There are few actors working today with the level of emotional intuitiveness of Vicky Krieps. Whenever she emerges onto a screen you innately feel exactly the emotion she is inhabiting in her character––whether that’s a woman rapidly aging on a beach in Old or a young waitress becoming romantically enthralled with an intimidating fashion designer in Phantom Thread. Every Krieps performance demands attention, and she’s been kind enough to offer a smorgasbord these past few years.
Krieps has spoken about feeling a bit lost after her breakout performance in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2017 film that paired her with Daniel Day-Lewis, but if it took her a few years to again find footing and sense of self in front of the camera, it was well worth the wait. After delivering an impressive lineup of performances in 2021 (among them M. Night Shyamalan’s best film in years and Mia Hansen-Løve’s extraordinary Bergman Island), she’s back with several more to show in 2022.
She’s been picking up awards buzz for her performance in Marie Kreutzer’s Corsage since it premiered at Cannes back in May. At KVIFF, our reviewer Rory O’Connor said “it’s her spikier self, that wry side-eye and fascinating poker face, that really make Corsage work.” That film will play at TIFF and NYFF before opening in U.S. theaters this December, primed for Krieps to potentially get her first Oscar nomination.
Before that, however, she has another Cannes premiere that’s well worth your time. Premiering at last year’s Croisette and finally making its way here courtesy of Kino Lorber, Hold Me Tight comes from director Mathieu Amalric and tells the story of Clarisse (Krieps), a mother and wife who suddenly abandons her family and heads out on the road. We aren’t given a reason for this decision, nor much in the way of her inner life initially, and Krieps masterfully allows us an emotional understanding of who this person is and what she’s feeling while her and Amalric slowly peel back the layers for us to see the fuller picture, illuminating even further just what a magnificent performance this is—yet another to add to her roster.
I spoke with the actress about her love for her art, how imagination and creativity has been in her blood since childhood, what she finds in common with the chair she’s sitting next to, and plenty more. But first, she began our interview by asking me about my name.
Vicky Krieps: That’s a very interesting name. What’s your family name?
The Film Stage: It’s Beaupre. My dad’s family is French-Canadian, originally.
Ah, yes, it sounded French-Canadian. Because usually in French it would be pronounced a little differently.
Yeah, everyone always pronounces it wrong.
For me, I was told that I would have to change my name. I’d ask why I would do that, and they’d say that English people cannot say “Krieps.” They would say “creeps,” and I’d ask what the problem is with that, and they’d say it’s like a creep. But I am a creep! So it’s fine—you can call me a creep. So yeah: I have the same thing.
We’re all creeps here. Getting us into Hold Me Tight, it’s a very beautiful film. What were some of your first impressions when you were presented with this story and with this character?
I choose my characters quite intuitively, so there’s never a thought of, like, “I need to play this character.” If it was down to that question I think I wouldn’t ever play any characters, you know? I need to go sit in the forest, but I don’t need to play any specific character. It’s not a need of mine. It’s more like this intuitive thing that’s calling me, that gets my attention and makes me want to dive into it.
Here, it was really Mathieu. His presence, his energy. I could feel that we were very connected in the way we work. Even though he has much more experience and everything, there was something that just felt like he was part of my gang. He gave me the little book with the theater play and I read it and immediately got fascinated with the basic idea of choosing to create a reality—one that is a different reality from what’s real, because what’s real is too painful.
That’s so logical in a way, but I had never seen it expressed, written so clearly. Someone is running away from the truth and she runs up a stairway to Heaven almost—she runs up into disguise and makes it all up in there so that she can continue to breathe. Because the other thing is so painful that you can’t breathe.
The concept is drawn out beautifully, in this somewhat abstract way, but it speaks to the very real truth in life that often there are things that are too difficult for us to face. So we have these lies to tell ourselves just to make it through the day. Was that something that resonated with you?
Yes, many of my characters are either unhappy or trapped, and they want to get away. You can be trapped for many reasons. You can be trapped for social reasons, because you are a woman in a certain time, or because you’re inside an unhealthy relationship and you want to get away from that. So how do you get away when you cannot get away? I always found fantasy to be the place to go to. Even as a child I would dream myself a world that I thought was more appealing than what I saw.
I think as a child I found it very painful to realize that we are not all good people. Very early on I remember this feeling that there is something like violence, and there is something like hate, and there’s something like fights. I never got my mind around it. Why are they fighting or hitting each other? It was so painful that I would go and run through the woods, look at the trees and just dream that there was a different kind of reality where maybe people are all friends. I know it’s very naive, but it was also real. It was a way of saving my own soul in the way that I believed I wanted this world to be.
Throughout the film your character is imagining what her family would be like without her there. Sometimes they’re really struggling, but other times they’re happy, they’re moving on. Could you talk about that discord for her, how she’s imagining these two different paths of reality?
I think it’s because she moves away from reality. When the kids are smaller she’s imagining something that is very close to the accident and close to the actual reality. We are not so far gone. The kids are the same age. The kids are still saying what they would’ve probably said if she had left the house. Then she switches the children in her imagination, and she finds other kids that look like them and she begins to use them instead. They’re older, they’re different children. They are not her children anymore. These are random kids she saw in the street.
So then she starts to move away from her kids to these other kids and imagines that actually they are fine. This is to relieve herself, to push it further away from her so that she can move on, and to have her own life. These other kids, I think they would have roamed around her brain always. The others will always come back to her, but I think grief is a very long process and you have to gradually let go. I think that’s what she’s doing. She’s gradually inventing them a little bit further away from her.
Mathieu described a few things you’d do to help get into character—sending him a playlist inspired by the character, or choosing a perfume for Clarisse, or being fixated on the specific car she was driving. How do those outside influences help inform a character and the world of the film for you?
It’s all part of one thing. I was just talking about how I like to look at the furniture on set and almost establish a relationship to the furniture. It’s hard to describe. I wish I was someone who had a plan and a structure, but I’m too chaotic for this. And also, I don’t have the time. It’s not that I really know about every chair, as in like “Oh, this chair I bought for my husband” and so and so. That’s not what I’m doing.
It’s more like… so, my work is to pretend something is real that is not real in order for someone to believe me. So how do I do this? For me, the way I found that feels okay—and this is kind of soothing—is to relate to the things that are the same way as I am. I am waiting on the light, and also the chairs are waiting on the light. We are both sharing this room where we are waiting on the technicians to finish the light, and this is something real.
But again, it’s not completely real, because if I was not an actor I would never sit next to a chair feeling that we are sharing a moment. So it can connect me in a healthy way to this unreal moment of acting in something that is very real. That’s the same thing I do with perfume or with the music. It’s not that I’m some maniac. It’s that I intuitively choose a perfume, something that reflects her mind or how she would be.
In Clarisse I wanted something stable, very classic, almost boring because everything is flying around in her mind. These are just ways for me to help myself to hold onto something because, other than that, in my work I’m completely free. Like, if I could describe my work I would say that it’s taking a boat that I built—and I really consciously built it and chose the wood—but once I leave the harbor, I don’t even have sails. I don’t know how I do it. I really don’t. So then I need things to navigate, to hold onto, and these become things like the perfume—which I then forget about, half of the time even forgetting to put the perfume on. But somehow it’s important that there’s something I can hold onto.
A lot of acting is about reacting with a scene partner, but in quite a few of your films you’re sharing a scene mostly with yourself. You were doing it in Bergman Island and again here. What are some of the challenges and benefits of being able to build those scenes where you’re more or less the only person in the frame?
The challenge is to not go nuts, because you have nothing to correct you. You don’t know where you are going and you trust something that is not to be trusted—which is yourself. You know what I mean? Like how crazy it is to trust yourself when you are the one person who’s always doing these things stupid things that always turn out to be wrong. But then you have to go to that place and find this energy again and again and again, where you go, “Okay, I’ll just trust myself.” To trust the one person who’s always making the mistake. I give the steering wheel to the one mad hatter in the building, which is myself.
It’s very scary in a way, but it’s also very freeing because once you get past this dialogue where you want to criticize yourself, where you want to boycott yourself, where you want to go and say “who are you to know how to play this? Who are you to know if this is right doing this in that moment?”—once you get past that you’re very free because then you let yourself have peace. Sometimes I think that’s all I do. When I’m acting I manage to find this one moment in my day where I manage to just let myself be okay, to just leave her alone for now.
