While Lars Von Trier seems to have no problem getting actors to line up for his films (just look at the stacked cast of “Nymphomaniac“), the experiences often vary wildly. Bjork swore to never act again after clashing with the director on “Dancer In The Dark,” while on the other hand, guys like Willem Dafoe and Udo Kier have been back time and again. But one person who won’t be working with enfant terrible any time soon? Paul Bettany.
Chatting with The Guardian the actor revealed that his time working on Von Trier’s minimalist “Dogville” was so unpleasant, that he hasn’t even bothered to see the movie. “I have never seen ‘Dogville’…I had a really terrible time making it,” Bettany said. “I mean, I take pictures all the time but there are some that I would never look back at because they would transport me back to a very uncomfortable time. That’s how it was with ‘Dogville.’ ”
“As an actor, I have questions. I want to know what I’m doing. And he simply wouldn’t talk to me,” Bettany explained. “You’re not allowed to talk about the film and there is no rehearsal. The whole experience was diametrically opposed to what I thought it would be. Let me be clear: I love Lars’ films. He’s a precociously brilliant director. But he has no interest in what the actors think. He just stands there and says [mimics Danish accent]: ‘Louder! Louder! Do it louder!’ That’s the extent of your collaboration. You know what it’s like? It’s like he’s Jackson Pollock and you’re on the sidelines, mixing his colours. It is entirely his gig.”
So in short, Bettany is looking for a collaborative experience when making a movie, not a dictatorial one, and there’s no harm in that. But wouldn’t one presume that Lars Von Trier tends to march to the beat of his own particular drum? Either way, Bettany cites Peter Weir and Nick Murphy (the director of the actor’s latest movie “Blood“) as some of the better helmers he’s worked with, and even more, when he gets behind the camera for his directorial debut, he hopes to bring some of the lessons he’s learned along the way.
“I should be directing a movie I wrote, called ‘Shelter.’ It’s a homeless love story, set on the streets of Manhattan. And my wife [Jennifer Connelly] is going to be in it, which is nice,” he revealed. As what his approach will be? Well, he wants to bring some old school flavor.
“I know how I’m not going to do it. More and more, as an actor, I come on set from the trailer with very little preparation. For the most part, directors have lost faith in actors. Here is what used to happen. You got picked up in the morning and taken to your trailer. You got some coffee and then went and rehearsed the scene with just the director and the first assistant director. That time was written into the schedule. They would figure out how they were going to cover the action and you were part of the process. All sorts of ideas would come out of that discussion,” he said. “Now, when I come in, the camera is all set up and they have some body-double who looks vaguely like me sitting there already. And I have no fucking idea what’s going on. The assumption is that the work has all been done in the dialogue. But that leaves no room for discovery, and no room for the happy accident. Some people can adapt to that, but I find it very trapping and confining. It puts fences around the actors in a way that never used to happen.”
Well, best of luck to Bettany on his film and it looks like he’ll be spirited collaborator with whoever works with him. As for “Dogville,” no matter what happened on set, it resulted in a great film, and hopefully Bettany will watch it. “Yeah. Yeah. Maybe when I’m 50,” he quipped.