November, 2012. Another interview from Night Visions. This is Silje Reinåmo, the star of the superb Norwegian fantasy Thale. The interview was originally published on the Empire blog, which no longer exists since the Empire site was overhauled. So here’s the piece in full.
Home-grown Scandinavian films are in relatively short supply at this year’s Night Visions in Helsinki: the Audience Award went to Dredd (although it was a close call between that and Bobcat Goldthwait’s excellent God Bless America). One of the very best films of the festival however, is the beautifully enigmatic and eerie Norwegian entry Thale [tah-lay], directed by Aleksander Nordaas and starring Silje Reinåmo.
It’s the story of a forest sprite who’s been kept separated from her kind for some years, until the death of her human guardian and the arrival at her cabin-in-the-woods of Erlend Nervold and Jon Sigve Skard: a dryly humorous double act known for a comedy show on Norwegian TV. Tapping into Norway’s rich mythological heritage, it shares DNA and an SFX company with Andre Ovredal’s Trollhunter. But where Trollhunter is fast-paced and action packed, the very different Thale is low-key and haunting, with gorgeous cinematography by its director, and a siren-call score by Raymond Enoksen and Geirmund Simonsen [just released to download].
With Silje on-hand at the festival to promote the film, it would have been entirely remiss of us not to speak to her.
Empire: How did this film start coming together?
Silje Reinåmo: Well the director is Aleksander Nordaas. We grew up in the same small town, and we weren’t best friends or anything, but we always knew each other. He was just this really nice guy that everyone always liked. I started acting in England, and I knew that he always wanted to do film, and so we eventually just started hooking up in the holidays, and just planning and dreaming. We did a short film in 2008, called In Chambers, and then we decided to continue and do a feature. Thale had the exact same team actually. We started filming in 2009 and finished in 2011, so it’s been a long process. There were lots of other projects in between. But now that it’s finished it’s got Aleksander a lot of scholarships and support.
Thale is a “Huldra”, is that right? What’s that?
Before we started shooting the film I knew as much about the Huldra as any Norwegian. It’s a classical thing: she’s this naked creature in the forest, and she always sits under a waterfall with her back to you, luring men into the forest, and if they fail to please her sexually, she kills them! So that’s a great idea for a movie, right? But the director was very creative in putting his own slant on it. We’ve gone away from that a bit. There were so many more myths that we started reading about, and we made our own story. The film is dedicated to his grandfather, because apparently he really believed in the Huldra. At one time everyone in Norway believed in the Huldra, and they’d be afraid to go out in the forest in case the Huldra came and took them. They were probably afraid they wouldn’t perform!
Why is she different to the other forest sprites in the film? Is the idea that she’s become more human because she’s been living with humans?
Yes, exactly, that’s the idea.
Does “Thale” have a specific meaning, outside of its being your character’s name?
It has lots of meanings, yes. It’s a girl’s name in Norway, which means someone of a noble family. But it also means “speech” in Norwegian, because she can’t speak. And it’s also linked to “tail” for obvious reasons, and “tale” as in story: it has that same double meaning as in English. So there are four meanings. The writing on the Norwegian poster looks like a plus sign, followed by “Hale”, which is the Norwegian word for tail.
Is it difficult to play a character with no dialogue?
Well I’m used to working with photographers, not as a fashion model but, like, working with them and creating arty pictures. Also we had already done that short film in 2008, so I knew Aleksander worked very visually. So I think I’m quite comfortable with that format. But of course, you can’t prepare, because I couldn’t sit down with the script for ages. I felt like it was the least prepared I’d ever been on a set. It’s all reaction, and you can’t really start working on that until you’ve met the other actors. She’s in shock and trauma and has all that psychological stuff going on, so I read some things about that. But really I had to just be very present and listening on the set. It’s all about the eyes really. It’s not harder, it’s just different.
Were you concerned about the amount of nudity Thale would require?
Yeah, I had lots of concerns, but I think I trusted Aleksander because he was the director and the photographer, which is quite rare. We used to take pictures together too, and so I knew that I completely trusted Aleksander both as a person and as a photographer, so I knew he would make it beautiful. But of course, as an actress you have concerns. I wondered how people would react, especially my family. My biggest fear was that I’d regret it six months later: I’ve been nude in a film now, and it’s all over the internet, and I can never go back. But luckily I haven’t panicked like that at all.
It’s not exploitative: it’s not like a lot of gratuitous shower scenes or anything.
No, not at all. And I’ve actually been sitting in the editing suite with the grader, going through it frame by frame, making it darker. That was part of the deal. There’s been quite a good response to that: that the nudity isn’t in your face! For example there’s one scene that was very full-frontal, but I said no, it’s more beautiful if there are shadows…
The Finns seem quite jealous of the genre product coming out of Norway at the moment: why do you think it’s so strong?
I had the same question in Stockholm, but I think Norwegians would ask the same question in Sweden and Finland: why are Norwegian movies so crap? I think it’s a very Scandinavian thing to be envious of your neighbours. I think there are a lot of exciting things happening in the film industry all over Scandinavia at the moment.
Are you better at keeping your mythical heritage alive in Norway?
I actually don’t think we’ve been good enough at keeping these myths and legends alive, but I think after Trollhunter, people are getting their eyes opened again. Lots of film people have turned their attention to mythology since that.
Do you like horror as a viewer, or is it kind of a rite-of-passage for a young actress?
Well I actually studied musical theatre in Guildford, in England, and I actually did a couple of musicals first when I went back to Norway, before Thale. I see every job as equally important, whether it’s a musical or children’s theatre or a horror film. And I think horror films are actually quite difficult, because they’re so intense.
I am a horror fan actually, although I wouldn’t classify Thale as a horror. I do like horror as a viewer. I’m actually very afraid of watching it, but I always do! I read an article the other day suggesting that some people have a gene where they just like horror films. The horror gene! I think I have it. I love being scared in the cinema. It is a risk that when you act in something, you then tend to get cast in the same things again and again. But I’m doing a family drama now. I’ve done sixteen episodes of that, playing a bitch! I don’t think Thale is a bitch.
What are you working on next?
I’m making a science-fiction film in America called Patriot Act, by a director called Wayne Slaten. He saw Thale at SXSW, and contacted me after that. It’s a very good script; I’m very excited about it. It’s going to be shot in Houston, Texas. I’m heading out there early next year. I play the love interest for the main character. After that I’m doing another horror film, set on a whale boat. It has some pretty crazy murder scenes. We did some test shooting last week and I’m still sore from hanging upside down. And I’d love to work with Aleksander again, of course, because I think he’s so talented. As you can see from the credits, his name is everywhere.
And what’s the distribution situation for Thale at the moment? How can people see it outside festivals?
Well I’m told it’s getting a limited theatrical release in the States and in the UK and some other countries next spring. It’s a while away yet. I don’t think the UK has paid much attention to Thale yet…
Here’s a trailer for the film: