We sat down with Stellan Skarsgârd & Hans Petter Moland to discuss ‘In Order of Disappearance’ out Aug. 26.
How did you get involved with In Order of Disappearance?
HANS: It’s a story that I started toying around with 15 years ago, or something, when I had a teenage son. I started toying around with, how would you go about finding out who had contributed to your sons death, if your son should die this way. Whether it’s something that you would either just mourn, or actually go after, and try and find the culprit. And how would that actually happen? You know, what kinds of things you would set into motion. That’s how it started. And then after we had done ‘A Somewhat Gentle Man’ together, after Berlin, in 2012, the producer asked me what I felt like doing next. I showed him this story, I met with the screenwriter, and we started developing it from there. I asked him to take a look at it, and he said: “Ehhh, I don’t think I want to do this”.
Really? So how did you convince him to work on this project?
HANS: Well, he didn’t quite see the same film as I did. I told him that I wanted to have a big setting. He couldn’t see the film, and I said: “Well its intended to be a big mix of genre”, I wanted to not have it as one genre or another, just not be constrained by any genre. And he said, “How will the audience know?” And I said: “Well, when you try to kill yourself, and your lip gets stuck on the tip of the barrel, frozen to the barrel, then perhaps that should be an indication to the audience that its time to start laughing.
That was something that was really impressive; the mixture of humor with such dark storylines throughout the movie. How did you work towards that?
HANS: Because the film is a mix, I mean it is objectively speaking, killing a lot of people like this, its serious stuff. You can make a very serious film about it, but I think its more fun to explore the territory with tongue in cheek, and at the same time not be limited by one genre or another. So, trying to do so effortlessly, you know, move from one genre to another, makes the audience curious about what’s going to happen next, because it becomes less predictable.
How much of the comedy was in the script, and how much was developed on set? For example the cardboard coffee holder the Count uses to protect him from blood splatter. Was that the actor’s idea?
HANS: No, that was all in the script, or at least maybe during rehearsals. I can’t really say. But there’s a lot of, high comedy, for instance, when you are really preoccupied with minutia, when there’s big issues at hand. For instance being preoccupied with coffee when you’re going to kill somebody. So it would seem important, if you were a man in great clothing, to take great care to avoid getting blood on yourself.
Stellan, the part that you play, it is such an emotionally rich role. Your son is killed, your wife leaves you, and you commit murder for the first time. How do you prepare for this type of role?
STELLAN: I had to play him realistically; I had to play him for real, even when it was funny. When my lip got stuck on the barrel, I had to play it as if I was going to kill myself, and that just happened to happen. It’s kind of that, but it’s also because Nils has to be the emotional center of the film, so he has to be a real human being. I couldn’t play him in the style that the Count plays. When we started shooting, the first scene I had with Pål Sverre, who plays the Count, I said: “Are we in the same film?” I couldn’t believe that we could do a scene with two absolutely different acting styles, and sizes, and everything. And he [Hans] said, every time I questioned the project, he said: “Trust me”.
You have so many different acting styles in this movie. As a director, how did you cater the way you worked with each actor individually?
HANS: I think, conventional wisdom is that if you go about making a revenge movie, it has to be adhering to certain conventions. I had no basis for knowing this, but I just assumed that, if I just disregarded those conventions, then it would be a more interesting film. Not be afraid that you’ll lose the audience; but rather the audience is so sophisticated, and has seen so many things now, that they would take delight in actually being offered something which breaks those kind of expectations. I think it doesn’t diminish the impact, or the ability for an audience to enjoy the laugh, or enjoy the horror. I remember, I talked to Stellan, I said: “I want the audience, when for the first time he hits the first guy, for the audience to feel like: yes! Because he deserves it, but then you’ve got to hit him so many times that they go, ‘oops, maybe not that many times’”, because he goes totally bananas; it’s way too much. And it is a way for the audience to then feel like they had cheered for somebody who was more violent than they had anticipated. It opens up for doing things which are irreverent, for instance, instead of him being frightened that he has killed a person, he just sort of pulls him into the truck and takes off, and suddenly the audience think: ‘Oh, is that allowed in this film as well?’ Then they relax a little bit, and say: ‘ I wonder what is going to happen next’. And then, when he throws it into the waterfall, the say: ‘Oh, maybe he’s going to get away with it’. All the sudden it becomes a roller coaster where an audience thinks: ‘Oh, maybe it’s the story about a man who actually gets away with murder’. And to a great degree he does.
The idea that each time somebody died, a gravestone appeared, was absolutely inspired. How did you come up with that?
HANS: Actually that was not in the script, that was something that happened during editing. Although there is a great body count in this film, in most violent films people just die, and they disappear, and you don’t think about them. I thought it would be interesting if they are actually treated as if, even if they’re bad human beings, that the last thing we see of them is that they are treated, in a way, like human beings. So their religious affiliation is at least correctly accounted for. It was together with my editor, I started toying with the idea that perhaps we should make a little marker every time somebody died, to just remind us that, okay, somebody else died in this film. Actually, it was a human being that disappeared. So we tried it out, and there’s really no way of knowing if it’s going to work or not, but we tried it out on some people that were unsuspecting observers, and they commented that they liked it. So we expanded on it, and we started toying around with getting the names, and deciding who was Jewish, and who was orthodox, and who was this or that denomination. The Count, which I guess this is lost on an American audience, but he has this little white dove, which is the symbol of a humanist in Norway.
