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 not.

"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 viewers.

"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."

[Herald Sun]