Phase9 Entertainment

CASANOVA - Q&A with Lena Olin

Lena Olin has been suffering for her art just recently. And she can blame her husband - the director Lasse Hallstrom. "Yes, I can," she jokes. "Wearing period costumes makes it almost impossible to breathe and it's all his fault..."

Lena has worked with her favourite director successfully before, of course (most notably on the Oscar nominated CHOCOLAT) and was delighted to team up with him again for CASANOVA - corsets and all.

"Oh it's great to work together," she says. "He is very honest with me and it's so good because we have a short cut version of everything and I can truly ask him questions and it's just amazing to see him do this thing, directing, that he loves so much.

"And you know, these costumes are absolutely stunning. They are a little constricting to wear, but they do look fabulous."

Olin, 48, was born in Stockholm to parents, Stig Olin and Britta Holmberg, who were both actors. Indeed, Olin Sr worked closely with legendary Swedish director Ingmar Bergman appearing in no less than six of his films.

Lena herself would also work with the great man when he directed her in AFTER THE REHEARSAL in 1984. A classically trained actress, she built a considerable reputation as a stage actress in Sweden before being discovered by an international audience thanks to her role as the free spirited Sabina in THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING with Daniel Day Lewis.

Olin's remarkable career has taken her to locations all over the world and includes an array of successful Hollywood movies like HAVANA, NIGHT FALLS ON MANHATTAN, THE NINTH GATE, CHOCOLAT and HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE.

Lena and her family live in upstate New York. This interview was conducted on set during filming on CASANOVA in Venice. Casanova stars Heath Ledger in the title role and Sienna Miller as the feisty Francesca who wins his heart. Olin plays Francesca's mother, a woman facing up to the harsh financial realities of life who wants her wayward daughter to accept the lucrative hand of a would be suitor - not Casanova.

Does it help the acting to wear these amazing dresses or does it put a strain on it?

It puts a strain on us which is good because that's what they had to go through. Somebody was just complaining about being in a wig since 5 this morning. And I was like 'in a wig! We're sitting in these things all day long.' (Laughs). You are in a little prison but that is good but that is good and it helps the character tremendously because you can't move in a modern way. You can hardly lean backwards, so I have to sit upright, very properly.

Does it take a long time to get dressed?

It just takes fifteen to twenty minutes but we have really fast good wardrobe girls and if you see any girls with great muscles - they are the ones who do our corsets! (Laughs) I try this trick where I blow myself up with a lot of air so when she does the corset there should be a little room but then she can't get the dress on.

Can you breathe properly?

No and you can't eat lunch very well either. But it is really a great help.

Can you tell us something about your character?

She is a great character. She is very strict and she has strong beliefs of how a woman should be which as she is the mother of Francesca (Sienna Miller) is challenging for her. She just wants women to be beautiful and nice and pleasant and attractive - because she needs her daughter to find a husband because she is poor. She has no money and lives in this huge Palazzo. She has a son and a daughter and no income at all. Her husband was clever enough to insure that Francesca was engaged to a rich cousin in Genoa and she says 'you are going to marry this guy if it's the last thing I do..' Because that's the only way the family will survive. She is trapped - just like I'm trapped in this dress. She is a woman in the 18th century and she has no money. What could she do? But then she falls in love too (laughs) and that changes everything.

How is working with Sienna?

Oh I love her. She is so sweet. She's so great. I really like her a lot. I think she has great instincts and you can just see that as a person there are so many aspects to her. I'm sure she has great future. She's very English, in a nice way. She is very charming and very accessible. She has a tremendous charm.

You mentioned that your character has grown. In what way?

It didn't have the curve that it does now. The re-write that Tom Stoppard did was major. I mean there are so many more layers - the whole adventure with my character's love story is something that is Tom's idea.

How is it working with Lasse?

Oh it's great to work together. He is very honest with me and it's so good because we have a short cut version of everything and I can truly ask him questions and it's just amazing to see him do this thing, directing, that he loves so much. If you were here today, we've had a big crowd, there was a high tide this morning so the water was up and normally you would expect the director to be very, very tense and Lasse is just, I don't know, he just gives off this feeling of calm and that's the best way to work. He's at ease and that brings out the best in everyone because they are at ease, too.

He said yesterday that he was looking for a script for you to play the lead. How long has that search been going on?

Since we met, which is now fifteen years ago. It's an on going dream.

When you finish filming at the end of a day can you and Lasse leave the film behind and forget about it for a few hours?

Lasse can't really leave it behind. But you know it's so natural with him, it's so organic the way he works, so I never see him sitting with the script scratching his head and saying 'how am I going to get this shot?' You know, the cliché of a director. It's like watching somebody very blessed with a very certain kind of talent because it just comes to him - and there's a real simplicity to that, I mean, he knows his stuff and he comes prepared; he was an editor, he was a DP, he knows every trick there is to know.

But as a married couple both working on the same film, do you go home at night and say 'let's not talk about the movie over dinner?