STELLAN: So he is theistic. He is.
I love how in the ending, we don’t really know what happens to the protagonist. So my question to you is, if the film went on another half hour, what do you think would have happened?
STELLAN: Originally there was a lot of dialogue in that scene, but we took it away, and it was so much nicer just to create together, with this wonderful actor, Bruno Ganz, just sort of an atmosphere, and a relationship, without any words. I mean, in real life, he would be arrested, and go to jail.
HANS: I actually wrote a rudimentary script, I tried to make a sequel, simultaneously, about their trip.
STELLAN: You never showed that to me.
HANS: It never got to the place where I… but I think I mentioned it to you, because I tried to raise money to do four or five days of additional shooting, which is the story about those two old men. What do they have to say to each other? At first I think they are kind of embarrassed about being together. What would that trip across the mountain be like? And what would happen when they get to the other side?
There’s also the camaraderie; the both lost a son to the same guy.
STELLAN: They’ve both lost everything.
HANS: They’re probably quite embarrassed about what they’ve done.
STELLAN: But it is also nice sitting in that warm cabin, in the vast snow landscape.
HANS: The screenwriter and I, we had a great working relationship. I think he’s a kinder human being than I am. He thought I was too mean to kill the last guy, at the end.
The guy with the parachute?
STELLAN: No, I like that.
HANS: But I think it’s very appropriate for the film.
STELLAN: It is.
Especially how you don’t see the death happen, and then all the sudden, gravestone.
HANS: And also I think it’s to remind the audience that you have just seen a comedy, now go home and enjoy yourself.
What I found really enjoyable about the film is how little dialogue there was, and yet how much was said in the silence. Was that always the case, or did you strip back the dialogue continuously?
HANS: In general, there’s too much dialogue in films. I like all dialogue to be only necessary. Maybe one exception is in ‘A Somewhat Gentle Man’, that we did together. There’s a lot of dialogue, but it’s very precise dialogue, it’s not naturalistic dialogue. It’s almost like poetry. Here the dialogue is really the language of men who have lack of self-insight. They are people who think they know themselves very well, but they don’t. They are quite stupid men, and I think that it’s nice to let them speak in very meaningful words, that are not silly.
Are there any projects individually, or perhaps together, that you have in mind for the future?
HANS: Yeah, you know, we constantly talk about things to do together, because we enjoy working together, and there is a script that Stellan has come to me with, which we hope to do together. It’s such a luxury to have an intimate relationship working with somebody who you trust, and who you have confidence with. It’s a shame if you work with an actor, any actor, and then when it’s done, you don’t get a chance to expand upon that relationship. Luckily, we have had that chance, not just twice, but four times. You don’t start from scratch every time, you start from a lot of conversations, and a lot of knowledge about each other, which makes you able to go further.
Stellan, when you approach Hans with a script, what draws you to –
STELLAN: Work together? I’m used to him. No, but it is, when you know a director very well, you don’t have to court each other, spend fucking months courting each other, sort of prancing around, and then sort of trying to figure each other out. I know what he’s good at, and I know what he’s bad at, and he knows what I’m good at, and what I’m bad at. There’s also so much trust in the relationship, which means that we can say anything to each other. We don’t have to filter what we say, because I know it’s said with the love, and respect, with what we’ve come to know. It’s very nice.
HANS: And I think it goes for any movie, or any collective artistic undertaking; trust and confidence in each other is a much greater nourishment than ego, and fear, and all that. So it’s a great luxury to actually be able to be brave together, and to be working with a band, and not be afraid to do things. When you make films, in one way you are terrified of making mistakes, because the whole film falls apart if you make mistakes. So you try to make the right decisions, but there is no one single right decision to make. Some decisions are more important than others, but making mistakes is not a big deal. It is discovering that you have made a mistake that is the big deal. So if you do a take, or you do a scene that’s wrong, as long as you discover that this should have been done another way, and we’ll go reshoot it, or we figure out a way to correct it. But if you cast someone who is 20 years younger than what you had planned to – lets say you had cast someone who is 40 years old for this role – it probably would not have been a huge problem, unless you didn’t adjust to the fact that he is a 40 year old man instead of a 55 year old man, or a 50 year old man. You just have to be able to see, how does it affect the drama, or the relationships to the world around you? A man who thinks that he has lived his whole life, and perhaps is past, or at, the peak of his career, or life – and then realizing that he is so out of his depth, is very different than if he is a 30 year old man who is just starting out his life, because there is no recourse for this man. He cannot have another son; he cannot start over again. A lot of doors have shut behind him. This is the life that he ended up with, and I think that gives a quiet desperation to that character, that you don’t have to express, you don’t have to say; for an audience it’s quite evident that this man’s life is ruined.