A movie star on the rise, Claes Bang, produces and stars alongside Olga Kurylenko and Brian Cox in Paula van der Oest’s dark drama The Bay of Silence. Filmink caught up with him in Belfast to discuss his career from stage to screen while on the set of his latest film Robert Eggers’ The Northman.
How did you come across the story for The Bay of Silence, and what piqued your interest in making the film?
“Caroline Goodall [British actress (Hook, Schindler’s List, The Silver Brumby) whose parents are Australian] who produced and wrote the movie, sent me the script. I was intrigued from the beginning of the story. I was like, ‘Whoa, where’s this going? What’s going on? What’s going on with his wife? Why is she totally fucking bonkers all of a sudden?’ It was the feeling you get when you read a book that’s a page-turner.
“I wanted to find out what this was all about. And I was really intrigued by it. And I sort of went with that. That feeling of just being lost and not knowing what’s going on around you is actually what happens to Will in the story. I mean, he’s like, everything is just falling apart, and everything he thought was true, it’s just all of a sudden not true. That whole feeling of not knowing what was going on was something that translated directly into the role I thought.”
I found your character an everyman, he’s a relatable kind of guy.
“That’s what we went for. We were like; this is your average good guy, a real straight shooter, not any weird past or any hidden agenda, just a decent guy with a normal job. And he meets this wonderful woman, and they’re very much in love, and everything is going really well until she stops taking her meds for whatever she’s taking it for. And then it goes wrong. He’s got no clue that she’s got a past like that. I suppose it’s saying, ‘well, there’s probably always more to a person than meets the eye.’”
What’s more challenging for you? Playing a role like Will or someone more extreme, like, Dracula?
“I don’t think I would ever actually go for easy to play. I will always look for the challenge, but it’s very different because Dracula is so iconic; he’s larger than life. He’s this sort of fairy tale, and it’s a heightened reality because weird shit is going on. He never goes out in the daylight, and he lives off other people’s blood.
“So, there’s something quite elevated or heightened about that, in the sense that it’s not realistic. But trying to make sense of that and embody that is the challenge because, to me, it has to become something real. Otherwise, we can’t relate to it. He’s this guy sleeping in a coffin. You have to find a way to find yourself in there somewhere in order to embody it, I think. And that’s the challenge.
“And then the challenge with Will was, of course, to balance this thing of being this straight shooter that’s really offset by everything that’s going on. I mean the scene where he finds his dead boy in that pram, really needed to work because that’s such a heavy thing. So that was one of the main challenges in the movie where I was like, ‘Whoa, this is really fucking full-on…’ It has to be very emotional, and it has to be palpable for people watching it.”
Was it easy to turn off after a day shooting those kinds of scenes, particularly ones involving your newborn son?
“My way is not method in that sense. I sort of see myself as an instrument, like a piano or a guitar that the director can play anything on that they want. I don’t see myself as an interpreter of anything really. I see myself as an instrument you can just use for the purpose. I’m there for what you need me to do.
“You go into your own little space, and between takes, you’re just on your own. Perhaps you’re listening to music, which is what I do, you listen to music that sets you in that mode and tone. When you spend an entire day shooting emotional scenes where you’ve been crying, obviously there’s a wear and tear from that. So, it’s not like you just snap out of it, but it’s not that I’m like devastated for weeks and weeks on end after it. It is sort of a space that you enter, and then you allow yourself to be taken with whatever goes on in there, and then you leave it again. When you’re done with that day’s shoot, you’re probably not in the most festive kind of mood, but you move on, and the next morning you’re prepared to laugh or cry again.”
Director Ruben Ostlund cast you in his 2017 Palme d’Or winning film, The Square. How did your career change after that?
“Well, it opened so many doors. When a film wins the Palme d’Or in Cannes, the whole fucking industry sees it. Everybody sees the Palme d’Or winner. It’s all over the world. And all of a sudden, they’ve got this guy in front of them that they probably haven’t seen before. I’ve got a good playing age, I can play thirties, forties, and I can even do the beginning of fifties. I’ve got a ton of experience because I’ve been an actor for a long time, and they can sort of see that I can carry a film for over one and a half or two and a half hours because I’m in every fucking scene of The Square. And I’ve got decent English, so I think what happened was that film came out, and it wins in Cannes, and everybody sees it, and they go, ‘Oh my God, we could fit him into this or that, or…’ In that sense, it opened up the international markets for me in a way that was not so before and in a way that I never, ever dreamed would happen. I never thought something like that could happen, to be honest.”
Twenty-five years of hard work, then you become an overnight success. It’s a crazy thing to think about.
“Yeah, it’s crazy, but the way I think of it, it’s a coincidence, it’s luck, and it’s also hard work and talent, I suppose. It’s everything combined.
“You get better all the time, and I think working only makes you better and better. The more experience you have and the more work you’ve done, it just grows with you. So obviously, you get better over the years. What I am fucking proud of is that when it happened that someone put that task on my desk, I had what it took to give Ruben all the stuff that he needed to make that masterpiece. Because I think it’s a fucking masterpiece.
“And that is what makes me the proudest, that my toolbox was full of everything I needed to do, which was required to make the film he wanted to make. So, when that amazing task finally landed on my desk, I was ready, I’d practised. But if Ruben needed a 26-year-old, five foot two, blonde guy, we would probably not be talking to each other right now.”
You’ve performed the monologue ‘Ondskaben’ based on Jan Guillou’s novel Evil over 400 times on stage, which must give you a lot of confidence as an actor?
“I like to go back to that all the time because it keeps the instrument tuned. When you’ve done a lot of filming there are a lot of people on set, there’s a guy telling you what to do, there’s someone telling you where to stand. Someone’s saying what to wear, blah, blah, all that. And the storytelling is really done in the editing in a movie.
“But then when I go back on stage with a monologue, I’m totally in charge of everything, and that sort of calibrates my instrument. It sets all the parameters in the right positions somehow. Just to go there, stand in front of an audience and tell a story.
“It’s like me talking to you right now, Paul. I’m just telling a story. I don’t have any props with me or anything. It’s just a story because that is the basis of everything we do. We can create unique images in any way we want, but it’s always about storytelling. And you can do that in so many different ways, but for me, it’s healthy just to go and visit that space again sometimes and precisely calibrate the instrument.”
So you’re going to continue to perform that monologue?
“Oh yeah, absolutely. I was back in Berlin doing it like a couple of times in January, just before COVID broke out. When theatres open back up, I’ll definitely do that again. I’m going to keep doing that until I’m in an old people’s home.”
What’s next for you, Claes?
“I’m in Belfast right now, shooting Robert Eggers’ next movie. Robert Eggers, who did The Lighthouse and The Witch. We’re shooting his next movie called The Northman, which takes its inspiration from an ancient Danish story about Prince Amleth. It’s a story that Shakespeare found, which inspired him to write Hamlet. It’s a 9th or 10th-century novel from Denmark written by a guy called Saxo, and then Shakespeare found it, turned it into Hamlet. We’re doing a version of it that’s set in the day and age when it originally happened. It’s a Viking era kind of thing.”
The Bay of Silence is available on DVD and Digital from November 4, 2020