States of mind

Trine Dyrholm on getting know Nico and Susanna Nicchiarelli's vision for Nico, 1988

by Anne-Katrin Titze

‪Susanna Nicchiarelli's Nico, 1988‬ star ‪Trine Dyrholm with Anne-Katrin Titze‬: "It's a film about identity and finding your way in life and who is behind the icon, who is actually the human being."
‪Susanna Nicchiarelli's Nico, 1988‬ star ‪Trine Dyrholm with Anne-Katrin Titze‬: "It's a film about identity and finding your way in life and who is behind the icon, who is actually the human being." Photo: Layla Hancock-Piper

Trine Dyrholm has worked with some terrific directors, including Susanne Bier on In A Better World and Love Is All You Need opposite Pierce Brosnan, and Thomas Vinterberg on Celebration (Festen) and The Commune. In Susanna Nicchiarelli's Nico, 1988, she gives a haunting portrayal of Christa Päffgen, aka Nico.

During our conversation at Magnolia Pictures on the afternoon of the Film Forum theatrical première of Nico, 1988 in New York, Trine discussed with me the work she did with composer Max Viale of Gatto Ciliegia contro il Grande Freddo when she recorded Nico's songs in the studio for the film, finding the emotional states of mind of her character, and the human being behind the icon.

Nico (Trine Dyrholm) with Richard, her man Friday (John Gordon Sinclair): "She was somebody and then she became her."
Nico (Trine Dyrholm) with Richard, her man Friday (John Gordon Sinclair): "She was somebody and then she became her."

Trine Dyrholm will be on this year's Venice International Film Festival jury, headed by Guillermo del Toro along with Nicole Garcia, Taika Waititi, Naomi Watts, Sylvia Chang, Christoph Waltz, Paolo Genovese, and Malgorzata Szumowska.

Anne-Katrin Titze: You'll be on the jury in Venice! Are you looking forward to it?

Trine Dyrholm: Yes, that's very exciting. I've not done many juries but I was at the Berlinale once and also just was the president in Zurich last year. I think once in a while it's very interesting to watch a lot of films and to be with other artists and filmmakers and discuss film. And that's very inspiring.

AKT: Do you know your fellow jurors, Guillermo del Toro or Nicole Garcia, for instance? Or not yet?

TD: No, I know some. I was on the jury with Christoph Waltz in Berlin, so we're back again.

AKT [jokingly]: Is that even allowed?

TD: Yeah, there is no rule.

AKT: Congratulations on a wonderful performance in Nico, 1988! When I spoke with Susanna Nicchiarelli in April, she told me that developing your Nico started with the songs. You started with the music and then the character evolved?

Trine Dyrholm: "The real work with the character was with the music and to find our version of Nico's voice."
Trine Dyrholm: "The real work with the character was with the music and to find our version of Nico's voice."

TD: Of course, we talked about the script and what was her vision and we changed some things in the script. But the real work with the character was with the music and to find our version of Nico's voice. We didn't do an imitation - that was very important for us.

AKT: It didn't feel like imitation at all.

TD: It'd be easy to do that because she has such a weird voice and such an original voice. [Trine changes her voice into a bear-like Nico growl] So if you want to [and back to normal Trine voice] it could be too much. We had to find a way to do it in a truthful way. I used to be a singer. I was in the Eurovision song contest when I was 14 with a pop song and I did two records.

I toured with a band, not in a blue bus like in the film but I toured with a bunch of rock musicians, actually jazz musicians, and I was only 14. So I could use that background in a way. I've done a lot of concerts, I've been in a studio many times and I've also done a lot of experimental theater where you use your voice in different ways.

Basically what we did was we went to the studio and I just tried to sing the songs a lot of times with the composer Max Viale [of Gatto Ciliegia contro il Grande Freddo with Gianluca Dalla Torca and Christian Alati] and Susanna. Then we suddenly found a version that could work for the character. And when we found that through the music, it was as if the character kind of started to grow in my belly. Also, I think we treated all the songs as monologues.

Trine Dyrholm: "As an actress, of course, it's not often that you get such an offer with such a complex, contradicted character."
Trine Dyrholm: "As an actress, of course, it's not often that you get such an offer with such a complex, contradicted character."

AKT: That's interesting.

TD: It's emotional states of mind throughout the film. First of all there is These Days. It's the opening over the credit song. Then Janitor of Lunacy comes and she's the star that comes to Manchester with glasses and she's singing like this.

And then you have the other songs that are different states of mind. My Heart is Empty is the liberation for the character. My Only Child of course is dealing with the mother/son story, just right after he [Nico's son Ari played by Sandor Funtek] tried to commit suicide. They work as monologues, I think. That's why it was so important to find a right way to do the songs.

AKT: The result is somehow this third entity, that isn't you and that isn't Nico. It is someone who is only beautifully existing in this film.

TD: I'm happy you say that. That was what we tried to do.

AKT: That's what makes it different from the usual biopics. Where others contrive and fall into the traps of the genre, you are leaping over it. It's authentic in a stranger way.

Trine Dyrholm on ‪Nico, 1988‬: "It's emotional states of mind throughout the film."
Trine Dyrholm on ‪Nico, 1988‬: "It's emotional states of mind throughout the film."

TD: The script is also so far away from a biopic. A biopic is usually, you're a nobody and then you became someone. This one is the opposite. She was somebody and then she became her. It's a film about identity and finding your way in life and who is behind the icon, who is actually the human being. As an actress, of course, it's not often that you get such an offer with such a complex, contradicted character.

Read what Susanna Nicchiarelli had to say on finding inspiration, a different kind of beauty, and why she made Nico, 1988.

Read what Susanna Nicchiarelli had to say on Trine Dyrholm, Nico's sense of irony, and the look from costume designers Francesca Vecchi and Roberta Vecchi for Nico, 1988?.

Nico, 1988 is screening at Film Forum in New York. Trine Dyrholm will participate in a Q&A following the 8:10pm screening on Friday, August 3.

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