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Klara Kristin: laid bare

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In her first-ever interview, the self-described ‘weird hippy kid’ from Denmark reveals how stripping off for Gaspar Noé’s new film led to her feminist awakening

Taken from the autumn/winter 2015 issue of Dazed:

Klara Kristin lives just off the Milky Way. The gravel path snakes around Copenhagen’s semi-autonomous freetown of Christiania, where hippies, anarchists and a few legit crazies have united since the area was first claimed by squatters in the 1970s. The door to her flat is open as most are out here, and Kristin, in an electric blue turtleneck, black miniskirt and opaque tights, is kissing her boyfriend goodbye and making us tea under a stuffed boar’s head amidst a motley crew of potted plants and old Danish furniture. It’s the 22-year-old’s first interview, and we’re fittingly popping her cherry in the quiet of the bedroom as a couple of guys arrive to install the internet. Even galaxies need wireless.

Kristin’s hometown is as unorthodox as her journey to fame as an unknown in Gaspar Noé’s controversial film Love. With no acting experience whatsoever, she strode fearlessly on to the set of one of cinema’s most complex, dark and perverse minds, stripping herself bare – literally and figuratively – in a sexual drama dripping with emotion and bodily fluids. For Kristin, it was a blind leap of faith that proved rewarding. “It was like jumping off a mountain,” she says dreamily, eyes shut tight as she sits on her bed under a poster of Earth as seen from the moon. “Out into the light, out into nothing.” She opens her eyes, a smile flashing across her face. “And then experiencing this purity where there was no guilt and no shame. Does that make sense?”

With her curiosity and intrepid mindset, you can see why Kristin was attracted to the work of Noé, and vice versa. His provocative back catalogue is rooted in extremes and the testing of boundaries, with the graphic violence and drug-fuelled shock tactics of Enter the Void (2009), Irreversible (2002) and I Stand Alone (1998). Love continues down that unflinching path, with a 3D cumshot running down the screen right off the bat. Divisively, the film was recently slapped with an ultra-rare 18 certificate in France, thanks to the efforts of conservative attorney Patrice André, who Noé described as “nothing more than a frustrated man who wants to come to the party but can’t”.

When Kristin met Gaspar Noé at a club in Paris last year, she was working as a painter’s assistant. Before that, she’d moved out of home at 15, ditched her conventional studies for art school, and completed an online course in philosophy. When Noé invited her along to a casting call for his new project, she took it as an empty compliment, but before she knew it she was stepping in front of the cameras. “Gaspar was like, ‘Pretend you’re annoyed with an ex stalking you!' I had no idea acting could be so much fun,” Kristin says excitedly, rearranging her limbs on the floral duvet.

Her inexperience as an actress lends itself perfectly to her role as Omi, the innocent girl next door who gets involved in a ménage à trois with her neighbours, Electra and Murphy. But in person, Kristin’s sweetness (she’s also the new face of Saint Laurent) is laced with a tough, fiercely autonomous power, mirrored in her firm, inquisitive gaze. “Omi is young and naive, pure and sweet,” she says of her on-screen character. “As a symbol, she’s the opposite of Electra, who is the forbidden one, this sensual, rowdy woman who takes drugs and has all these dirty fantasies.”

Those fantasies quickly become bitter reality when Murphy sleeps with Omi behind his girlfriend’s back, getting her pregnant. Murphy, of course, loses Electra, and decides to stick it out with Omi and the baby, in a classic tale of innocence lost, betrayal and settling for second-best, told through graphic close-ups and unapologetic melodrama. Noé’s script was just seven pages long, leaving lots of room for interpretation and improvisation. “Gaspar is very impulsive,” says Kristin. “He’s really, really good at capturing what’s happening here and now. It’s not a secret that the film is partly autobiographical. He works from themes, visualising some of the issues that are forever lurking (in the mind).”

Many of the sex scenes – apart from Kristin’s – are unsimulated, underscoring the film’s emotional rawness. “I couldn’t go that far,” she says, wrapping her fingers and dainty gold rings around her mug of tea. “I have a deep, deep respect for the others for doing that.” But, she stresses, even unsimulated sex isn’t real in the sense that it’s a fake reality. It’s precisely this alternate reality which acting opens up that has captured her imagination. “Even when you’re having a normal day, you’re suddenly allowed to be next-level intense or throw a serious tantrum.”

During the shoot in Paris, Kristin drew on everything from past unhealthy relationships to her philosophy studies on theories about love by thinkers like Anders Fogh Jensen and Erich Fromm. While Love is hardly an after-school special, Kristin is interested in the (missing) moral compass of the story. That sometimes boundaries within relationships are there for a reason, and that maybe you should listen when your parents tell you it’s not a great idea “to hook up with your friend’s ex or whatever. In theory, it’s great to learn things for yourself, but in my experience, sometimes you should listen and agree it is a stupid idea. So my mission was to do a youth-led film that could portray this.”

