Seven Questions For Stellan Skarsgard And Emily Watson Of "Breaking The Waves"
by Mark L. Feinsod
Lars von Trier’s “Breaking The Waves” is about a man
who becomes paralyzed in an accident and then urges his wife to take a lover. It features intense
performances from its two lead actors, Emily Watson
(who plays Bess) and Stellan Skarsgard (in the role of Jan). When I arrived
for my interview with them, both Skarsgard and I arrived a little early. We
had a pleasant chat about the Internet, Sweden, Prague, and the rock band
Clawfinger until the formal discussion began once Watson arrived.
indieWIRE: Can each of you briefly sum up your characters in “Breaking
Emily Watson: Bess is…. a very naive, openhearted, loving, religious nut
who is saner than everybody else.
Stellan Skarsgard: Jan is a guy who’s been around quite a lot, I guess,
working on oil rigs all over the world. Very much to his own surprise, he
falls in love with a strange girl from this little religious community on the
Western coast of Scotland.
iW: What do you think binds the two together as they’re outwardly so
different from each other?
Watson: Love [laughs]. Bess just has a totally open heart, and Jan is the first
person who doesn’t see her as the village idiot, as some simple back-woods
girl. He actually recognizes what a wonderful, free, open spirit she has, and
he’s great: he’s this big gorgeous guy [laughs again].
Skarsgard: I’m not sure if Jan knows why he loves Bess and I don’t think he really
understands her, but he’s taken by the power of her love and the beauty of
this person…. this…. unbelievable goodness, since she’s so different from
every other girl he’s met. His love is pure and true.
iW: Do you think Bess would be essentially the same person had she not grown
up in such an isolated environment?
Watson: Well, she’s the exception that proves the rule. I mean, everybody else
there is buttoned-up, repressed, kind of…. prejudiced, and she’s like the
changeling child somehow, because she hasn’t taken on board any of that….
close-mindedness. So if she’d been brought up in…. yes, of course, you
know…. where you’re brought up informs you in some way, but I think she
would’ve been as free as she is wherever.
iW: Even is she’s grown up in New York or London, or where ever?
Watson: Yeah, but…. I don’t know…. I think she’d probably get run over on the
first day [everybody laughs], she’d look the wrong way or something.
iW: How do you think Jan, who’s more worldly than the Scottish villagers, was
able to fit into the strict community which bess was from and in which the
Skarsgard: I don’t think he fitted into the community at all. He just didn’t care
for it, or about it. I mean, he was a part of it, he just stepped around it.
I don’t think he would ever sort of settle in that community. He tolerated
iW: Here’s a question for both of you. Since it’s never addressed in the
movie, did you make a story about how Jan and Bess met?
Skarsgard: Emily has a very good story on that.
Watson: My theory is that Bess was working in a hotel bar, cleaning or, you know,
serving or something. Jan came in and she…. sort of…. she’d had this pact
with God that said that if a man comes in and walks over to that window and
picks up that chair and sits on it, then orders this particular pint, then
touches that wall….. you know, there’s a whole sequence of events, and this
is the sign from God saying this is the man in your life. Jan walked in and
did all of those things, so that was the sign from God. So she went and just
bowled him over.
iW: Do you think maybe she said that in the voice of god that she had when
she spoke to herself?
Watson: Well, she probably laid it out and said, “Is that okay?” and he probably
iW: And what do you think their courtship was like?
Watson: I think Bess probably did all of the running. [breaks into laughter]
Watson: She probably said on the second date that she wanted to marry him.
Skarsgard: I think that Bess was probably one step ahead.