Denmark’s most controversial director explores the languid depths of depression in his latest film, Melancholia, the story of two sisters Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and the ominous advance of a planet towards Earth. Inspired by German Romanticism, Von Trier’s latest work is an exquisitely shot, apocalyptic melodrama with a stand out cast including Kiefer Sutherland, John Hurt, Charlotte Rampling and Udo Kier. Alexander Skarsgård, who plays Justine’s husband Michael, spoke to Dazed shortly after finishing the shooting of True Blood season 4 to talk about working with the legendary director.
Dazed Digital: Have you always wanted to work with Lars Von Trier?
Alexander Skarsgård: It was very high on my wish list. I got the chance to work with him 10 years ago on a small thing he did for Scandinavian television, for one day. So I had a little bit of experience working for him and I was really, really thrilled when this came up and I had the opportunity to work with him for a little more than a day.
DD: What did you make of the script when you first saw it?
Alexander Skarsgård: It’s not like a conventional script. They’re only 60, 70 pages long but they’re so rich, the characters and relationships are so rich, so interesting. I was working on True Blood, shooting season 3 when it came up and I just called my agent and I said I don’t care what comes up in July or August, I’ll be in Sweden shooting with Lars Von Trier instead!
DD: What’s it like working with Lars?
Alexander Skarsgård: The first day on set was the scene in the limo with Kirsten and I driving to the wedding reception. Lars was like, ‘You know you’ve got to sit in the back of the limo, you talk for a while and at some point, Alex, when you realise you’re not getting anywhere maybe you can step out of the car and try to help the driver.’ And I said, ‘Sure, what side so you want me to exit the car from?’ and Lars just looked at me, almost confused, like ‘I don’t know, you do whatever you want and I’ll follow you with the camera’. And that kind of set the tone how it was working with him. You’re so free, you can do whatever you want you can change things from one take to the next. It’s very organic, very fun and very open.
DD: You star with Kirsten Dunst who gives an amazing performance, what was it like working with her?
Alexander Skarsgård: Kirsten’s phenomenal, she’s so thrilled with the movie and it’s a great role and it’s a really amazing ensemble. And to work with Kirsten and Charlotte Gainsbourg, Charlotte Rampling, John Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland… it’s just an amazing ensemble. It was such a special experience, it really was.
DD: Tell me what the shoot itself was like, it’s quite an intense film, was it an intense shoot?
Alexander Skarsgård: It was, in the sense that it’s such a sad relationship between my character and Kirsten’s. I worked hard on trying to figure out where my character came from and how he was desperately trying to salvage this [relationship]. And what was meant to be the happiest day of his life turned out to be the saddest day of his life and how he tries to cope with that, to deal with that and out of desperation tries to do anything to save their relationship and finally he realises that he can’t. Lars shoots all his movies in this old town in the middle of nowhere in western Sweden, there’s a big old wooden house that we all stayed in together, you become like a family in a way.
DD: Your father, Stellan Skarsgård stars in the film and has worked with Lars Von Trier many times before, did he give you any advice before the project started?
Alexander Skarsgård: His advice was, basically, just enjoy the ride. Dad has worked with him on 6 parts I believe, and obviously I’ve talked to my Dad about these experiences so I knew how much he loved working with Lars. I was just really excited. It was such an amazing opportunity.
MELANCHOLIA is out on 30 September