and it’s been fucking re-written, and it’s a much better story…but it’s not true. And this is what this character does too, but he also fictionalizes the future, and his dreams. And he builds up all this shit, and casts "Rebecca" [Nina Hoss] as his leading lady in these dreams, and of course it doesn’t work. But I think that’s…in a way it’s…I see something typically male about that.

It’s also typically Max Frisch. That’s what Montauk is all about; altering reality.

Stellan: Yeah, it’s Max Frisch, but it’s also male behaviour of the thing that you want reality to adopt to your fantasies and dreams, instead of adopting your fantasies and dreams to reality, and… you push it very hard, which men often do, I think, in a bullish way. Where the women sometimes are more grounded, and in this film, definitely more grounded. They win. They’re the smart ones.

What do you think about the theory he has in the beginning about the two rewards?

Stellan: It’s beautiful literature. I don’t personally think like that. I know there are people probably that think like that, that go back in their lives and see…where did he go wrong? ‘What did I do? Or should I have done something instead?’ But I usually just say ‘Ok, I fucked up here, and I filed that, and go on’. But that’s a different attitude to life. But also, I think that of course if your life is miserable, you try to find the cause of it, and you go back, but…I often get the question… "Are there any films you made that you regret?" And I made quite a few really, really bad films, but I do not regret them, because…I’m the sum of all the mistakes I’ve made, as well as I’m the sum of all the good decisions I’ve made. And also, if I turn down that crappy film, I might have been run over by a bus. So, don’t fuck with the past. Just like The Time Machine by Ray Bradbury. Where somebody travels back, and steps on a butterfly, and this new President of The United States…

Max is this kind of European intellectual who doesn’t feel too comfortable in the States. And you being someone who’s working in the States, and in Europe as well, can you sort of relate to that?

Stellan: I feel pretty comfortable there. Not that I want to live there, but I move in that water very well. A couple of lines that I noticed, that I’ve been thinking myself, that is the difference between American heroes, and European heroes. And I really like that thing, because Superman and all those heroes, would not be possible in Europe. They would be laughable. But… we cannot simplify as much as they can, and that’s a big cultural difference.

Which character traits did you identify with or could you relate to most in it?

Stellan: I could identify myself with a lot, but I hopefully am much more grounded than he is. A lot of artists have a tendency to think that art is more important than life, and especially their art is more important than life. I have too many children and wives to make sure that I’m grounded all the time, and nobody is impressed by me. But I can relate to…not knowing who I love. Or knowing that I love several. That is something that’s not hard for me to imagine. And also…what happens with you when you have one face in front of you, that you really love, and then another face fades for a while, until it shows up in front of you again. I can relate to that. The thing about art and the sort of artists who put art above everything… there was a friend of mine, a director who did a film, and fell in love with an actress during the filming, and then he wrote a diary, during the shoot, and then he published it, and his wife read it, of course…

And he said, "Oh, she’s so upset about this diary that I published." "You published it?" I said. "Yeah, yeah". "How the fuck could you do that? Why did you do that?" "Well, I’m an artist, I do this…" And I started laughing. And I laughed at him until he started blushing.

Who is he?

Stellan: It’s none of your business. (Laughs)

Did they stay together after publication?

Stellan: Yes. But when I work, as an actor, it’s really important for me, the work. But it must never become more important than life I think.