Joachim Trier’s “The Worst Person in the World,” about a young woman figuring out life and love, might have brought Renate Reinsve the best actress award at Cannes, but the two actually started their collaboration in 2011 on “Oslo, August 31st” – Reinsve’s very first film.
“I was an extra with one line,” she said during an online discussion with the director, accompanying a surprise screening of their film at Rotterdam Film Festival. “The Worst Person in the World” was recently shortlisted for Best International Feature Film at the Academy Awards.
“I had nothing to compare it to – it was my first movie set. I thought you guys were just a group of friends having fun and making a movie. I didn’t think acting was supposed to be like that at all. The next movie I did after I worked with you, Joachim, I was in shock.”
Trier, who wrote the story with Eskil Vogt, completing his “Oslo trilogy,” created the role of Julie with Reinsve in mind.
“And we are not even born in Oslo – I was born in Copenhagen. I was asked if I have some ‘sociological insight’ into our city and I am afraid I don’t – a sculptor doesn’t have to be an expert in clay, but we both developed the feeling this is our place. During these past 10 years I grew into an even bigger fan and I was always surprised you weren’t offered lead roles in Norwegian movies,” he noted, calling Reinsve “one of the greatest talents of her generation.”
“With that title, it’s very important to make clear that it’s not at all alluding to Renate. It’s a self-ironic comment on how the character feels. A lot of actors are vain and they don’t want to reveal dangerous places, but Renate has this ability to let go and take a chance. Sometimes I would say ‘cut’ and we would just look at each other, puzzled.”
After years of working in theater, Reinsve was thrilled to get the part, but self-doubt quickly followed.
“When he asked me, I had this strange reaction: ‘Are you sure?’ It was a dream come true and I was so scared of failing you. You always pushed me to lose control, but it wasn’t about me delivering a good performance. It was about all of us, finding something interesting within every scene. You know the term GOAT, Joachim, the Greatest of All Time? You are the GOAT of Norway,” she said.
“I think it’s a note to any young director who may be watching this: the most talented people I have worked with have a big fear of failure and that’s a part of their drive. With an actor who hasn’t done a lot of work, when you give them the part, call them the next day. Say: ‘How are you?’ Most will answer: ‘I am not feeling great,’ ” observed Trier.
“This is what I sensed with you, Renate. You were very self-critical, but I wasn’t nervous about it. I knew. I fuck up a lot of things, but I am pretty good with casting.”
While not exactly religious, Trier wanted to explore the concept of destiny in the film, something he already touched upon in 2006 “Reprise.”
“We have a sense of it sometimes, but it’s hidden to us how it will play out. Julie is yearning to nail that sense of purpose. Working with actors mirrors that, actually. We don’t know what the hell we are doing, but we have a hunch,” he said.
“We are sneaking the audience through the backdoor, making them believe it’s just a romantic comedy about small events in everyday life, but we are dealing with a larger existential canvas, with how loss is a necessity to start becoming who you need to be.”
Trier and Reinsve also discussed some of the film’s acclaimed scenes, including a fantastical sequence that sees Julie literally stop time in order to make an important decision.
“I did a lot of running for that scene. Joachim loves to do things old-school, so it was just people standing still. It was a complete mindfuck to run through that,” said Reinsve, with Trier adding that he wanted the story to negotiate with the concept of time.
“At the premiere, the director Arild Andresen came up to me, almost crying, and said: ‘I think it’s so beautiful that Julie’s biggest wish is to stop time and you let her do it.’ Yeah – that’s one way to look at it.”