By Boyd van Hoeij | Indiewire March 14, 2014 at 11:03AM
We've had literally months of teasers, trailers, posters and then critics copying the posters with the by now infamous O-faces. So much has been written about everything surrounding "Nymphomaniac," the two-part opus of Danish provocateur Lars von Trier, that you'd almost forget we haven't really heard from the people involved in the film itself. Indiewire spoke with Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgard about the film. U.S. audiences are now able to discover part one on VOD, before its theatrical release March 21.
After the 2011 Nazi comment debacle during the "Melancholia" press conference in Cannes, after which von Trier was declared persona non grata by the festival, the most famous of the contemporary Danish auteurs decided not to talk to the press at all this time around, though Skarsgard, who also co-stars in Marvel's "Avengers"/"Thor" franchises, is practically the next best thing, since he's not only "Nympho's" male lead but he's worked with von Trier on numerous films including "Melancholia," "Dogville," "Dancer in the Dark" and "Breaking the Waves."
Skarsgard plays Seligman in "Nymphomaniac," a gentle and bookish soul who takes in Charlotte Gainsbourg's Joe when he finds her lying in the street, bleeding. To explain how she ended up there, she recounts her entire sexual history to Seligman, a Jewish intellectual who's never touched a woman. "Before writing the screenplay," Skarsgard explains during the film's press junket in Copenhagen, "Lars said to me: ‘Stellan, my next film will be a porn film and you will be the lead. You will not get to fuck but you'll get to show your dick at the end and it will be very floppy.'" The actor, who is about as sang-froid about sex as the director, could only reply in one way: "I said: ‘Yes, okay Lars, I'm coming."
"While he was writing," Skarsgard continues, "Lars would send me material or call me and say things like: ‘Have you heard about the silent duck?' So I was well prepared for what was coming." (Google "silent duck" at your own risk). The fact they spoke during the screenwriting phase doesn't necessarily mean, however, that the actor gave a lot of input: "Lars is one of the best writers in the world so I feel like I shouldn't interfere too much with his writing. He's like a fairytale teller, it's ‘Uncle Lars tells his stories,' like an X-rated Hans Christian Andersen. His dialogs can be quite childish, naïve and innocent, even if they deal with horrible or very important subjects. It has a nursery-rhyme quality to it."
On the relationship between Joe and Seligman, who at times seems like a therapist or a confessor for the nymphomaniac of the title: "Seligman becomes that to an extent but that was not really my approach. I think he's a man of great innocence who thinks he knows a lot about the world because he's read everything in books but he knows nothing about life, really. Of course he's shocked when he's confronted with real life and a real person. He's probably never had a woman in there before and it changes him."
Skarsgard also suggests that Lars is very much the creator of both Seligman and Joe: "The characters represent two different parts of Lars. All the digressions I have about fly-fishing and Fibonacci numbers, this is stuff that goes on in his head, he just writes it down. Then you have the other, more vulnerable female side of him in Joe. My character probably can't understand everything in Joe's story and can't believe his ears, though he's compassionate. (SPOILER ALERT) But he's too innocent to understand that you can't put your penis into her just because she's had hundreds of penises in there before. He's socially… very clumsy (he sniggers, END SPOILER). But he's totally non-judgmental and he thinks good of people, which is the sweet side of him."
The actor, who's also known for his work in blockbusters, is happy to play in the big tentpoles but does insist there are certain limits: "I've made six films for Disney and they have a clause in their contracts called the morality clause that I've always refused to sign. It basically says that if you upset a certain amount of society, they can sue you, so you can't pull down your pants in a bar. But which society are they talking about, Kabul or Salt Lake City? It's also an infringement on my constitutional right to free expression. Of course, with a film like 'Nymphomaniac,' you know that there'll be people that'll get upset, including some who won't have seen it. To me that just makes it more necessary to do it. Any society that starts forbidding certain words or expressions is a society you should be wary about, whether it's the KGB or social consensus that enforces it."