When I’ve done the film, I’ve had my say. Now it’s for the audience to take it and do with it what they want. You need to leave it there.
Claes Bang had already been acting in Denmark and Germany for almost half his life by 2017, when, at age 50, he broke out internationally for playing a put-upon museum curator in Rubin Östlund’s Palme d’Or-winning art-world satire The Square. That film, which subjected Bang to all manner of humiliations—in one scene, he has a tug-of-war with Elisabeth Moss over a used condom that he refuses to surrender to her after sex—brought the Danish actor to Hollywood’s attention, landing him the role of the bleach-blond villain in Fede Alvarez’s The Girl in the Spider’s Web. But nothing else he has done thus far can compare to the level of exposure he received for playing the titular, debonair bloodsucker in the nasty, florid and viciously funny new version of Bram Stoker’s classic—a re-vamp, you might say—on the hit Netflix mini-series Dracula.
With his latest outing in Dutch helmer Paula van der Oest’s knotty, whodunwhat mystery thriller The Bay of Silence, Bang is by turns as romantic, suave, emotionally devastating, and compulsively watchable as he’s ever been.
The main action starts in Italy’s Liguria region. Will (Bang), a well-to-do civil engineer, and Rosalind (Olga Kurylenko), his even wealthier photographer girlfriend, are at the height of their passion, wading in the waters of the Bay of Silence, which gives the film its title. In short order, they get married, conceive a child, and cross the threshold of their new home in the affluent London suburbs with Rosalind’s twin daughters from a previous relationship. One day, Rosalind falls from their home balcony and is rushed to the hospital. The accident triggers the premature birth of their baby son, Amadeo, and also unlocks deep-seated mental problems in Rosalind that are believed to be linked to past trauma she’d never shared with her bewildered husband. Soon enough, the cracks in Rosalind’s psyche deepen, and one night she disappears altogether with their children and nanny in tow, launching Will on a frantic search in his bid to find them. Meanwhile, Rosalind’s mother, Vivian (Alice Krige), nor her evasive stepfather Milton (Brian Cox), an upmarket gallerist who also handles Rosalind’s work, have much to offer in the way of answers. Will does eventually find his way back to Rosalind on a sinister Normandy fishing coast—and to the body of their child who appears to have died under mysterious circumstances.
To speak about the film, Anthem reached out to Bang in Belfast, Ireland, where he’s currently on location filming Robert Eggers’s highly anticipated 10th Century Viking epic titled The Northman, which also stars Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Bill Skarsgård, Willem Dafoe, and Anya Taylor-Joy. This past March, Eggers was just one week away from rolling the camera on this follow-up to The Lighthouse when production shutdown indefinitely due to the ongoing pandemic.
The Bay of Silence arrives in Virtual Cinemas, Digital and VOD on August 14.
You’d been waiting to start work on Robert Eggers’s The Northman. Are you in Belfast now?
Yes, I am in Belfast right now. We started shooting last Monday. We’ve been shooting for a week.
It’s great to see these productions forging ahead now. Safely, of course.
Oh my god. It’s so, so good to be back at work.
How long had that movie been stymied for due to COVID-19?
We were supposed to start shooting I think the 23rd of March it was. We were supposed to have wrapped two weeks ago. We’ve been postponed by four, five months. Now we’re going to take it to the end of November or the beginning of December—something like that.
That movie is gonna be somethin’ else. I wish you all the best of luck.
Thank you so much.
You always strike me as quite adventurous in your choice of projects. I’ll be concise: This Is Not America, Dirty Diana, Dracula, Little Room… You certainly leave a lot of artistic room for exploration and, I would imagine, surprises.
I’m so happy you say that. That’s really cool to hear. That’s actually something I think about: there should be room for that there.
The Bay of Silence is a Hitchcockian thriller. It’s immensely enjoyable. I understand that [writer/producer] Caroline Goodall sent over the script to you first. What clinched it for you?
I think in the same way that the story unveils for Will in the film, it was probably also what happened to me when I read the script. I was very intrigued by the story. I was like, “Woah! What the fuck is going on? What’s the thing with this woman?” All of a sudden she’s left and taken the kids. It was all a bit of a mystery to me, like it is for Will and what happens to him in the story. It was just a very good first read where you go, “What is this?” You can’t wait to find out what’s going on here because it’s so weird. That really got me and hooked me, yeah.
The movie ventures into some really dark places, including that final reveal, which we won’t go into explicitly. I’ve just always been fascinated by, and terrified about, our susceptibility to potentially flipping a switch one day and becoming a stranger without warning. When Rosalind’s schizophrenia rears its head, Will realizes that he doesn’t know who his wife is at all at that point. That shifting dynamic between them must’ve been really intriguing to explore and navigate.
Yes, absolutely. But it very much was there in the script so it was actually not hard to come by or to find. It was very well written in that sense. It really becomes a given when you think you know someone and all of a sudden it turns out that the backstory to that person is something completely different, and you’re totally blindsided by it. As an actor, it’s actually more important to stay a little bit away from that stuff because it’s in the script already. I think the important thing is that the audience is as intrigued as this character is and they’re as puzzled or mystified. In that sense, it’s quite important that you leave that area open, really.
