Nymphomaniac’s One Night Stand: Nymphomaniac I & II With Cast Q&A


Sarah Creed spends an evening with Nymphomaniac and some of its stars. She emerged, but was she unscathed?

“Perhaps the only difference between me and other people is that I have always demanded more from the sunset, more spectacular colours when the sun hit the horizon; that’s perhaps my only sin.”

Lars von Trier has never steered away from controversy. I cannot think of a film of his that has been released within the past 10 years that hasn’t exploded onto the big screen in a whirlwind of debate and dispute. Tackling subjects such as the origins of evil (Antichrist, 2009), the end of the world (Melancholia, 2011), and now female sexuality, he takes bold, often taboo, topics and explores them in an equally bold way. His eccentricity has made him notorious (some would say infamous) as a director, but also allows his films to create their own kind of brilliance. I believe he has the attitude that if his film is going to crash and burn, it’s going to do it in the most mind-blowingly beautiful way possible. Possibly with Rammestein playing in the background.

The first part of the Nymphomaniac double bill begins with Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) lain strewn across the floor, battered and bruised, much to the surprise of Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard), who takes in this stray woman without question or judgement. This act of kindness leads to the telling of a story, one that reaches from childhood to the present day (approximately 40 years) and has eight chapters. Mediated by the asexual Seligman, who offers no judgement or stereotypical responses, Joe finds herself in a neutral space in which she finds comfort and temporary solace away from her addiction.

“Joe is a sex addict. She has been aware of her sexuality since a young age and has acted freely upon it for as long as she can remember”

In the event you’ve had no access to popular culture for the last 18 months, Joe is a sex addict. She has been aware of her sexuality since a young age (apparently 8 years old) and has acted freely upon it for as long as she can remember. Stacy Martin excels as Young Joe, depicting an anarchic young woman on a voyage of discovery – anti-love, anti-commitment and anti-chastity. Sex on trains, with married men, with friends and strangers alike, Joe is an adventurous and beautiful young woman who quickly realises that her sexuality is influential and often detrimental. This is highlighted by an amazing cameo by Uma Thurman as Mrs H, the spurned wife of a lover who wishes to introduce her three children to the “whoring bed”, and through the reactions of Gainsbourg as the elder Joe, recoiling at her own stories, labelling herself with society driven stereotypes, much to the confusion of Seligman.

As the story continues into the second volume, Joe’s life turns from adventure and youth to depravity and self-flagellation. Battling life as an unexpected and unwilling mother, an ever consuming addiction and a loss of sexual sensation, the second film of the series is a much darker and brooding affair. It also includes a stellar cast, with Jamie Bell as the dominant K, Willem Defoe the criminal and surprisingly non-sexual L, and Christian Slater reappearing as Joe’s father.

Regardless of the amount of sex shown within the film (there is a lot), the work itself is rigorously unsexy. As Stellan Skarsgard eloquently stated in the following Q&A, “It’s not a film you can get off to”. It is as much an analysis of addiction and the human condition as it is a controversial depiction of female sexuality. Yes there is a lot of nudity, and yes there is a lot of sex. But the most shocking thing about Nymphomaniac? The tragic mis-casting of Shia le Beouf as Jerome, the life-long love interest of Joe, who seems to have missed all of his elocution lessons and sounds like a confused Australian for the entirety of the film.

My advice: go and see it for yourself. Don’t let the hype or judgement of the press and others dictate whether or not you see it or indeed like it. I really enjoyed it. I laughed, as did the whole cinema. I gasped, I was infatuated and I recoiled. Once again von Trier has delivered a visual extravaganza, which ends as abruptly as it begins.

Highlights of a post-film Q&A session chaired by Edith Bowman, including cast members Stellan Skarsgard, Stacy Martin and Sophie Kennedy Clark:

EB: Stellan, you have starred in several of Lars’ films now, most recently Melancholia. Why do you keep on going back?

SS: Well it’s certainly not for the money! He’s a good director – it’s about the process of working with him. No other director gives you so much space and freedom; he allows you to make mistakes, he wants the mistakes! Plus he’s not afraid to call you an idiot. And he is a good friend, a nice, gentle, vunerable man.

EB: Stacy, this is your first film with Lars, your first film ever. What were your expectations?

SM: I had no expectations at all; I was just looking forward to working with someone I admired. Lars is very protective, and he really believes in what he is doing. He doesn’t force it, there is a lot of freedom. He trusts his actors and where they can go.

SS: He doesn’t actually know where he wants you to go, he is very organic.

EB: Did you and Charlotte Gainsbourg discuss the character of Joe at all?

SM: No, not at all, and I am glad. I think that was a conscious decision, and I would have been petrified to talk to Charlotte as she is such a pro. Plus, I was depicting Joe at a time in her life when she was very interesting, curious and still discovering, and I wanted to discover that character myself.

EB: Lars is known for his rather in-depth scripts; what were your first thoughts when you read it?

SM: It was a really dense dialogue, it was beautiful and intense and I felt as though I had stepped into another universe. I wanted to know more.

EB: How much research did you do into your characters?

SS: Charlotte and I shot our entire dialogue in two weeks, but hey, there are worse places to be sat than in a room with Charlotte Gainsbourg for two weeks. So really there was no time to build your own idea of who your character was, you just had to be in the moment.

Lars likes you to do a scene in several ways… He cuts together your character for you from the endless footage he films.

EB: Was there much room for improvisation within the characters or script?

SKC: I had a really dense bit of dialogue and I was like, oh god, I’m never going to learn this! But of course, it was so beautifully written that I learned it in about half an hour and after we finished shooting the scene Lars was like, ‘Great – now I want to re-shoot that whole bit, but I want you to say it in your own words.’ I was like erm… what? But obviously I did it, because I’m an actor and that’s my job!

EB: Do you think there was a part of Lars in the characters of Joe and Seligman?

SS: Absolutely. I think both characters embody a different side of his character. Lars doesn’t fit into society’s norms. He has urges. But he is also a caring, learned and politically-correct man. He is also a bit of a closet geek – he loves fly fishing! All of Lars’ films are like fairytales. My character, as a person, is very rare. My job is to bring his thoughts to life. He started really badly, but he’s getting there.

Sarah Creed

Nymphomaniac parts I & II are on general nationwide release now 

Read more… In Profile: Lars von Trier

Posted on 04/03/2014 by thedoublenegative