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Susanne Bier on ‘A Second Chance,’ ‘Serena,’ and Her Upcoming Mary, Queen of Scots Biopic

Susanne Bier on 'A Second Chance,' 'Serena,' and Her Upcoming Mary, Queen of Scots Biopic

Susanne Bier is one of the most respected and well-known women directors in the world. One of three female filmmakers to win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, the prolific Danish helmer’s filmography includes Brothers (2004), After the Wedding (2006), the Academy Award-winning In a Better World (2010), and, most recently, Love Is All You Need (2012).

Bier has two of her upcoming films playing at this year’s London Film Festival (October 8-19): the thriller-drama A Second Chance, starring Game of Thrones‘ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as a policeman who swaps his dead infant with the baby of two neglectful drug addicts, and Serena, the long-delayed (for rather understandable reasons) historical drama starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper as a Depression-era married couple with ambitions to take over the timber industry by any means necessary. 

Bier spoke with Women and Hollywood about the moral questions that led her to A Second Chance, why Serena took so long to get from shooting to distribution (blame it on J. Law’s popularity), and why she was eager to explore Mary, Queen of Scots’ life on screen.

Women and Hollywood: How you would describe A Second Chance?

Susanne Bier: It’s kind of a morality tale. It questions some very core values that we all have, and it leaves a fairly
extreme impression. It’s quite a brutal film. It is also a film that plays with thriller elements, so you’re being confronted with a
main character whom you identify with. You see a life of paradox — he’s a
policeman — and then he does something which he knows, and we all know, he
definitely shouldn’t be doing. And we kind of understand it, and we feel that it’s sort of crazy, but there’s still room for him. Which is
the thing that I was intrigued by, playing that game with the audience.

W&H: And the title, A
Second Chance, 
how should we interpret that?

SB: A lot of the characters in the film
actually do get a second chance, so that’s one way of interpreting it. The
other way of interpreting it is questioning a human’s right to
some kind of divine-like intervention, which you see this police officer do, during a crazed moment. He feels he’s got a right to do
something which humans have no right to do.

W&H: In the press notes you say, “Any creative
process is a combination of feeling secure and feeling terrified. You need to
provoke yourself, and there is a certain unsettledness to being creative, which
is important.” And I liked that “unsettledness as creativity.” Could you talk a little more about that?

SB: Any creative process is about being in a
territory which isn’t secure, isn’t necessarily familiar, and isn’t convenient in any sort of way. And that’s the excitement
of it. For me, creatively, it’s hugely important, and it doesn’t
necessarily mean that the material needs to be dark or needs to be gruesome, as
it is in this case. When I did Love Is All You Need, which is a [breast cancer-themed] romantic comedy, the
territory was, “How do you get those themes to have a lightness
without losing depth?” And so it’s very much about defining the
area of challenge, and enjoying that, embracing that, and
then doing the utmost with that.

W&H: A Second Chance was a hard film to watch even though it was beautifully
done, and you kind of feel uncomfortable the whole time. Was that the
intention?

SB: That is where the thriller-like element
comes in. Yes, it has an element of being hard to watch in one way, because
it’s really about someone who is doing something that you know he shouldn’t be
doing, and it makes you uneasy. But what is very
thought-provoking and also entertaining about it is that you can’t help
engaging yourself in it. I don’t think it’s just dark; there’s also an element
of hope in it.

W&H: So you actually have two films at the London Film
Festival.

SB: That’s right.

W&H: The last time we
spoke was two years ago for
Love Is All You
Need
, and you were just finishing up Serena,
and now
Serena is about to premiere. Can
you talk a little bit about the process of getting it to the place where you
were happy with it, and why we waited two years to see it?

SB: It’s probably even longer. It’s been almost three years ago since we shot it. It’s been a weird process, because
firstly, when I asked Jennifer [Lawrence] to participate, she had not done The Hunger Games yet, and certainly not Silver Linings or American Hustle. And funnily enough, given where she is today, I
actually had to fight a bit for her, because she was not yet this huge,
big star. 

Bradley [Cooper] was. Bradley had done The Hangover, but I think for both of them it was attractive to do something that was pretty dark and pretty different. For Bradley, it was
certainly different from everything else he’s done. And so I asked them, and
they said yes, and then they did Silver
Linings
, and then we shot Serena. So
by the time we started shooting Serena,
they’d already done an emotionally deep comedy [together]. And
this is very, very different. This is a very dark film, almost like a
classical dark drama. 

So we shot it, and then Jennifer has had only two
days off in like two and a half years’ time or something like that, so we didn’t
have a chance to finish it, and we hadn’t have time to do the audio — we
hadn’t had time to do anything. And I also had been doing a film in the
meanwhile, so it’s just been because of that a little bit delayed. Everything was a domino effect, where you look and say, “Oh,
damn, it’s another four months until we can do that; it’s another three months
until we can do that,” so it just kept being pushed.

W&H: Doesn’t it piss you off that people are like, “What happened to Serena?” when
it’s just about scheduling issues and no one’s even seen the film to make any
comments about it?

SB: Yeah, of course I’d rather that it wouldn’t be about
that. Whenever things are slightly different [from the norm], it always attracts comments. I think it’s inevitable. The nature of the film is also — Serena is
not necessarily a movie about two totally likable characters. It’s a movie
about two very complicated characters, and that’s going to be
interesting. 

W&H: I can’t wait! Do we have a US release yet?

SB: Yeah, I think it’s in March. Magnolia is releasing it.

W&H: Are you next
working with Cate Blanchett [
in The Dig]?

SB: No, I’m actually next working on Mary, Queen of Scots. I’m trying to get that huge, big story in a
shape so it actually fits in a movie. We have a great script! So I’m super
excited.

W&H: Are you working with the same writer that you
worked with before, or a new writer?

SB: I’m working with Penelope Skinner. She’s a playwright. We
want to do something with a voice. Mary was very young when she became queen. Basically, she was queen from age five, but she became a real queen when she was 17.
And we wanted to have that because part of the excitement is to have that young
girl have the power of a queen. That was so exciting.

W&H: Have you cast it?

SB: We are in process.

W&H: What was your experience of working as the Zurich Film Festival’s president of
the jury?

SB: I’ve been on juries a number of times, and for me it’s
very inspiring, because I get to see all those movies that I wouldn’t normally
see, and it’s kind of educational for me, so I like to do it occasionally. There
are good and bad movies, and long ones, and pretentious ones, and fun ones, and it’s kind of
healthy not just being able to switch off after ten minutes, but have
patience.

W&H: Do you think people have misconceptions about your
work, or if there are any misconceptions about it?

SB: Yeah, I think there’s a misconception of my wanting to
do dark stuff. My claim to fame in Scandinavia has been a comedy called The One and Only, and I did Love Is All You Need last year, and actually… it
depends on the material, but being European, there is a little bit of
tendency for people to think that I’m super-serious, but I’m not. (Laughs)

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