June 12, 2024

the dead don't hurt, vicky krieps, viggo mortensen, solly mcleod, greg williams

Photographs by GREG WILLIAMS

Luxemburg actor Vicky Krieps is feeling buoyed after her jury time at Cannes Film Festival, in the Certain Regard section, where she saw a wide range of cinematic genres and voices. ‘Movies are probably one of the oldest international languages of exchange,’ she tells Hollywood Authentic. ‘A movie can be the voice for a country, a voice for a generation. A movie can be a voice for victims or marginalised people. And that was represented in the movies that I saw in my section. It gave me hope, and it was inspiring. With all the money and restrictions in the world, what can never be erased is the power of cinema, you know? The power and freedom of expression. And people somewhere in the world getting together, even if they don’t have money, and creating something that can cross every border.’

Krieps’ own output certainly falls into that category, having impressed critics and audiences alike in Phantom Thread, Bergman Island and Corsage – all of which debuted at Cannes Film Festival in the Palais where Greg Williams shot her before a screening of The Most Precious Of Cargoes. Her latest film, The Dead Don’t Hurt is slow-burn cinema that asks audiences to go on a journey, to live with characters through their highs and lows, to relate to the hardscrabble human pursuit of happiness and the act of forgiveness. Written, directed and led by Viggo Mortensen, it tracks a couple making their way together on the 1860s American frontier with Krieps playing Vivianne, an independent woman who decides to make her life with Danish immigrant, Holgar (Mortensen).

When casting the role Mortensen could only think of Krieps, likening her to an acting icon who received the honorary Palme D’or at the recent Cannes festival. ‘She reminded me of Meryl Streep the first time I saw her,’ he told the Academy in a recent interview.  ‘She has a quality and ability to communicate so much, even in silence. It’s almost like her thoughts and feelings come through her skin. It’s remarkable what she can do. It’s a gift.’

the dead don't hurt, vicky krieps, viggo mortensen, solly mcleod, greg williams
the dead don't hurt, vicky krieps, viggo mortensen, solly mcleod, greg williams

Mortensen gave Krieps the space to fully inhabit and communicate a character in Vivienne as she meets Holgar in San Francisco and sets up a home with him in Elk Flats, Nevada, where he becomes sheriff. Vivianne tames the arid land in Elk Flats, but not necessarily the townsfolk, and a violent act changes her and Holgar’s destiny forever. A non-linear storyline sees Vivienne throughout key moments in her life – from childhood to death bed – and explores the particular emotional, moral and maternal strength of women living in an unforgiving environment. A non-traditional oater then, but not one that Krieps would call a ‘Feminist western’.

‘No, it’s not like that,’ Krieps says. ‘Viggo just made a very honest movie, it’s a humane film. It’s a tale about love and about humans, and he tried to make it his own way. And it’s a very personal film for him. It’s cinema that is not trying to impress. It’s not trying to shock. It’s not there to be a new invention of something new. This is the kind of cinema I do, and it’s the kind of cinema that I really live for. It’s not trying to say, ‘oh, we are feminists because that’s in fashion.’

Speaking of fashion, Krieps has endured corsets before – especially on the critically-acclaimed Corsage, playing Empress Elisabeth of Austria. And she was determined not to restrict herself again on this film, which lensed in Durango, Mexico in searing heat and required horseriding and the portrayal of manual work. ‘I immediately got rid of the corset!’ she laughs when recalling her meeting with the film’s costume designer. ‘I swore after Corsage I would not wear a corset again, just knowing what it does to you psychologically and physically. I wanted Vivienne to have a very normal movement – when you wear a corset, you can’t even run the way you would run. I think the historical shape is not important. What is important is that we make it look like it’s real, so that someone from today can relate to it, and is emotionally struck. On the weekend, we would take the horses, and ride up the canyon. I would be in a pair of trousers, and I could gallop, and I was free!’

the dead don't hurt, vicky krieps, viggo mortensen, solly mcleod, greg williams
the dead don't hurt, vicky krieps, viggo mortensen, solly mcleod, greg williams

Understanding the demands of location work on an independent period drama Mortensen told the cast and crew at the beginning of filming that he hoped ‘you will have a good time, but that the experience won’t punish you too much’. Did Krieps feel she had a good time or a punishing one? ‘It was a bit of both. The nature was pretty tough because we had a low budget, and that means that you’re always outside, standing most of the time either in the heat or in the cold. And all the time in the dust. So that was quite surprisingly hard, I have to say.’ The physical duress was not as challenging as the emotional though – with Vivienne experiencing the worst kind of brutality at the hands of men. ‘For me what was hard, to be honest, was the story – to open myself to this pain. I remember I went really deep. I’m just this way. I cannot just act, and then shake it off. It stayed with me for a few days. The role wasn’t a happy role, I have to say. But it was so wonderful to be in that landscape.’

The resulting film is one that Krieps feels encouraged by – that it exists in a world increasingly dominated by attention deficient streaming and algorithms. ‘We live in a time where sometimes I find it hard to keep up my hope for cinema because everything is switching to these huge platforms. They have so much money, and they have all the power in the world. So it becomes very, very difficult for independent movies to even exist.’

the dead don't hurt, vicky krieps, viggo mortensen, solly mcleod, greg williams

Krieps’ next two projects are part of that drive to make independent and challenging cinema – she’s just finished shooting Jim Jarmusch’s Father Mother Sister Brother and an AI-scripted film based on Werner Herzog’s work, About A Hero. ‘I’m as curious as I could be about what [About A Hero] is going to be. And Father Mother Sister Brother was such fun to make. My group, my family part, was me, Cate Blanchett, and Charlotte Rampling. And it was just amazing to exchange, with these women, so much wisdom, so much experience, so much beauty and intelligence and sensitivity. It was a gift to work with these two women and with Jim, with his sensitivity. So I think it’s going to be a great film.’

The Dead Don’t Hurt is out in cinemas now
About A Hero and Father Mother Brother Sister will be released TBC

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