Vicky Krieps
Photo by Virgile Guinard

Vicky Krieps: “Go with your instinct”

Short Profile

Name: Vicky Krieps
DOB: 4 October 1983
Place of birth: Hesperange, Luxembourg
Occupation: Actor

Vicky Krieps stars in The Dead Don't Hurt, in theaters now.

Ms. Krieps, what makes for a successful actor-director partnership?

I have to trust a director. I really believe that is the secret to good acting and good directing: blind trust. You have to be really blindfolded. The actress Liv Ullman said something to me, and I think it's very true. She said that a good director knows that the actor knows. And that always stayed with me. All the directors I worked with were good directors who knew exactly when they could trust the actor to just know something that maybe in the moment doesn't make sense to them, but they’ll follow her even if she sounds crazy. The actor has to do the same, we have to trust the director completely as well. And we both need to do it for no reason.

It’s not a trust that you have to earn.

It’s not a trust like when you know someone and they've done this and that… It's a different kind of trust, it’s for free, there's no price. When we do art, we’re in the dark. And when we’re in the dark, we can start to listen to our heart, listen to our intuitions and our soul. You can let your soul speak instead of your mind or your ego. The first time I realized that was on a short movie called Pitter Patter Goes My Heart, it’s an Austrian film. But I remember on that film, for the first time I said to myself, “Okay, I will try something now. I’m just going to do it my way.” I had to play a moment that was very sad, and I had to tell the director to leave me for five minutes so I could really be present in the scene. It was almost like a meditation, becoming so present that the kitchen or whatever you're in becomes your sole reality. You almost become the kitchen. And then walking out of the kitchen, I encountered the scene…

“I do it for the audience. I do it because I know this is the only way I can carry something that is so truthful, that is so pure, that the audience can actually take it.”

And did your technique work?

It did, and I couldn't believe it, I felt like I’d done magic because it really worked. I just chose to be with the film, with the scene, I put it ahead of everything, including being with the crew or being the actress. This is the way I’ve been working ever since. And sometimes people judge you for it. And they say you're being difficult, you're not being funny enough, you’re not socializing enough. But I do it for the audience. I do it because I know this is the only way I can carry something that is so truthful, that is so pure, that the audience can actually take it.

It reminds me of your film Hold Me Tight, when your character finds out the fate of her family — apparently before filming that scene, you didn’t know what you were going to do, you just really let yourself be in the moment and explore those specific emotions.

Yes, that was a scene at the end. My character finds out that her family has died in an avalanche. I don’t want to be disrespectful to people who have had this experience, because how would I know how someone feels? It felt wrong to me to try and achieve the scene, if you know what I mean? I didn’t want to approach it like I wanted to have a successful take as an actor. But something came to me that I hadn't thought of before: I decided to think like the character would have thought, you know, maybe they're still alive? That’s a crazy idea, but maybe her husband built a hut for the kids and maybe he went hunting. So there was this part of myself that wanted to believe that, I was in the house just thinking maybe they were alive. They called action and I remember running out and crying and screaming and landing in the dirt. I felt like I really channeled someone who has this experience, rather than thinking, “How can I be the best performer for the scene?”

It’s a very truthful approach to portraying a character; figuring out what their authentic emotions would be and trying to live them, rather than just focusing on how to give the best performance.

Even with my new film The Dead Don’t Hurt, there’s a scene where Viggo Mortensen’s character Olson reunites with my character Vivienne, and originally it would seem like she should be happy. That would be the cliché version of it, the normal approach. But this was another moment of that trust that I mentioned, where the truth comes up in you as the character — I felt like her truth was that she would go and meet him and there would be this heavy silence. He left her, you know? So I approached him with this silence, and that made his silence bigger, and suddenly the whole set was silent… If you're an artist, if you're an actor, a writer, a painter, it takes courage to listen to this little voice that comes from really deep down, that tells you to go with your instinct in a scene, to do it without asking someone if they think it’s right.

Is it more difficult to craft those unexpected moments as an actor when you’re working on a big Hollywood film, versus an independent production? Maybe the schedule or script is more strict, or there’s less room to experiment?

“I think the distance from Hollywood really helped me maintain my own integrity.”

Yeah, I mean, Hollywood promises the idea of the cinema. So you'd think once you get there, it would be like, “Okay, this is good. This is it. This is where art is made. This is where cinema is made.” But because of what you just described, oftentimes the opposite happens because it's so big and there's so much money and so many people have interest in the project. With small independent movies, you always struggle with money and you struggle with the movie even coming out. The Dead Don’t Hurt took a year to find people who trusted in the movie because it’s not commercial. The idea becomes difficult. But if you do Hollywood, as you said, it becomes very difficult to summon up these more magical moments. The schedule becomes more important than the scene, the outcome becomes more important than anything else.

Is that also why you decided to take a break from making Hollywood films for a couple years?

I would say that was coming more from a place of vulnerability. I'd love to say I simply had a strong conviction, but I'm not that cool. I was overwhelmed by everything being bigger, and louder, and more intense. I had just had two little children, and that was already crazy enough. I starred in Phantom Thread, and the movie was in the so-called Oscar campaign… And I got scared so I backed away. I thought maybe stepping back was the wrong thing, maybe I just ruined my whole career, but my intuition tells me that I have to take step back from this thing I didn’t feel I would be able to control. And I think the distance really helped me to not only raise my kids in a safe and healthy environment, but it also helped me maintain my own integrity.

In what sense?

There’s a famous quote from the photographer Bill Cunningham, he was so important and integral to the fashion industry, but he lived this very simple life, but his opinions were so valued, people went to him to know what would be in the next season. And so he was asked, you know, how is it possible that you were able to influence whole fashion industry? And he looks at them, and he says, “Very easy. If you don't take their money, they won't tell you what to do.” When I heard him say that I knew then why I did what I did, and what I achieved by it.