Danish director Martin Pieter Zandvliet’s “Applause” is a film that seems to have gotten lost in the Toronto International Film Festival near-300 film deep sea. Which is a shame as the film – which had its North American premiere at the fest – is quite notable, particularly for its intense, stripped-down lead performance by Paprika Steen.
In the film, Steen – perhaps best known for her work in Dogme films like “The Celebration” and “The Idiots” – plays Thea, an aging actress struggling to recover from her alcoholism and regain custody of her children. The role was written with her in mind, and Steen admitted to giving a bit of advice to Zandvliet and his co-screenwriter Anders Frithiof August.
“I didn’t interfere a lot,” she told indieWIRE in an interview earlier this week. “But I did give some advice… Don’t make it sentimental. If it’s a portrait of an actor, just try to be real and portray her or him as what we are, which is really intelligent people with a sense of humor, but also people who are really manipulative and selfish. Because that’s how actors are. When you meet a naive actor or actress, its mostly just facade. We know what we do.”
Steen was cautious not to put too much of her own character in Thea, though, despite their shared professions.
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“I know how it is,” she said. “I’m an actress too. But I tried not to be her. Though, of course, she looks like me and we have sort of the same hair. We didn’t change my looks that much, other than making me look a little worse… a little more tired and more alcoholic. But I would very much be against it being about me. Then I would rather do a reality show and make money. Which I would never do, but you know what I mean. Though my mom was an actress, and a very unhappy, unemployed actress the last fifteen years of her life. She wasn’t an alcoholic, but she took a lot of pills – like you did in the 1970s. I was inspired by that. And because she’s my mother, I have a part of her in me. So I named the character after this one big famous role that she did. So it’s sort of a tribute.”
The film also marked a family affair for Steen in the sense that her husband, Mikael Rieks, produced the film, and their son, Otto Leonardo Steen Rieks, stars in it as one of Thea’s sons.
“It was interesting,” she said of her son working with her on the film. “I was very inspired by Cassevetes and Coppola, who worked with their own families. I thought that it’s a nice way to involve your children in what you do… They can see their mother’s world. And it was very professional. He was mostly into the how the camera worked, and you know… It was a good experience. And I hope that he’s not going to come back to me when he’s twenty and look me in the face and say ‘you ruined my life.’ I don’t think he will, though.”
As for the “Applause”‘s potential audience, Steen hopes people can find a way to relate with the themes her character represents.
“I think all my parts have similar themes,” she said. “That isolation is a big thing in our society. That you always feel you are the odd man out while trying to get into the circle of trust. That sort of schism in you, in our Western society, is very present. And maybe if people see the movie, they’ll feel that, ‘okay, I’m not the only one who feels awkward or can’t cope with normal life.'”
“Applause” screens one last time in Toronto tomorrow night at 6:30pm.