Björn Runge • Director
“Where do I start and where do I end?”
by Kaleem Aftab
- We spoke to Björn Runge, who was handpicked by actress Glenn Close to make the film adaptation of Meg Wolitzer’s novel The Wife, screening at Zurich
Swedish director Björn Runge won the Silver Bear at Berlin in 2003 for his film Daybreak. His first feature film, Harry Och Sonja, was made in 1996, and this was followed by a TV movie documentary on director Roy Andersson and a documentary, Vulkanmannen, on Swedish author Sture Dahlström. His fifth feature, The Wife [+see also:
interview: Björn Runge
film profile], is his first English-language film and, although set in Stockholm, was mostly shot in Scotland. It tells the story of a wife who has created the work that her husband is receiving the recognition for penning.
Cineuropa: Clearly, we should have been expecting to interview your wife about how she really directed this film…
Björn Runge: Ah, but my wife [Lena Runge] edited this film. So she really is the master of this movie [laughs]!
It’s a film about the creative process, and it must also have been interesting to investigate your own process through this film.
Exactly – where do I start and where do I end, and where do others come in? Film is very much a collective process, but as a director, I must always be careful about whose will I’m following.
Did the script come to you first, or had you read the book? How did the film work?
I read the script first and liked it immediately because of the dialogue – I think the dialogue is the key to the film.
Was Glenn Close familiar with your work?
She got to know my work. We were having a meeting because the producers told me that they wanted me to do the film, but now it was up to Glenn Close to say yes or no to me. So I went over to New York and had breakfast with her, and we were speaking about life, the script, theatre and films, and suddenly she was looking at me and she said, “I want you to direct this film, and I have trust in you. There was some kind of connection we had.”
The film also features a character, David, living in the shadow of his famous parent. You have two younger actors in the film: Max Irons, the son of Jeremy Irons, and Annie Starke, the daughter of Glenn Close. What made you cast them?
After meeting Max, I knew he was perfect for the part. You know when you’re talking about the script with actors, many actors talk about what they have done, but with Max, you suddenly begin to be a little bit more personal, and so we started to show each other the emotional ticket needed for the script. With Annie, we were screen-testing many actresses, and one evening, Glenn called me and asked, “Have you found a young Joan?” I said, “Not yet; I’ll continue this week.” She said, “I have a daughter, and she’s an actress – would you screen-test her?” And I said, “Of course, but if I say ‘no’, you must respect my decision.” We did three screen tests with her, and she was perfect for the role, but I never thought of her as Glenn’s daughter; she was Annie, and they were never on set together.
Was it hard to put flashbacks in the film?
I think it’s always difficult with flashbacks because you have different people playing the same characters, and then it’s another kind of story. It’s a story about starting a new life, starting a creative life and family, and the scenes in the present are more about reflecting on life – they are longer, more emotional scenes. The risk is that flashbacks can be illustrative, and that is, of course, a challenge. We had some problems with the flashbacks because they were in the script earlier than they appear in the film, but when we edited the movie, that didn’t work, and it took some time before we found the right balance.
Were you inspired by Bergman?
If you are a director from Sweden of a certain age, you have a relationship with Bergman. I’ve always been inspired by his work, by his way of working with actors, and how he does close-ups and even how he uses shadeless light. We brought this into the film because I realised that Glenn’s face looks much better with a shadeless, soft light, and so Bergman’s spirit is in this film to a certain extent.
Has there ever been a moment in your career when you were dancing on the bed with happiness?
No, but I’ve fallen to my knees because my legs couldn’t support me. That was when the Berlinale called me several years ago and told me that I had won the Silver Bear. Then, when I said, “I have to hang up and call the team,” they replied, “No, no, no, you’ve got another prize as well – Der Blaue Engel Prize for Best European Film,” and then I just couldn’t stand up any more. It was amazing.
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