Eventually, Vicky Krieps is going to have her moment. The “Phantom Thread” star has already won a Cannes juried award and the European Award for Best Actress for the acclaimed period drama “Corsage.” Is an Oscar nomination in her future? As Krieps told us last month, “I find these awards very strange because they bring up a sense of competition when it’s not about competition. It’s about companionship and about doing it together. Because we can only raise each other.”
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Written and directed by Marie Kreutzer, “Corsage” centers on the life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria as she nears her 40th birthday. Krieps was fascinated by Elisabeth’s life since she was a teenager and she pitched it as a movie to Kreutzer who had directed her in 2016’s “We Used to Be Cool.” Years later, the movie was a reality and she found herself in Austria doing a deep dive on the controversial figure’s life.
“I went to Vienna, I think on 1st of January. Stayed there for two months, just reading everything I found,” Krieps recalls. “Going to all the museums, learning how to side saddle, how to fence. I had to change my way of eating so I could wear the coset even, to learn Hungarian. I worked with a body coach because I wanted to give her a special kind of body language as if she were floating.”
Over the context of our interview, Krieps discusses Elisabeth’s reputation today, how she and Kreutzer imagined a different life for the character over the course of the film’s third act, her recent experience filming Viggo Mortensen‘s western in the Mexican desert and much more.
The Playlist: This year you took the Un Certain Regard Best Performance Prize at Cannes and won Best Actress at the European Film Awards for “Corsage.” What do those honors mean to you in the context of your career?
Vicky Krieps: I never know to answer this. I find these awards very strange because they bring up a sense of competition when it’s not about competition. It’s about companionship and about doing it together. Because we can only raise each other. I can only be as good as my partner. But if I want to see it in a positive way, I see it like a friendly postcard. If you would get a postcard either from home or in this case, you get a postcard from a certain society, which is European film people. They send you a postcard to say, “We are with you.” That’s how I see it.
That is the best way. What intrigued you about this particular project?
I brought this project to Marie. The idea. Yeah. I went to Marie and I said to her, “We should make a movie about her.” That was the first step. I always knew I would be interested.
When did you become interested in Empress Elisabeth’s story? Do you remember what you read or saw that prompted it?
In my house, we were a big hippie household where there was only loud music coming from the living room. We didn’t have any of these kinds of conservative princess movies. But my neighbors, they were very Catholic and they watched it every Sunday, Christmas, and so on. I discovered it there as a girl. Then of course I was like, “Oh, the beautiful princess and the beautiful dress.” But by the time I was 15, I read a biography, which they had in the house. And then I got intrigued, and I thought there was something missing or something wrong. It feels like there’s something behind the curtain that I can’t explain, but it feels dark and sad and the opposite of what I see in a movie.
So, many years later, I’m doing a movie with Marie Kreutzer in Vienna. We did a movie called, “We Used to Be Cool.” And there I say to her, “We should work together again,” which she said too. And then I suggested making a movie about Sisi. And Marie, I remember looked at me like I am from the moon because she thought it was a very bad idea. She was like, “What? This kid. Barbie Princess, that’s not interesting.” And I said to her, “Well, I remember reading the biography at 15 and feeling that there’s some kind of mystery and darkness.” And then she took another two years, I think, to read it and to write a script, not telling me, to finally send me the script in my letter box.
Did you want to help make the movie besides just giving Marie the idea?
Yeah. Because I gave the idea, and, so they didn’t have all the money. They said couldn’t pay me everything, and so it was an exchange of respect, saying, “Well, we can’t, so we give you the executive producer title. Also, because it’s your idea.” Also, because part of the acting, I mean You see it. There’s a lot from me also. If you will have seen other movies of me. There’s a lot in a movie that was my doing, my making, and Marie was just letting me be as creative as I wanted to be.
Can you give me an example of that? In what way?
Every way. [Laughs] No, just all these things I do, like showing the finger or jumping out of the window after the fight, or many little things like ideas on the costume or on how the scene would go. I would change the lines. I would just do things. Like there’s this black and white moment where I run off and I jump in the air and stuff like that. So, all these things were just things that I was bringing up. I was saying, “Oh, let’s do this now. Oh, let’s make her do this.”
Besides the autobiography, you’d read as a teenager did you feel like you needed to do any of the research, or is it sort of like you grew up knowing her?
