Interview with Stellan about "Breaking
November 21, 1996
People don't die for love the way they used to. It's Prozac and Haagen-Dazs and Jenny
Craig and on to the next experience. Faith and sacrifice are pretty much out of fashion
Which is why Lars von Trier's (The Kingdom, The Element Of Crime)
breathtaking Breaking The Waves, for all its modern technique, seems curiously
old-fashioned. When Bess, a simple, innocent girl living in a small Scottish village,
falls for Jan, an older, more experienced oil-rig worker, her love is so strong it removes
any sense of self-preservation.
When Jan (Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård) is injured, he is afraid Bess (newcomer Emily
Watson) will be lonely and convinces her that if she takes lovers and tells him about her
experiences, he will feel better. She believes him and sets out to sacrifice herself for
"The way I wanted to portray him was different from other characters in love that
I've done," says Skarsgård, 45, and a veteran of more than 40 movies, in Toronto
during the film festival. "Normally when I play a person who is in love, I mix the
love with a little narcissism, a little selfishness - all those things we all have in us
that are the reason that nothing is ever pure. But this love had to be absolutely pure.
That is the key, his longing for the pure emotions."
"The relationship between Jan and Bess had to feel totally real. And there is just
10 minutes at the beginning of the film to show happy love. And how the hell do you show
happy love? It's very hard to do sex scenes so that they turn out well. It's like this: a
fuck feels divine, but it looks quite idiotic."
Von Trier recently announced that he will no longer speak to the press because "my
comments seem more and more forced, pathetic and meaningless," causing his partner in
the production company Zentropa to tell a Danish newspaper that "he's gone strange in
the head." But working with the director was a wonderful experience for Skarsgård.
"He (Trier) is a damned neurotic person and he usually feels awful. But he doesn't
feel awful on the set. The set is enormously fun and nurturing. Zentropa Productions is
like a family, they take care of everybody, it's so damned nice. It's the best of Danish
coziness, you could say. There is a feeling of love and warmth, and that makes you all
soft and warm. And that makes it possible to make a movie like this ring very true.
Because that warmth is not in the script."
While there might not be much warmth, there are certainly enough other emotions to
leave you severely shaken up (and not only due to the hand held camera) for a long time.
And while Skarsgård - who says he can't understand why he never gets cast in comedies as
he's "one hell of a cheerful guy" - is good, the greatness belongs to Emily
"She was fantastic. I was a little nervous in the beginning, because she was
British, which means she had to have other ideas about nakedness and sex scenes than we
Scandinavians have, and it was her first film, and it was a woman's part that is written
maybe every 20th year. And she was terror stricken. But she knew that if she could do
this, she would never need to be afraid again. She showed enormous courage."
There have been grumblings about Breaking The Waves being misogynist, the
character of Bess being just another sacrificial lamb on the altar of macho. Skarsgård
has this to say to those who take that line:
"It's very fortunate that Jesus wasn't a woman, because in that case they would
have thought that the Bible was a really shitty book. It makes absolutely no difference if
it was a man or a woman in that role. The film is not about gender. It is about love. And
I thought: at last a love story, a film about love where the love is enormous, where love
is as great as love could possibly be, but almost never is."