We might have a quick practical discussion about things but It's not that we're talking about a movie all night. It's more 'well, we could share the crab...' (Laughs) And the wine and all of those things. No business talk, I can assure you.

You did a season of the television show ALIAS in the States. Why did you leave?

Yes I did and I left because I was done, you know, and it turned out so wrong. I enjoyed it tremendously, I loved everybody on the show and it was great fun and this character they created for me was so much fun to play but after a year it was over. I'm very spoiled working in movies where you shoot for three, four months and then you go on to something else. It was hard to imagine shooting the same thing the next summer. It's just like I was done. And then it came this thing where it was 'well is it about money?' And it wasn't. But they didn't write me out and they should have killed me off (laughs).

But there is no chance of you going back? There's pages and pages on the web devoted to that character...

There is always a chance. I loved the show but there were issues with the travel and things like that - because we live in New York and the show is filmed in Los Angeles. But I would love to come back, that would be great fun.

Would you like to go back home to Sweden to work?

I'm trying to do this Swedish project and then there's a play that I would love to do but I can't really talk about yet. But yes, I would love to come back to Sweden, absolutely.

When were you last on stage in Sweden?

It must have been Miss Julie, I think. Maybe ten years ago. It was a long time ago.

Do you have any new projects in the States?

Well I may have something later. But since my character grew in this - not physically I hasten to add (laughs) - but she grew and there are more shooting days and I've been away a lot. And we have a daughter in New York and we have a son in boarding school in Sweden so now we are dying to get home and be together as a family.

Do you ever think about moving back to Sweden?

Oh we're always thinking about moving back. Who knows? We always have the feeling that we have never really left.

So you feel in between places?

Totally, we're everywhere and nowhere. And now Lasse is saying 'oh I'm homesick for New York.' and that's strange, to be homesick for New York and not be homesick for Stockholm. It's strange but it's wonderful. It still feels like a great adventure. When we are in New York there is a longing for Sweden, and every time we go back we're ecstatic, we love to spend time in Sweden, just to see people and eat the food and enjoy nature and everything that is Swedish. Our kids though, are very Americanized and they're like 'but isn't our land gloomy?' (Laughs) and I'm like 'but it's so beautiful, don't you see it? It's so wonderful...' And our son is like 'really?' They don't have that love for Sweden that Lasse and I have.

The following interview with Lena Olin took place during the Venice Film Festival in September 2005 where CASANOVA played out of competition.

Some couples aren't too keen on working together but you guys obviously enjoy it...

Yes, we do but we haven't really worked together that much. I had a small part in CHOCOLAT and then CASANOVA. But we always wanted to work together. It started with us planning the perfect project and some movies are very good but it's hard to find the 'perfect' project. So then I did CHOCOLAT and we had so much fun and I just loved working with him and it happened again with CASANOVA. Some couples work together all the time but we haven't done that.

Did you enjoy working in Venice?

Yes, and it was crucial to shoot here. I know they talked about shooting in other places but Lasse was adamant that we needed to film here. It was truly important to the movie, just the whole feel of the film. It was a very European shoot and that was nice and you know it made us both remember how we made films in our early career here. You know, no trailers, just get on with it. It was a bit like shooting a small movie in Sweden where everybody just hangs together because there is nowhere else to go and that creates a certain feel that I think you can capture on the screen. And I think Lasse used Venice but he wasn't overwhelmed by it, if you see what I mean. It's a wonderful part of the film.

It's a feel good movie. Is there a message in there too, do you think?

I think the film has a very subtle message that it's not about trying to change yourself to please someone. The girl who wins Casanova's heart, Francesca, is very much her own woman and she is smart and clever and strong. And I like that.

What do you think of the idea of Casanova in today's terms?

I think Casanova is a very interesting phenomenon. A lot of men can be called a Casanova just because they are a pig and want to sleep with every woman he sees but that's not Casanova. But I think there is a phenomenon where certain men have a deeper understanding of women and they can get any women they want. And there are such men. It's rare but it's a true phenomenon and it's not because they are rich and powerful, they just have a deeper understanding. They look at women and they see something beyond.

What, in your opinion, makes a man attractive to a woman?

Well. I think men who are not so focused on themselves are attractive. I've always been more interested in directors than actors. It's a true turn off for me when a man is too interested in himself and actors are. And when you see somebody come up and powder his nose, I know he is an actor, I know he is going to be on screen and I respect him professionally but it's so unattractive to me. I want to see somebody like Lasse who is so into like 'do I have a shirt on? What is wrong with it?' He is so focused on you and he is not just waiting to say something about himself like many actors.

You come from an artistic background and acting is in your family. Was there ever a time when you wanted to rebel against that?

I think a little bit but it's hard to rebel against actors because with actors it's like 'anything is possible.' That's the point. To grow up with actors as your parents it's a huge freedom so I didn't really have anything to rebel against. I'm an actress and a mother and because I grew up that way I try to be very normal. I had a great Mom but different.

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