The same could be said about dementia or Capgras, the psychological disorder where you have delusions that somebody close to you has been replaced by an imposter. The human mind is so fragile.
And how well do we actually know the people closest to us to begin with? I mean, I definitely hope that my wife does not have all these dark secrets that I don’t know anything about! [laughs] If she does, I don’t know anything about it and it’s not a problem right now. It is really interesting because it’s only when the secrets start to come out and unveil themselves that you could potentially have a problem. We might be hitting up with a lot of people that have these very, very dark secrets that we know nothing about and, therefore, we just trooper on like we normally do. Then all of a sudden you can have your world upended, can’t you?
I spoke to Olga [Kurylenko] not long ago, but about a different film. She’s a fearless performer, as you are. I guess you meet each other there as creative partners, in that sense.
Yeah! I think we managed to get across that they’re very much in love. Rosalind is really sweet in the beginning. Everything is really warm and it’s there that things can really fall apart. As you said, we’re not gonna give away the ending, but I like where it goes. It doesn’t go in a straight line. Also, where do you go from that tragedy that starts to happen in the middle of the film?
The ending actually reminded me of that Netflix documentary Tell Me Who I Am. Do you know about it?
Yes! And no, I haven’t seen it! I was in Telluride with The Last Vermeer when I met those two twins! But I don’t think I’ve actually ever been able to find it. Is it on Netflix now?
It was at one time. It was commissioned by Netflix so I would guess that it’s still up there.
Okay, I’ll look it up. I remember meeting those two and they told me their stories. I was like, “Wow. This is so crazy. So wild.” I definitely need to see that. That’s interesting that this movie reminded you of that. But, of course. It’s the movie’s big secret, isn’t it?
This isn’t a spoiler since it’s part of the official synopsis: when Will loses his baby, it implodes your character. It’s such a powerful moment. When you plunge into darkness like that with an emotional breakdown, is it thrilling as an actor or is it more about the vulnerability?
In those days of shooting, I definitely felt very vulnerable because you have to open yourself up to these things. That thing about finding your baby in the pram and realizing that he’s dead, we had to get that right in order for the film to work. We talked about that a lot. We talked about how we could actually shoot this to get the eeriness of it so that it’s not just of me. It’s not just down to me, really, going through these emotions. What angles will be good? How can we make sure we get it in the right way that it becomes this whole thing? I don’t know if you noticed and remember, but in that garden where I find my baby in the pram, there are all these birds flying around.
I do remember the birds actually.
It was just so scary to stand there with your dead child. You had these seagulls and magpies, all these birds, and you just have the feeling that if I let go of the child, they will totally start eating him right away or something. That did something for the scene as well. That added to the eeriness of it. In that sense, if we’d just left it for the actor to sort of have a breakdown, I think it probably would not be as powerful. It’s everything that’s there. It’s also those twins standing there not knowing what to do. We don’t actually really know if they realize that the baby is dead. They’ve just piled all this trash and all this shit on top of him in the pram. So it’s the whole thing. It’s the combination that makes it what it is. We actually talked a lot about how to make sure that this is powerful, and it has to be quite powerful in order for it to work. I so hope that we did that.
Did you read Lisa St Aubin de Terán’s source novel in your preparation? I know actors don’t always do that, and sometimes they’re even discouraged from doing that from directors.
Yeah, it depends. I think what Caroline has done with the script is that, since it’s an adaptation, she’s taken elements from the book. Quite early on she said to me that she’s changed stuff so much that she wasn’t sure it would be helpful to me to read the novel. So I haven’t actually. I quite deliberately chose not to because I had a feeling, with what she said, that it perhaps forked in too different a direction so it would be better to stay with what’s in the script.
The art world has had a tendency of bleeding into your film work. It obviously started in a big way with The Square. You were also recently in The Burnt Orange Heresy. Then there’s The Bay of Silence. When do you think films become art in and of themselves?
I actually don’t think it’s too important to label things like that. It’s not so important that it’s either this or that. If people like to think of them like that, it’s fine with me. If some people feel the need to say something is not art, then that’s alright with me too. It’s not really for me to decide. When I’ve done the film, I’ve had my say. I can’t really come running up to you and say that you should experience this in that way or this is this in that film. Now it’s for the audience to take it and do with it what they want. If they don’t want to do anything with it, that’s their decision. If they like it, great! I think once you’ve done it, you have to leave it. You need to leave it there. You don’t get to decide what people do with it.
Should we expect a new season of Dracula?
I’m actually not entirely sure. I mean, I would absolutely love to go another round with it. It was BBC and Netflix who produced that. They will probably decide at one point if we’re gonna go again. I just don’t have any news in this department.
Which also begs the question: did they ever have serious plans to shoot more episodes? I wonder if the pandemic might’ve been a factor in this as well.
I’m not actually sure if the pandemic is a factor in it either! There are so many things playing a part here. I’m sorry, but I can’t give you an intelligent answer to this question because I don’t know anything about it.
If nothing else, it was a phenomenal role and portrayal. You’ve actually gone on the record to say that, as daunting as it was to take on a cult figure such as Dracula, the thought of stepping into James Bond’s shoes is that much scarier.
Oh yeah, well, that was a very flattering rumor. That was absolutely just a rumor. I’ve done my duty in the iconic department now with Dracula so we should just leave it there, I think.