"My films are always character-driven"
by Annika Pham
- After the Wedding is yet another critical and commercial success for Susanne Bier and this year’s Danish submission in the Oscars race
Cineuropa : After the Wedding [+see also:
interview: Sisse Graum Jørgensen
interview: Susanne Bier
film profile] is your third collaboration with scriptwriter Anders Thomas Jensen. How do you work together ?
Susanne Bier: It’s very much like playing ping-pong. We ask ourselves a lot of questions, build a third of the story and then Anders starts writing the scenes. I come in again, discuss it with him and usually it becomes something completely different. It’s always character-driven and the dramatic development is always determined by how we perceive them and not the opposite.
The backdrop for the film is humanitarian help. Was there something specific in current affairs that inspired you?
No, nothing specific and certainly not current affairs because any film takes a year to make and by the time it’s come out, those current affairs have changed. In this particular film, both Anders and I had a favourite character. He really wanted to do Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen) and I really wanted to do Jørgen (Rolf Lassgård). What is interesting with Jacob is that he has a lot of dilemma like many well-meaning Westerners. We want to do something good but what are our motives really like? Is it because we don’t want to deal with something in our lives or just a pure desire to help someone else? It’s probably a mix. Anders has a more severe perception of these kind of people than me, and he’s probably cynical about humanitarian help. Personally, I don’t really care and I didn’t particularly mind that Jørgen’s motives were a bit blended. He was my favourite character because I have a fascination with... men with power, but I suppose most women have!
Rolf Lassgård is excellent. The scene where he cracks and confesses to his wife that he is afraid of dying is very strong...
The scene was written completely differently. It was supposed to be a much more accommodating scene between husband and wife where in a very soft way, they say goodbye to one another. In the script we thought that at that point, they had come to terms with the truth. But when we started shooting, we realised it’s not like that and someone like Jørgen can become desperate. So two weeks before shooting, ATJ and I discussed the scene. I kept saying it has to be horrible. At the end, the scene did have that sense of violence.
You’ve teamed up again with Mads Mikkelsen. What do you love about him... apart from his physique perhaps!
I really love his wife (laughs)! He is a real searcher. He is searching for truth in each character and searches in a very meticulous way, to such extent that sometimes you wish he would be lazier.
You’ve just finished shooting for Dreamworks Things We Lost in the Fire. How did it happen and how was your first experience in Hollywood?
They sent me the script and I immediately thought: "Yes, I can do that". I’ve been very fortunate because Sam Mendes and Sam Mercer (M. Night Shyamalan’s producer) produced the film so it’s been a very artistic producing team. Working with Dreamworks has made my work more edgy, more intense because they don’t try to be too soft. Otherwise, I don’t think working in the US is that different. What I do or the actors do is basically the same, but what is different is the fact that there are like 150 people with headsets on the set. You never get to know anybody, but everything is very efficient!
Some European filmmakers want to make English language films to reach a broader international audience. Is that important to you as well?
As a filmmaker, I started doing commercials and thought it was really fun, then I started doing it only for the money and they became worse and worse. You have to do things for the right reasons. So you have to make a movie because of the story, because the characters are interesting and there is something in it. It’s not a guarantee for a good movie, but the opposite is a guarantee for a bad movie.