Vicky Krieps was not Mia Hansen-Løve’s first choice to star in ” Bergman Island.” She wasn’t the second, third or 12th choice either because the role of Chris, a filmmaker who goes on a writing retreat to Fårö with her filmmaker husband, already belonged to Greta Gerwig.
But just a few months before filming, Gerwig was told if she wanted to direct “Little Women” it had to happen then. That’s where Krieps enters the picture.
Like the rest of the world, Hansen-Løve had fallen for her in “Phantom Thread.” And she liked that the actor would add a European flair to the character. Krieps wanted it, too, although it would be complicated — everything is with two children involved.
“The minute I read the email, I knew, ‘I’m going to make this movie, but now I’m going to have to tell everyone else and they’re not going to be OK with it.’ And they weren’t,” Krieps, 38, said. “I had just planned my year, and it’s never easy to negotiate when I can work. For a woman to work, it’s always negotiation.”
And there was a big catch: The actor who was playing Chris’ husband, Tony, had also left and they had yet to find a replacement. So Krieps was going to have to uproot her family and go to an island in the Baltic Sea with very little notice to film a project that is at least partially about a marriage without knowing who her husband is.
“It’s not so easy to find a man to play just the husband,” she said. “It sounds crazy, but it’s true.”
Eventually Tim Roth joined as Tony.
It’s not the kind of story that’s usually told when people are talking about how films get made, when everyone insists that so-and-so was the first and only choice and that everything went according to plan. And yet it’s the truth, and however messy and complicated it might be, it also produced something transcendent that feels like it was always meant to be.
Despite all the reasons not to do it, the pull to “Bergman Island” was strong. And it had very little to do with Ingmar Bergman or his films. In Chris, Krieps saw herself — a woman who was a mother, an artist and a lover, but didn’t know what order those identities should take, especially in contrast to a more successful husband.
“It’s really a question of, ‘Who am I as a woman in my life?'” Krieps said. “It’s the story of a woman accepting her way and accepting, that, ‘Well, I don’t have a technique.'”
Over the course of the film, which opens in theaters Friday, realities start to blur and the audience is transported into Chris’s imagination as she tells Tony about an idea for a film: A woman (Mia Wasikowska) who goes to a wedding on Bergman Island and reconnects with an ex (Anders Danielsen Lie).
Like all Hansen-Løve films, the story shares some similarities with the director’s personal life. She had a relationship and a child with French filmmaker Olivier Assayas.
“(Mia) said, ‘as you might know, my movies are always kind of autobiographical, but not really. It’s drawn from my life, but it’s not really my life. If you want to know, you can ask,'” Krieps said. “But I don’t feel the need to know, so I didn’t ask. I always knew it was kind of being her in a way. But we never talked about it.”
They just trusted one another. Krieps felt like there was an invisible connection that they shared, both knowing how difficult it is to remain creative and productive while also caring for children.
“Sometimes you hear interviews by actors, like ‘then I prepared for this role, you know, and I lost so many pounds for one year.’ Yeah, well, if I had someone looking after my kids, I would love to prepare like that. I can never prepare like that because it’s always on and off,” she said in a hushed voice so as not to awaken her kids sleeping a wall away. “But I think that gives us women a different kind of strength which can lead us into different realms or different imaginations,”
Krieps has not settled on an answer of what aspect of her life should be the dominating force, by the way, but she’s OK with that. Chris helped her get there.
“The most daring and courageous thing is to let go and to leap into the unknown. Like I did in this movie without knowing who my husband is, without knowing who my other lead actor is,” she said. “Even in my private life, I have found that this is the only way. Every morning, it’s a leap into the unknown. And I do think that inside of this great insecurity of not knowing, there’s peace to be found in letting go.”
And despite her worries, her kids ended up having a terrific time on holiday in Fårö while she worked. The experience also allowed her to take stock of the attention that was thrust upon her after “Phantom Thread.”
“I wasn’t suddenly picturing myself being this actress in Hollywood. I did much of the opposite. I kind of went away from Hollywood. My life had changed in a way. I wasn’t who I was before, but then I wasn’t someone new either and I wasn’t going to move to L.A. so who was I then? It was a very strange place to be. It took me really two years to process it,” she said.
“I think making ‘Bergman Island’ really helped me because I had this landscape, this place I could come back to. I could meditate on all these questions… I think the images of the movie are so good because it’s transcending from a reality to reality, back to your reality. I think that’s what happened with ‘Phantom Thread.’ I had to get lost in some kind of weird space and then get back.”