TheBlot Magazine recently caught up with cast members of the much-anticipated Lars von Trier film “Nymphomaniac.” Known for his aim to shock audiences, the Danish director surprises us here by making a movie about sex that is not sexy. He does push against all boundaries, but not in the way you might’ve expected. “Nymphomaniac” is an odyssey that covers 20 years in the life of one very disturbed woman named Joe, and he brings humor, heartbreak and originality.
Adult Joe, played by English-French actress and singer Charlotte Gainsbourg, flashes back over her bizarre and self-destructive life. The director’s cut of the movie is five and a half hours long. For theatrical release it was cut down to four hours and divided in half into Volumes I and II. Volume I was released On Demand March 6, and will be in theaters March 21. I must warn you the cuts are oddly placed. However, that does not ruin the viewing. The film is too unusual to miss — unless, of course, you are either a prude or squeamish about seeing the ugly sides of life.
The story begins with a beaten-up Joe lying in an alley and discovered by Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), an older man who wants to help her. Joe refuses to go to the hospital so Seligman takes her into his home. The two couldn’t be any more opposite. Seligman has lived a virginal, secluded life while Joe has had every type of sex possible.
This is Skarsgård’s sixth movie with von Trier and Gainsbourg’s third. Skarsgård, the father of hottie Alexander Skarsgård (“True Blood”), said about the director, “If there is something you are not supposed to say or do, you have to do it, like Tourette’s. You can’t take the lack of freedom and expression so you have to go there. He’s also interested in seeing how far he can take cinema in using other ways of telling stories. Most of all he is a storyteller.”
Gainsbourg said, “It was easy to say yes to a film that Lars directs because I love him. Of course, it’s challenging because you put yourself in extreme situations. Some of the sexual scenes I was a bit nervous about, but it wasn’t only that. It was also all of the suffering and overwhelming extremes. I want to go there, there’s no question. I want to explore things with him and he has such a wonderful method of working and exploring with you. When I was going into really dark places he was there with me. He adds a lot of empathy for the character.”
It was interesting to watch the faces of the actors when they spoke of von Trier. Each lit up as if speaking of a cherished loved one. The younger Joe is played by newcomer Stacy Martin, who was handpicked fresh out of school and does an alarmingly good job. Martin said, “It’s a crazy story. I went to two auditions in London and then I had a screen test. I had no idea what a screen test was and I was like, ‘What do you mean? You’re going to test cameras?’” [Laughs.]
Christian Slater plays Joe’s ailing father, which seemed like an odd choice until I saw the movie. Slater is just right for the part. When we talked about that he said, “They wanted to see what I look like to see if I looked old enough to play a father. So I did use a little trick. I used my wife’s makeup, put dark circles under my eyes and sent them a photo and they said, ‘Oh, yeah. He looks sickly enough. We can do this.’”
Other cast members include Connie Nielsen (“The Following”) as Joe’s cold and creepy mother in a section of black and white. Sadly, she only gets fleeting screen time. Shia LaBeouf plays Jerôme, the boy Joe loses her virginity to. His off-screen behavior has been steadily losing him respect. In fact, the only question I was told was off limits was “What’s with Shia wearing the bag on his head at press events?” Apparently the actors were sick to death of commenting on that.
Uma Thurman is freaky and captivating as Mrs. H, a woman scorned. She shows up with children in tow and asks Joe and her cheating husband very politely if it’s alright to show the kids “the whoring bed.” She gives a tour de force. Thurman said, “This character does as much as you could do over the course of a whole movie in one massively concentrated section. I prepared like I would if I were going to do a monologue in a one-act play. I ran it and ran it and ran it and worked through the lines and thought through them trying to get inside the psyche of von Trier through his words.”
There is a lot of humor in Volume I; the second volume is much darker. Volume II is available On Demand March 20 and in theaters April 4, and Willem Dafoe and Jamie Bell join the cast.
When I commented that von Trier seems to do what he wants in films and not care what anybody thinks, Skarsgård corrected me. “I was with him in Berlin when we shot the first long version of ‘Nymphomaniac’ and he was so nervous he was shaking before the screening. It was such an incredible reception. People laughed and they were in on everything. I’ve rarely seen a happier director. So, yes, he cares, but he also has to make the audience feel unsafe.”
“Nymphomaniac: Volume I” opens on March 21. Not rated. 117 minutes.
Watch the trailer below: