London Film Festival - Larking about with Lars
October 27, 2003
Lars von Trier is not always depicted as the easiest director to work with. His
relationship with the star of Dancer in the Dark, Bjork, was widely reported as
difficult and, to her, even damaging. And when Dogville premiered in Cannes
earlier this year, Nicole Kidman admitted that at first she had problems with his working
methods, before "a walk in the woods" with the director eased her mind.
But as far as Stellan Skarsgård is concerned - and
hes acted for von Trier four times since his attention-grabbing role in Breaking
the Waves - being on one of the Danes sets is "pure joy".
"I dont consider it working, I consider it playing. I like him very much as
a person. Its a wonderful adventure to be allowed to play with Lars."
One of the most surprising aspects of the film, especially after the quasi-realism of
von Triers Dogme period, is its pure theatricality. Dogville takes
place on a bare stage, with few props and no buildings, the actors merely behaving as
though there are.
"As an actor, you really appreciate it when a film director is more interested in
the acting than the sets [Laughing] It feels very privileged. The first time I walked onto
that sound stage there was a click in my spine and I got that theatre feeling - that you
want to take the entire room, cover it with your energy; which you shouldnt of
course, you have to control yourself. Then when we started working, the stage would always
be full of actors, electrified by them while you were doing something very intimate and
delicate in just one corner - it was a great feeling."
Apparently von Triers direction of his cast verged on the eccentric, with actors
encouraged to play their scenes in ways - too slow, too dramatic, too funny - that
didnt seem to make sense.
"I had a scene where I was blackmailing and eventually raping Nicole. And after
four or five takes of that he suddenly said to me Stellan, couldnt you try to
play it as a romantic comedy. So I played it as a romantic comedy. Of course the
scene didnt work like that. But there were a few exchanges between Nicole and me, a
few seconds somewhere which suddenly became very interesting, because the angle of attack
on the scene was different. So we did a really bad scene and that gave us a couple of
seconds of gold."
"If you dont trust Lars, then you shouldnt work with him, because it
can be very painful. You have to accept that a scene doesnt work - that its
bad even. Once youve accepted that and you know that hes in control, that he
will pick out whatever he needs from all this bullshit that you produce, then you have an
enormous freedom, you can do whatever you want. And you can really explore the
As for Kidman, just one of a number of illustrious co-stars in this film, Skarsgård
has nothing but praise.
"Nicole is a very smart actress and a very brave one. For a Hollywood star of her
magnitude to do something like this and so totally give up control was very
When hes not working with von Trier, Skarsgård - heir apparent to Max von Sydow
as Swedens greatest living actor - has been forging a healthy career in Hollywood,
with films such as Amistad, Good Will Hunting, The Hunt for Red October and
one hes just completed, Paul Schrader's "prequel" to The Exorcist
(in which he plays a younger version of von Sydow himself).
"Of course some of the really big Hollywood productions are not so interesting
from an actors point of view because the material is very formulaic and the
parameters you can work within are very small - otherwise you destroy the formula that is
supposed to bring them millions. Its fun in a different way. As an actor
youre not that challenged by it, but you can enjoy the lightness of it. Its
Acting Lite. Diet Acting."