At the start of 2022, in the lead-up to the Oscars, Norwegian actress Renate Reinsve was in the spotlight. So was the story of how close she came to quitting acting before Joachim Trier offered her the role of Julie in The Worst Person in the World, a film that catapulted her, then 34, to a certain level of fame with two unlikely Oscar nominations. Have two years of attention brought some airs and graces? Don’t count on it. “I ran away from home to Scotland,” Reinsve recalls to me across a table at Berlin’s Ritz Carlton. “I jumped on a plane because it was just £1 and then I stayed for a year. I had to go back for an acting-school audition but I also had to go home because my intestines hurt so much, because you drink so much. I worked in a bar when I was 17. I was way too young.”

Reinsve’s career arc is practically canon at this stage: acting from a young age; then a one-line appearance in Trier’s Oslo, August 31st in 2011; then a decade of hustle, appearing in independent films, shorts, and TV shows in Norway; then Trier again with Worst Person and a life forever changed. Reinsve is about to be in the spotlight again: at Sundance she starred in Handling the Undead, where deceased loved ones return, and A Different Man, where she plays a writer directing a play about the protagonist (Sebastian Stan) who she believes is dead but has actually returned into her life after having facial-reconstructive surgery. That film carried on to Berlin where Stan won best actor at the festival’s already infamous awards ceremony.

Also in Berlinale competition was Another End, where Gael García Bernal plays a mourning widower who applies for a new service in which an AI amalgamation of one’s loved one’s memories and personality is uploaded, for a fee, into a stranger (Reinsve again, uncannily appearing in two roles) for a limited time. Three Reinsve joints, each with a plotline worthy of Black Mirror, and many new projects on the horizon provided an opportune time to talk with her.

The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

The Film Stage: During your time in Scotland, did you get to the Edinburgh Fringe festival much?

Renate Reinsve: We actually went there to do a show, but no one came to see it because everyone there wants to see comedy and get drunk. I think we had, like, seven in the audience, but it was very fun for us. There are, like, 3,000 events all over the city––theatre or comedy or whatever. I remember on the high street in the old town there was someone going very slowly from one side to the other for the whole day, just holding a sign.

That was the performance?

That was the performance!

Did you ever try doing comedy?

No. Theater. Not comedy. Because I took it very seriously. From when I was nine, all the kids had fun. I was very serious.

Has that changed?

Yeah. [Laughs] Now I have more fun. I was so shy and so stiff as a kid, but I’ve learned to accept myself. And now, sure, I’ve been in comedy, but if I ever do comedy it’s because I find the tragedy in it, the tragedy of that character. It’s the only way. You have to find why we are so undeliberately funny. It’s because of the tragedy of human existence.

Another End is a tragic sort of story.

Yes, this is very tragic.

I loved your performance in it. The whole energy of the film really changed when you came into it. How did you prepare for this role, knowing that you were going to have to act against Gael García Bernal with a different consciousness each time?

It was hard because I didn’t have much time. I had another movie pushed so I think I had, like, three weeks, and doing one character is hard enough. Finding the difference between these two characters, but still keeping them grounded and real, was very difficult. I love starting with analysis and then putting on the body, so to do it I had to find very specific thought patterns and ways of being. The state of mind and the body that Zoe was in, and the opposite for Ava, because they are in such different places in their lives and they’re dealing with things in such different ways. It’s also a question of how much Ava knows, because she thinks she’s a real person.

Photo by Jens Koch at Berlinale 2024

It was interesting that your other recent film, A Different Man, has a kind of similar conceit in a way, that your character is falling for a guy who is essentially lying to you in some way.

Yeah, and also because in A Different Man you meet that character, Ingrid, and she’s like a very quirky girl next door. And then when she takes Edward’s story, she knows what she’s doing is wrong, but she becomes kind of borderline sociopath in the process and her ambition about becoming someone gets bigger than her empathy for the people around her. So it’s kind of two different characters there, too, in the way that Ingrid changes so much and changes her appearance. They’re both so their own movie and so strange and have very specific atmospheres. They’re so dark and light and confusing but also so full of heart, so there are some similarities.

A Different Man was your first American film with real Hollywood stars. What was the biggest challenge of all that?

It was actually my first English-speaking movie as well. It all came together very quickly. I only had two weeks to learn those lines and Aaron [Schimberg] wanted scenes to be shot in one take. Of course, a lot is cut out now, but most scenes are from one continuous take, and it was so much text. In Norwegian I can be very free because I remember it at once, but it’s very different for me working in English. And it was like 45, 50 degrees where we were filming and the days were very long. But I loved being in New York, shooting an indie movie––it felt so cool.

So Sebastian had to wear all those prosthetics in that heat?

He’s officially the best person in the world because he had to wear that for 16 hours and he was so calm and so nice while doing it. It was 45, 50 degrees. He was running with sweat and he was just so patient.

There’s a great scene with Michael Shannon. Did you hang out at all? That guy seems like a real dude.

Oh nooo, he is a storm trapped in a man. He would go out of his room and everything would just go quiet with his presence. He would sit down and, like, no one knew how to handle it. He did the scene. It was fantastic. He was very calm and very professional, then he got up and he left. So he’s just the king of something––another world, maybe.

How was your experience in Sundance? Having been to Cannes and now Berlin.

Sundance was really exciting but I hadn’t done press in so long, since Worst Person, and I thought I would be okay with it because I did so much, but I was so nervous. Also, it was the first movie after Worst Person. I felt like people had a lot of expectations. And they are both very specific movies, Handling the Undead and A Different Man, so I was just really nervous because they’re very bold and you have to kind of lean in to watch them, a bit. They don’t give you anything for free, but I felt that the audience in Sundance are really up for genre––they love seeing a movie through that lens.

You currently have six upcoming projects listed on IMDb. How is it to now be in a position where you are picking and choosing? What are you looking for in the scripts that come your way?

It’s very intertwined in how I want to live my life. I’ve had scripts I liked but then, after talking to the director, I realized that it was not going to be a good experience––maybe for both of us––so it’s very important that I just have fun and enjoy myself every single day. Life is too short. I think the most important thing is to know that it will be a good group and a good project because it‘s a place you have to go every day, and then you have to meet that group again and talk about it, so it has to be themes you want to talk about and that you’re really interested in and that makes your heart start pounding a little bit just thinking about it.

When I read the script for Another End I was like, “This is strange but I think it’s interesting and I really feel there is a big heart here and I’m sitting here with questions.” Then when I met Piero [Messina] I was like, “I love him. I have to do this with him.” So you still never know what it’s going to end up being, but the product for me is not the most important part. It’s the process.

Another End is already your third film this year. What’s next?

There’s one coming out that is finished and I’m very excited about it. It’s Armand, from Halfdan Ullmann Tøndel. He’s Norwegian. It’s about two mothers who try to destroy each other’s lives, in subconscious and conscious ways. It’s a power play but also a fantastical drama and you get to go into these small pockets where there are dance scenes. I’ve seen clips and it’s so good!

The Joe Talbot film, The Governesses, sounds amazing. Lily-Rose Depp and Jung Ho-yeon, from Squid Game––very cool cast. What’s going on with this one?

Yes, Joe’s first since Last Black Man in San Francisco. Well, with the strike, it was moved a little, and now it’s a little up in the air, time-wise––the when and where of it all. I’m figuring all of that out but we’ll see. That’s my answer!

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