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Kristin Scott Thomas on the Meaning of 'Bitch' and Going For Broke in 'Only God Forgives'

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire July 18, 2013 at 10:36AM

"She has no problem turning on the bitch switch," Nicolas Winding Refn said of Kristin Scott Thomas at Cannes earlier this year where his latest "Only God Forgives" world premiered in competition (it comes out in theaters and on VOD this Friday). No kidding.
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"Only God Forgives"
RADiUS-TWC "Only God Forgives"

How did you gauge what was too far, what to reign in? On paper I'm sure your role reads as pure camp, but you didn't play her that way.

I didn't decide any of those things. He decided them all. So basically you come on to the day's work, having spent hours in makeup, and he says "So what do you want to do?" And there's this sort of panic, like "Uhhhh, ummm... Dunno?" and then you start and once you start, I am the person that he will model into what he wants. So we do big takes, where I'm doing loads of enormous acting and then he brings it back down, and the he asks you to bring it up again.

When working with him, there weren't takes -- hardly ever. He just kept the camera rolling. He keeps going until he gets what he wants. And he's actually softly spoken, very delicate, very kind, and doesn't bark out things. He's very gentle. It's a weird thing to be directed so gently by someone who is creating such horror and obscenely violent scenes. But you know, he says himself he's a pornographer, there's the quality of the film.

How freeing was that experience, that mode of working?

I loved it. It's heaven. And it's a very, very rare thing on film, because you have to be so efficient on film. You have to nail it. If you don't nail it then you don't get another job. So constantly, your aim has to be true to be able to be realistic. And this is the absolute opposite. You're not realistic, you're pure fantasy. You try to be the worst possible case. The behavior is so outrageous. Basically we're treating subject that are taboo in the film, such as the incest, such as the denial of your child. It's just awful. And when she says "They wanted me to abort you, I should have aborted you," it's just awful.

Was it tough to say those lines given that you yourself are a mother?

Yeah, it was awful. One of the reasons that she is physically so different from how I am in other films or how I am normally was because that was also a defense. It was easier for me to be able to say all those things and do all those things in that getup then it would be had I been like this for example. Because you have an armor. I've been saying it's like battle dress.

"One of the reasons that she is physically so different from how I am in other films or how I am normally was because that was also a defense."

But the getup. To begin with, when we first started talking about this movie -- and that was a long time ago, before he wrote "Drive" -- she was English. The family were English. They had a different actor. That actor pulled out, and they had just finished doing "Drive," and Nicolas said "One of my actors just left" and Ryan said "Well, I'll do it." And I said, "Well yes, but right does Ryan do an English accent? What kind of accent is Ryan going to do?" And he said "No, no, no, you're going to be American." And that completely freaked me out because I just had no reference.

What was your reference before?

Well, she was English gangland, I could relate to that. But somehow the drug thing implied -- because we'd looked at "Cocaine Cowboys" -- it implied something Latino, which wasn't going to work. I don't see how I could have done that. So we went the opposite way and I said "How about this?" And I showed a picture in a magazine of a photo shoot that I'd done where I'd was dressed up like Crystal, and they put me out on the street.

It was quite astonishing how people's reaction to me dressed that way changed radically. Men particularly. I had one man actually try to grab me and take me off the street. Twice he tried. I had a good idea of what he wanted to do. And other men would shout things at me. The thought that someone could deliberately decide to experience that everyday by dressing up like that and having orange skin and nails out to here -- it's a life choice. To court that was completely fascinating. So that was the way into this character. She was somebody who is dressed for battle everyday.

Is that a way you typically work -- through images, costume?

If I'm struggling over something, a good way in is the outside. "The English Patient" for example. I really wanted to play Hana [played by Juliette Binoche in the film] in that. I felt far more related to her. But then I decided my character just had to be blonde. It was the first time I'd dyed my hair. And "Four Weddings and the Funeral" as well. That's a role where costume was vital -- it was all about keeping it together.

I think costume is really interesting. It's not just about vanity. This film is the proof. Things can work as a costume but you don't look so great in them [laughs]. You have to be brave. On this film at the end of the shoot they said "You can keep your costume," and I'm like "There's no way I'm keeping that costume!" "But it's from Dolce & Gabbana!" "I don't care -- I do not want it."

I hope you kept that wig.

I did not keep that wig [laughs]. I stamped on that wig and burnt it.

This article is related to: Kristin Scott Thomas, Ryan Gosling, Nicolas Winding Refn, Only God Forgives, Cannes Film Festival, Interviews, RADiUS-TWC, Thriller





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