You know that a film is bound to be good if the Criterion Collection promised a spot in their closet for a film months before its non-festival release. “The Worst Person in the World” made its rounds from festival to festival throughout 2021, and while I was fortunate to have had NEON send me a copy before December 31 for my annual “Best of 2021” list, the film isn’t hitting the NY and LA markets until February 4. With all of that time and anticipation, “The Worst Person in the World” easily could have disappointed. It did not. It’s one of the best films of 2021 and has elevated the romantic-comedy/drama genre. Joachim Trier is a fantastic director, I just watched “Oslo, August 31st” ahead of this interview with the star of Trier’s “Oslo” trilogy, Anders Danielsen Lie. Anders first came on my radar last year when I saw “Bergman Island.” He slightly resembled co-star Tim Roth, but he has constantly shown his range in the three films I’ve seen of his. Oh, and he’s also a practicing medical doctor on top of being an actor. In anticipation of the release of “The Worst Person in the World,” I sat down with Anders and discussed his new film, his relationship with Joachim Trier, and his budding co-star, Renate Reinsve.
Thank you, Anders, for taking the time to sit down and for giving me your time. Congratulations on not just “The Worst Person in the World,” but also, “Bergman Island.” You had a great 2021, and I remember seeing you at the Q&A for “Bergman Island” at Lincoln Center a few months back. And now you’re right back there this week, right?
And you’re doing Q and A’s for the “Oslo” trilogy?
Actually, we did a Q&A on Thursday, and then we have had “Oslo” trilogy retrospective [screenings] during this [past] weekend, but I’m going back to Oslo tonight actually. Joachim [Trier] and Renate [Reinsve] will stay [in New York] until the release [February 4].
You’ve been in all three of the “Oslo” films, what is it about Joachim that makes them such a unique filmmaker, and that makes you want to keep collaborating with them?
Oh, I could talk about that for ages. He’s one of my best friends and it’s a great privilege to work with someone you know very well.
Often when you’re shooting, time is your most valuable resource. And when you know someone well, everything goes much faster. I think we have an effective way of communicating on sets, but the reason why I want to work with Joachim is that he’s a very talented filmmaker who also knows very well, what he wants with the film medium. I think he’s genuinely interested in cinema as an art form of its own, [and] there’s stuff you can only do with cinema. I mean, if you watch “The Mirror” by Tarkovsky, you can see that the film medium can tell you things about how it is to be a human being and how we perceive the world, how we think, how we explore memory and emotions that no other medium can.
Joachim is so aware of that. He’s very interested in character and how we can make characters more complex rather than simplifying them. There’s a risk in a plotted film, for example, there’s a risk that complexity and the character might get lost because they end up being instruments and devices in that plot.
But when you work in my field, we can go all the way, and the other direction that we aim for is more complex because people are complex. So maybe it gets more real.
“The Worst Person in the World” is such a unique kind of rom-com or drama, or however you want to categorize it, [and is] so different than what we see in American cinema. What do you think is the reasoning for that? Is it the risks [that you mentioned] or the authenticity of the characters?
[It] might be, but it also has to do with what kind of expectations you have [in regards] to the genre.
You know, I personally like the idea of using an old genre and playing with it and doing something fun and new and hopefully we can invite someone into that movie theater with the traditional expectations and they might end up being surprised.
They might end up watching something [new] or even realize that romantic comedies can be deep and complex. And that’s because they are about basic human problems are about the search for love and who we are and all that stuff, which, it can’t be more basic than that, but that also makes it into an important genre that we should take seriously.
You worked with Renate on “Oslo, August 31st,” but this is her big breakout role. What was she like as a screen partner? You guys share a lot of intimate scenes and conversations. On top of that, what is it like seeing the way her performance has resonated with people?
I’m just very proud of her. It’s amazing to see how people get emotionally moved and how they can identify with her. It’s a wonderful performance. She’s a lot of fun to work with because she’s generous, creative, and funny. And there’s always room left for something unexpected, which I think is a very important principle when you shoot the scene is that you should always aim for something else.
And without specifying what that is, I’m not supposed to know. But it’s important to the people I play who are also [along] for that ride because it’s riskier. It doesn’t feel as safe, but it’s much more fun. It felt like we were on this emotional roller coaster on this shoot and sometimes we didn’t really know where you were going. I think that’s how it should be.
Your character Aksel, I don’t want to say exactly what happens, but he kind of has a “brush with mortality” towards the end of the film. You have this monologue that you give where he comes to this realization that he kind of focused on materialistic things or knowledge of things that don’t really matter. I thought that was extremely powerful. I just watched it this morning and still teared up watching it. But for you, did that seem to have any resonance with you? For me, it made me second guess buying a book to put on my bookshelf.
Yeah, of course. I have a vinyl collection, I have too many books and too many guitars and things that I care about that are only [physical] things. I think [for Aksel], this is a moment where he realizes that [all of] what he has left is just memories of past experiences. And that is eventually what makes him who he is. I mean, that’s what constitutes his identity. It’s not all these things and there’s a melancholy to that realization, so I can identify with that. It’s also something that links this film with the other films in the trilogy [“Reprise” and “Oslo, August 31st”].
I think that the theme of the passing of time is very much present in the other [“Oslo”] films. “Oslo” is the stage [of life] where all these characters come and go. And there will be characters who remember those characters [that go] and eventually, everybody’s gonna disappear but the place remains and that’s like the eternal element in thematic elements.
The last thing I wanted to touch on was there’s a scene where Aksel is on TV and he’s being attacked by these journalists who are attacking his work and he gives a very impassioned speech. Was the speech scripted or did you improvise any of it?
Most of it is scripted. We’re actually quite close to the script in that scene, although we did some improvised takes, or “jazz takes” as we often call them where we try to stick to the chord changes, but improvise on them to get some spontaneity. For me, it’s a scene that has many functions as it’s trying to show that there is something slightly wrong with this character now, he’s almost a bit out of character in that scene. And there’s a documentary flavor to the “Oslo” trilogy. It’s fun to try to incorporate some tendencies and contemporary public discourse, for example, which this is, it’s a very.
It’s a discussion that we’ve had for many years now in different versions. So it’s interesting to see it as a trace of a tendency that was present. And I don’t feel that we are opinionated [or] that the film expresses any opinion. It’s just a description of two sides of that debate.
And, uh, and the audience can make up their own minds and just do it. I mean, just reflect on a very important discussion.
I have to let you go, but I did just want to ask, you mentioned your vinyl collection, what’s your favorite record that you have?
Oh, that’s a great question. I have an edition of ’em” “Speak Like a Child,” the record by Herbie Hancock, which is one of my all-time favorite creative idols. And I met him in Oslo once, I made a portrait of him on Norwegian radio and he wrote on the cover. He wrote a fantastic greeting to me, which meant a lot. So maybe it has to be that record.
That’s awesome. Well, thank you again for your time and congratulations [on the film]. I know a lot of awards are [coming], so, you know, best of luck to you this award season.
Thank you so much.
This interview was edited for clarity.
“The Worst Person in the World” will be released by NEON in NY and LA on February 4 before expanding on February 11.