Interview with Emily Watson & Stellan Skarsgård - "Breaking the Waves"

November 21, 1996

Can each of you briefly sum up your characters in Breaking The Waves?

Emily: Bess is.... a very naive, openhearted, loving, religious nut who is saner than everybody else.

Stellan: Jan is a guy who's been around quite a lot, I guess, working on oil rigs all over the world. Very much to his own surprise, he falls in love with a strange girl from this little religious community on the Western coast of Scotland.

Q: What do you think binds the two together as they're outwardly so different from each other?

Emily: Love [laughs]. Bess just has a totally open heart, and Jan is the first person who doesn't see her as the village idiot, as some simple back-woods girl. He actually recognizes what a wonderful, free, open spirit she has, and he's great: he's this big gorgeous guy [laughs again].

Stellan: I'm not sure if Jan knows why he loves Bess and I don't think he really understands her, but he's taken by the power of her love and the beauty of this person.... this.... unbelievable goodness, since she's so different from every other girl he's met. His love is pure and true.

Q: Do you think Bess would be essentially the same person had she not grown up in such an isolated environment?

Emily: Well, she's the exception that proves the rule. I mean, everybody else there is buttoned-up, repressed, kind of.... prejudiced, and she's like the changeling child somehow, because she hasn't taken on board any of that.... close-mindedness. So if she'd been brought up in.... yes, of course, you know.... where you're brought up informs you in some way, but I think she would've been as free as she is wherever.

Q: Even is she's grown up in New York or London, or wherever?

Emily: Yeah, but.... I don't know.... I think she'd probably get run over on the first day [everybody laughs], she'd look the wrong way or something.

Q: How do you think Jan, who's more worldly than the Scottish villagers, was able to fit into the strict community which Bess was from and in which the couple settled?

Stellan: I don't think he fitted into the community at all. He just didn't care for it, or about it. I mean, he was a part of it, he just stepped around it. I don't think he would ever sort of settle in that community. He tolerated it.

Q: Here's a question for both of you. Since it's never addressed in the movie, did you make a story about how Jan and Bess met?

Stellan: Emily has a very good story on that.

Emily: My theory is that Bess was working in a hotel bar, cleaning or, you know, serving or something. Jan came in and she.... sort of.... she'd had this pact with God that said that if a man comes in and walks over to that window and picks up that chair and sits on it, then orders this particular pint, then touches that wall..... you know, there's a whole sequence of events, and this is the sign from God saying this is the man in your life. Jan walked in and did all of those things, so that was the sign from God. So she went and just bowled him over.

Q: Do you think maybe she said that in the voice of God that she had when she spoke to herself?

Emily: Well, she probably laid it out and said, "Is that okay?" and he probably said, "Yes".

Q: And what do you think their courtship was like?

Emily: I think Bess probably did all of the running. [breaks into laughter]

Stellan: Yeah.

Emily: She probably said on the second date that she wanted to marry him.

Stellan: I think that Bess was probably one step ahead.