No, no, no. We both spend a lot of time doing research. She more than me. And I went to Vienna, I think on the 1st of January. Stayed there for two months, just reading everything I found. Going to all the museums, learning how to side saddle, how to fence. I had to change my way of eating so I could wear the coset even, to learn Hungarian. I worked with a body coach because I wanted to give her a special kind of body language as if she were floating. So I did a lot of research, yeah.
In the U.S., we know very little about Empress Elisabeth. She’s not really part of the history we are taught growing up. What is her perception of her in general from Austrians or Europeans as compared to how she’s depicted in the film?
In Austria, she has a very weird reputation. She’s the national hero in a way, but used only in the white dress, and she was so beautiful. So, she’s actually only used for this, and then half of the population just hates this kind of kitsch image. But if you go to Austria, she’s everywhere. She’s on every cup, in every souvenir shop, everywhere you can imagine.
What about her do you think has let her have this long reputation after all these years?
I don’t know. I guess we want these kinds of figures. I think it used to be more like church and saints. And so she has outlived all this stuff because it’s just this big symbol of pure beauty and something nice to look at. Do you know what I mean? That’s exactly what I wanted to do in the movie because she was the opposite. What is in “Corsage” is so much closer to the truth. So she’s actually been misused, almost abused. Because that’s not her, and she’s on every tote bag and everywhere in this white dress, and she hated it.
You talk about the movie being the truth, but the last portion of the film is sort of imagined.
Oh, yeah. There’s a lot that’s imagined. A lot of what is imagined is imagined out of what we don’t know. Me showing the finger and things like that. Of course, we have no idea what these people really were doing. So, we took the liberty to make it our own. Right? And truth is that at the end of her life, she was never really seen. Only behind a veil, and no one knew where she was. She was traveling. So, Marie, who loves crime stories was like, “Wait a minute.” No one saw her. What? And then out of this, we invented this. But of course, that is not the truth. But the truth is as crazy because she was the first critic of the monarchy. Her son in the movie says, “The monarchy is dying,” which is a sentence we took out of her diaries. So she was the one saying that. And being one of the first to criticize monarchy, she was killed by an anarchist with a nail fight in her heart. I don’t know what this is, but it’s crazy. It’s out of a movie again.
You mentioned all the training you had to do. Had you ever had to wear corsets or anything like this before?
No. I remember wearing corsets, but they’re like small roles and I didn’t… And especially not this one, because this is the time when they were going the craziest with it. Because they were talking of the sand hourglass. So, they wanted it to be super tight in the middle, and then broad on the shoulders and at the hips. That was the time when women were really suffering from it a lot, and so we wanted to really follow that shape, which meant that I was in a lot of pain, actually, which I didn’t expect.
The movie was already released in Austria and Germany in the summer. What was the reaction? Did Austrians appreciate this interpretation of her?
It was funny because we expected people to be upset. That many more people loved the movie, and they actually went a lot to the movies. In Germany, it takes a lot for people to go to the movies, but they went. Every now and then, you would hear voices saying, “Oh, but why do you show her so mean? And she was never so mean.” Which is just, of course, she was just a human being. We all are. And she was nice and lovely, and mean and cranky and everything at the same time. But no, we expected people to be much more critical. I think people took it as a relief too, you know? That this perfect figure is maybe more human than a saint.
I think it’s quite funny, the idea that you would know whether someone was mean or not 150 years ago.
What else have you been working on? You just said you just finished something.
Yeah, it’s called “The Dead Don’t Hurt.” It is a Western movie directed by Viggo Mortensen.
Oh wow. Did you shoot it in the US?
In Mexico. In the desert of Mexico, Durango.
Can you tell us anything about your character?
Yeah, she’s, again, a very strong woman; again, trapped in her time; and again, she has to find her way out.
Is she European, or are you doing a North American character?
No, she is. She’s actually French Canadian. Which, at that time, was something else. So it would’ve been slightly more European than nowadays, French Canadian.
Well, I know you’re exhausted from just shooting it. But what was that experience like to shoot a western? You had never made anything like that before.
Yeah, it was very cool. Can you imagine walking on set and it’s like a whole Western town, and all these cowboys and their guns, and the hats and everything was just like it used to be? But then to navigate that world as a woman, because it’s really also about the woman of the story. But she’s absolutely in this cowboy world, but it’s not a classic western in that way because it’s a lot about her and how she has to navigate this very rough and primitive world, which is the base of our world today.
“Corsage” is still now playing nationwide.