For Kristin, our increasingly narcissistic culture is affecting our ability to love and be intimate with one another. “With Tinder, you need to ask yourself why it’s here,” she says. “We live in a completely individualised, materialistic western world where we’re suddenly able to have everything. You can go, ‘want, don’t want’,” she says, gesturing swipe left-swipe right. “We’ve started treating our relationships in the same way we treat our Ikea furniture. We need to appreciate people and try to find their good sides. We are so spoilt. And ungrateful. And we moan that our relationships aren’t working.”

We’re in the country where porn was first legalised, and Kristin is a product of the open-mindedness that is inherent in Danish culture – but she’s not feeling porn’s warped landscape. “Kids are met online by gang-bangs and big, hard dicks ramming into some little 18-year-old girl,” she says. “It’s awful. As a young person I haven’t been able to find many things where you get a more natural impression of sex and ways to be together and how a body can also look.”

For Kristin, Love is a much-needed antidote to unrealistic depictions of sex on screen. “Part of the project was to do away with body issues and the notion that sex is somehow shameful,” she says. “I’ve always been very shy about my body and it doesn’t seem right that I, as a perfectly lovely, nicely shaped human being, should walk around feeling ashamed of how I look. So it was about challenging myself to try and create a different morality around that.”

“We’ve started treating our relationships in the same way we treat our Ikea furniture. We need to appreciate people and try to find their good sides. We are so spoilt. And ungrateful” – Klara Kristin

Working on the film also changed Kristin’s ideas about feminism. “If you’d asked me about feminism a year ago, I would have said, ‘Come on, we have a female prime minister.’ (now ex-Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt) But there’s so much work to be done. Women have become so sexualised over the last 30 years,” she says, lamenting how the relaxed attitude to sex and nudity spearheaded by her parents’ generation has been all but lost. “One reason I did the film is because I could. Because I don’t have a father who would kill me if I did. I have the freedom to choose what I do with my body. The fact that I use it like this, a lot of people would say...” That you’re allowing yourself to be objectified? “Yes, exactly! But I’m still in control, I have the power and I’ve done it to help other girls out there.”

Born in Copenhagen, Kristin grew up on the outskirts of the city, “right next to a ghetto – I went to a kind of ghetto school.” Her father is in the arts, her mother is a dancer, and together they’re the artist branch of the family, set in motion by a great-grandfather who rebelled against his conservative lineage and became an author. At school, she was “the weird hippy kid in oddly coloured tights with holes in them” and didn’t partake in the worship of teen idols. She’s still wonderfully clueless about celebrities: the mention of Kristen Stewart draws a puzzled look.

Kristin dropped out of upper secondary school because she thought it was a waste of time. “It was the opposite of being out here,” she says, gesturing out the window across rainy Christiania. “Here, no one really judges you. Being different or weird is exciting, a positive. It’s almost a bad thing if you’re too normal. School was a lot of people gathered in one place who all decided that there should be a norm, and if you didn’t follow that norm, you were excluded. I’ve always been very independent and wanted to go my own way. That’s also why I’ve done the film that I have.”

Cannes, says Kristin, was overwhelming. She wore a Saint Laurent suit for the conference, a “princess” tulle dress for the red carpet, and walked in the men’s SS16 show the following month, feeling “fucking nervous. Like, ‘What the hell is happening?’ But you have to get used to it – I just tried to concentrate on not wetting myself.” Before that, she’d shot a Saint Laurent resort campaign in LA, her first modelling gig.

Hedi Slimane is kind of mysterious,” she says. “My impression of the fashion world had always been that it’s very superficial, but then you meet him... He’s amazing. He has a great sense of humour. He’s incredible at what he does and he believes in his own style so completely that it becomes a strong expression.” They shot in an old house on the top of a hill, with “old wallpapers and weird old furniture. Every time you walked into a room, it was like this new fairytale.”

They’d change looks for each room, and Slimane encouraged her to draw inspiration from her surroundings. In this regard, she says, his methods were similar to those of Noé, who welcomes input on how to communicate his messages before each scene from his actors. “You had some freedom in terms of how you could create your character and get Gaspar’s ideas across. It made you feel valued – that he listens and goes, ‘That’s a really fucking cool idea.’”

For all her innate, unpretentious cool and unfazed approach to her new metier, on some level it must have been surreal doing a project like this as her first, surely? “Well,” she says, a mischievous smile appearing at the corner of her mouth, “I can’t really answer that until I’ve done lots of other movies I can compare it with.” What those might be, she’s not saying. But when you live on the Milky Way, nothing is off-limits.

Love is out November 18

Hair Alex Brownsell at Streeters using Bleach London; make-up Lucy Burt at D+V Management using Giorgio Armani Beauty and Skincare; photographic assistant Peter Carter; fashion assistant Georgia Pellegrino

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