Christian Slater, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stacy Martin,
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Lars von Trier’s new film “Nymphomaniac: Volume I” is the story of a young woman who tries to work through her parental issues by having as much sex as possible. And that’s quite a bit of sex indeed, the majority of it dispassionate and squalid. It is not, however, a pornographic film, says star Stellan Skarsgard.

At Thursday’s New York premiere of “Nymphomaniac,” held at the Museum of Modern Art, a reporter on the red carpet asked him what it was like to be in a pornographic film. Skarsgard, clearly a bit frustrated at this line of questioning, responded that Lars von Trier’s film, though often darkly funny, makes compulsive sex seem miserable rather than erotic.

“All his films are fairy tales, it’s not realistic people, but he brings them alive, it has a heightened level that is very exciting,” Skarsgard told Variety. This is the Swedish actor’s eighth film with von Trier. Though the director is known for making controversial, often gleefully misanthropic films, Skarsgard says the actual process is the opposite of the finished product. “He’s a very gentle and good man. You can’t feel more comfortable than on a Lars von Trier set, because he trusts the actors very much, and you’re allowed to try to do whatever you want to do, and if you make mistakes, that’s encouraged, because that means you’re taking risks.

“You can ask any of the actors he’s worked with. They all want to return to him. He brings out very truthful performances.”

The film stars both Charlotte Gainsbourg and newcomer Stacy Martin as Joe, the titular nymphomaniac. Many of the film’s sex scenes feature body doubles having actual, penetrative sex that was digitally altered to make it line up with the simulated acts starring Martin and her various scene partners.

“There were so many parameters established upfront, so it all ended up being handled very appropriately,” says star Christian Slater. “Anything that (Martin) was uncomfortable with, they dealt with, and they brought in other bodies to use for those particular moments. So really her job, my job was just to show up and be actors, that’s all we really had to think about.”

Most of the film’s actors, including Uma Thurman, and celebrity fans Karen O, Michael Shannon and John Cameron Mitchell, attended the premiere and after-party at Butter Midtown, where they were treated to champagne, tater tots and complimentary bags of Jimmy Jane high-end sex toys. Not in attendance was von Trier himself, who famously has a fear of flying and has vowed never to do press for films again after he was taken to task after an incident promoting 2011’s “Melancholia” at the Cannes Film Festival when he compared himself to Adolf Hitler. Also absent was star Shia LaBeouf, who is currently involved in some sort of Joaquin Phoenix-esque performance art anti-publicity campaign. (The reporter that asked Skarsgard the pornography question was later reprimanded by the film’s publicist for asking too many questions about LaBeouf. For his part, Skarsgard declined to comment on his co-star’s activities.)

This is Gainsbourg’s third film with the director, following “Melancholia” and 2009’s “Antichrist,” which included a scene where Gainsbourg’s character, mad with grief, mutilates her own genitals with a pair of scissors. Clearly, she likes a challenge.

“His method is so unusual, the fact that you work with him, and he makes you go in a ton of different directions, everything about his way of doing things is fascinating,” she said.

“I don’t know that many directors who have that talent, so everything is very appealing,” she said, and then made it clear that as much as he like to push the limit, he does so in a gentlemanly way.  “For ‘Antichrist’ he knew that I was embarrassed about my bosom, so he knew what I didn’t want to show that, and when that was clear, the rest was easy.”

“Nymphomaniac: Volume I” will be in theaters on March 21 and is currently available On Demand. “Volume II” will be available on April 18.

(Pictured: Christian Slater, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stacy Martin, Uma Thurman and Stellan Skarsgard attend the “Nymphomaniac: Volume I” New York premiere)

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