|Waves of Emotion
March 6, 1997
Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård is relieved that the new English-Danish film, Breaking
the Waves, is an arthouse hit with audiences around the world. Speaking after his Waves
co-lead Emily Watson received a wildcard Academy Award nomination for Best Actress,
Skarsgård admits he can't work out if a movie can be considered "worthy" or
"To me, a film does not exist until it has found its proper audience,"
Skarsgård says. "It can be beautiful like a diamond, but what good is a diamond when
it is 10,000 feet underground? Breaking the Waves is probably the first time I
have been in a film that I am truly proud of. Sure, there are a lot that I am fond of. But
there are also a lot that I would like to burn."
In Breaking the Waves, Skarsgård gives a blazing performance as Jan, an
oil-rig worker paralyzed after an accident at sea. In one of the strangest, most
challenging love stories on the big screen, Jan commands his young wife Bess (Watson) to
pursue other men so he can retain his will to live. It is an awkward, bumpy road with Breaking
the Waves. It is a journey that inspires both great trepidation and fascination in
"When I leafed through the screenplay," Skarsgård says, "I did not know
where it was heading either. There was only one thing I could say to the director, Lars
Von Trier. I told Lars that Breaking the Waves is to movie love stories, what Raiders
of the Lost Ark means to movie action. There are so many strong scenes in Breaking
the Waves, it is like you are hitting peaks and climaxes all the time."
Skarsgård says he hesitated in taking on Breaking the Waves because of the
difficulties he had to encounter in playing the mostly bedridden Jan.
"Being paralyzed was a nightmare in many respects because of what I am normally
like. Spending two weeks on my back in bed was an awful experience for me, because as an
actor, I need to neurotically pace up and down all the time."
The hand-held camera was another challenge, not only for Skarsgård and the cast, but
world-renowned cinematographer Robby Miller.
"The camera was moving around all the time," Skarsgård recalls. "It was
almost like another character in the scene with you. It was moving and looking in every
direction, and after a while, we all became very paranoid that it may not be looking at us
when we were doing our best acting."