Paul Bettany on Lars von Trier and Modern Directors: “For the most part, directors have lost faith in actors”

paul--bettanyPaul Bettany gave a remarkably candid interview with The Guardian while working on Christopher Nolan‘s Interstellar.  Though he didn’t say much about Nolan’s next film (and knowing how secretive Nolan is about his projects that’s not surprising), he did talk about what he looks for in a director — and what he thinks modern directors have lost.  He also singles out one director who he had a very difficult time working with.

Surprisingly, Bettany confessed that he has never seen Dogville, the critically acclaimed 2003 Lars von Trier movie that Bettany stars.  He told the interview that he had “a really terrible time making it” and revealed that he didn’t get along with von Trier’s style.  He explains, “As an actor, I have questions. I want to know what I’m doing. And he simply wouldn’t talk to me. 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’s 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.”

When Bettany then mentioned that he will soon direct his first film, Shelter, the interviewer asked Bettany what kind of director he will be considering his criticisms of von Trier.  He answered, “I guess we’ll find out. 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 continued, “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.”

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