Speaking of not going nuts: in the later stages of the film, as you mentioned earlier, Clarisse starts to fixate on these other children and imagines they are her own. Other films could lean very hard into that mental deterioration and play her as this crazy lady, but what’s more compelling is how Hold Me Tight keeps her grounded, keeps that balance of not pushing it too far. How did you and Mathieu want to find that proper balance?
Making a movie is always something that you are not doing for yourself, but you’re doing it for someone who’s in the audience. So the most important thing is figuring out how do I get in touch with the people on the other side of the telephone line. It’s a dialogue between the film and the audience. In order to have a relationship with my audience I cannot push them away or shock them. In this case it was very tricky to find a way to talk about this mental craziness, and also this pain and grief, but not push her away as the crazy woman. To leave her in a place where we can relate to her, and we feel we are her friend almost.
This is why we tried to stay on the verge of this and not push her too much. Because why would you see her suffer when you know what she’s suffering about? We all know what she’s suffering about. So on the other hand we consciously chose many moments where we made her laugh. We made her do silly things, be a little childish or even mischievous, because we realized if we are just going to have her suffer then the audience is going to leave the room after two minutes. That’s not something you want to see. Also, why would you want to show that to anyone?
On the other hand, to show someone the beauty of family, the beauty of love, how important it is that we have families, that we have love, that we have children which we sometimes unwillingly don’t see because we are so busy with our lives—and then how tragic it is when we don’t have it anymore. How do we turn this movie into a celebration, almost, of family, of life, of love, of all these values of humans? That’s what Mathieu managed to do so beautifully. Even when I look at it I’m in awe. How he managed with the music, the color, the camera—it’s like a dance. It’s like a beautiful dance poem. An opera about family.
100%, yes. When I finished watching the film the first thing I did was call my partner because I just wanted to talk to them for like an hour straight to feel that connection. What is most important for you in connecting with the loved ones in your own life?
I feel silly saying it, but it’s really just being grateful. For everything I have, because it can be gone tomorrow. And we don’t know how true that is until it happens. It’s a huge, enormous gift we were given. On the scale of everything that we don’t know about, it’s so short—it’s nothing—and we spend life running away from it, you know? So I try to find as many moments in my day, as many ways as possible to stop myself from running—to sit down and to see who’s in front of me, to hear what someone’s saying to me and to be grateful for being part of this beautiful, crazy circus.
What is it these days that gets you excited to wake up and be an actor? What gives you that thrill of getting to do this work you do?
Everything. You meet so many actors who say “this is a job,” or they say “I wish my child would not become an actor.” I hear it a lot, and I don’t know what’s wrong with me, why I love this, but I feel like I am a scientist. I’m a scientist and what I study is a plant sometimes called love, sometimes it’s called families, sometimes it’s called grief or loss or death. So many different things. Sometimes I find an answer, and sometimes I don’t, but I always set out to find something.
This is what gets me excited. I wake up in the morning and I’m already excited about what might be the other plant. I don’t even know it exists, but someone may call me and say, “Hey, we need someone to go and study the plant over in that forest.” Then off I go. Someone comes to pick me up at five in the morning and I arrive at some random studio somewhere and I go study again, you know? Every time I start I have no clue what I’m going to find or if I’m going to find anything really, but that’s what it is. I don’t know why—I just love the fascination of how it works.
One thing that really puzzles me and fascinates me, and I talk about it a lot, is this camera being this machine—it does feel like sometimes it’s a living eye, which is weird enough, but basically it’s a machine. So the machine captures my emotion with light and puts it onto some sort of support, film or digital, and this support travels again. Somewhere else it’s developed, or I don’t know it works with digital but that’s its own support. And then this goes somewhere where light again comes and portrays this thing onto a canvas, and the canvas pushes the light off into your eyes. And then you feel what I was feeling one year before. How is that possible? Until I find the answer I think I will continue to go on in the expedition, I think.
Hold Me Tight opens in NY September 9 at Film at Lincoln Center and September 23 in LA at Laemmle Royal, with more theatrical engagements to follow.