Norwegian actor Renate Reinsve made her film debut with one line (“Let’s go to the party!”) in Joachim Trier’s “Oslo, August 31st.” Though the role was brief, she spent nine days on set, and Trier mentioned wanting to write a bigger part for her. Twenty years later, he made good on that promise by casting her in “The Worst Person in the World.” Reinsve plays Julie, a young woman who abruptly quits medical school and goes on a journey of self-discovery. For her performance, Reinsve has earned raves and was named best actress at the Cannes Film Festival.
Many directors say they want to write parts for people, but Trier actually came through for you. Were you surprised?
Absolutely! We got to know each other on the first film, and also, Oslo is very small, so we would meet here and there. And we’d always end up in these big, existential conversations because our lives were so messy. I remember him saying, “You have to do a lead.” But I never thought he would actually do something like this. I still can’t believe it. I am so lucky.
I heard you were considering leaving the acting business before he reached out to you?
I had decided to quit the day before he called me. I had started acting to explore human behavior and look at how people treat each other, and I had just felt that so many projects weren’t for me. They were full of two-dimensional characters who only function for the plot. I wasn’t having fun anymore. So I was going to quit, and then he called me. It was so strange.
Did you have a backup plan for a career?
I was going to learn how to do carpentry, actually. I had renovated a house and felt so empowered in doing so. But everything is crooked and weird in my house so I wanted to learn how to do it properly.
Since you had just decided to quit, did you have to think about it when he called you?
Oh no, it was a yes. He’s a genius. He’s so smart, and he has such a big heart. He writes characters that he doesn’t judge. I knew all the themes he wanted to explore were the reasons I wanted to be an actor, so I was not going to say no.
How long before you saw an actual script?
I think about four months, and Joachim was really nervous because he and [co-writer] Eskil Vogt are two guys writing a female character. He told me I could say anything I wanted and my perspective was important on this. But I read the script, and I was so relieved and so moved by how accurately they portrayed a woman in this time. I think they write a human being, and part of her identity is being a woman.
There’s a scene in which Julie has written an essay about oral sex that feels so authentic. Did you write any of that?
No, I didn’t. Not at all. That’s how great they are. They are so curious in other people and so empathetic. I think they have had conversations with women and explored these topics. They are always asking questions.
What was it like premiering at Cannes?
I was so nervous. In Norway we could only show the film to like five people at a time because of COVID. So to go into a theater of 2,300 people … my self-deprecation was high. I remember thinking, “This is a beautiful movie but I’ve ruined it!”
Things you didn’t know about Renate Reinsve
Birthplace: Solbergelva, Norway
Favorite film: “Call Me by Your Name”
Favorite filmmaker: David Lynch
Up next: Though she can’t reveal future plans, Reinsve says she’s had “conversations” that include American movies