I meet Danish actor Claes Bang at the Dubai International Film Festival, at the height of the sexual harassment tidal wave of scandals that has engulfed the entertainment industry since early October 2017. Major Hollywood players keep falling around us, left and right and in fact, not even a week after my interview with Bang, another filmmaker whose film is featured at the festival, Morgan Spurlock, comes out with his own confession of wrongdoings, on Twitter.
Yet Bang seems unaffected by the hoopla, his soave behavior unchanged as he gazes deep into my eyes and with an almost unrelenting stare. He also sits quite close to me and doesn't care about crossing into my personal space often, during our interview. I don't mind one bit, it's actually refreshing to talk without reservations about sex with a spellbinding man I'll probably never meet again. I won't even have to go out with him, or have to sit through a glass of wine together, while I struggle to keep quiet and "let the man talk" -- as my BFF has often admonished me -- while sitting on my hands to avoid moving them around too much.
In this moment, Bang is doing all the talking, interrupted only by my next question and that's my own definition of a perfect instant in time. Away from the nonsense, and spent wholeheartedly in the moment.
After the outstanding success of Ruben Östlund's 'The Square' at the Festival de Cannes, where the film won the Palme d'Or, Bang's performance, along with his co-star Elisabeth Moss's turn, are going to the Oscars. And while it is confirmed that Bang is working on a sequel of 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' titled 'The Girl in the Spider’s Web', there have also been rumors that James Bond could be a Dane in the next installations. Bang himself admits being partial in fact to the hashtag "#BangforBond" and who blames him. It's got a ring to it!
Following is our conversation, and do make sure to read through to the end to discover the wonderful word Bang would use to describe himself to someone who doesn't know him.
I’m going to start my questions with a bang, pardon the pun. How difficult is it to film a sex scene in front of the camera?
Claes Bang: This one was quite easy. Super easy [Bang coughs].
So now I can say, “Claes Bang choked when I asked him about the infamous condom scene.”
Bang: The second you asked! No, for this one it’s like, I don’t know if you remember this, when she’s doing her part, she’s sitting on top of the camera and I’m not there. She’s jumping up and down on the cameraman and for my part, I’m lying down with the cameraman sitting on top of me — jumping up and down on me. So for the actual sex, I could have been in another country. We weren’t even close!
Have you filmed other sex scenes?
Bang: Yeah, that’s part of it, it’s always weird. It’s always awkward. You know you get this feeling that it’s in the script, you need to be really, really close with someone and you’re not really… It’s super unconformable to impose yourself on someone — no, I feel terrible about them. I don’t like doing them. What I think is always a great idea is getting a total choreography of it. “Put your hand there, do that, start shagging. blah blah blah, whatever” and just to be really specific. I once had a director say “OK, we’re going to shoot this sex scene now, please take off your clothes and get on with it.” And I thought, OK, that’s going to be super private, and you don’t have anything that is really important to stress in the scene. That’s the worst. But if you have a director saying “now we want to see this, that hand on her shoulder…” Then it’s like a choreography and it’s so much easier. It’s doable. If it’s too loose it’s not really pleasant.
This was as good as they get then?
Bang: Yeah, because the actual sex was the cameraman on top of me, so there wasn’t any kind of awkward nudity or anything vulgar.
How much are you like Christian?
Bang: I’m very much like him! In every way I think. I can actually relate to everything he does and I think that’s Ruben’s thing. He wants his actors to be there, in the situation relating to what is going on right now. And he’s working your hard so he gets your most authentic and organic reaction. What he’s trying to do is to stop you acting, he doesn’t want you to produce anything or take the scene in a specific direction.
He wants to massage you into being there in the moment and just relating to it as organically and as truthful as you can. And therefore I think, that there’s probably a lot of me in it because he’s not asked me to do this reaction. He’s wanted me to do what I would do in that situation.
When you first read the script what attracted you to it?
Bang: The way in which this came about is I didn’t actually read the script until I got the part. So at the first casting I was asked to do the speech I give in the museum to the audience. I was asked to write that and perform it. I did that and we kept almost everything that I wrote in the film. And then Ruben sat me down and he talked me through the whole film. We did improvs of five or six different scenes and that’s how I got to know the story.
So that’s a bit of his creative process as well?
Bang: Yes that’s very much so and laid down the groundwork for the entire thing. We did two more casting sessions after that but that was the basis of everything. That’s how I got to know the story and that is what drew me to it. I remember coming home from the first casting and sitting down on my sofa and telling my wife, "I think I really want to do this!"
That’s an actor’s dream, right? To be involved in the creative process from the very beginning.
Bang: Yes, and also how he works, one scene a day, a ton of takes and I got to drive the fucking limo of my job with this one! He shot this over 80 days and I was there for 78 or something. I got to work super hard and investigate every little angle of this character. It’s been insane in that way.
It’s no wonder then that he gets these stellar performance from his actors!
Bang: It’s very much to do with how he works you. This is not something I came up with on my own. This is very much something that happened as a process, with his way of working. I think that in this film he’s gotten things out of me that I didn’t even know were in there.
Tilda Swinton often talks about her work with Derek Jarman. Making films they liked and did not care who would see them. And then there is a film like this getting the biggest accolades in Cannes and now onto some bigger and better things…
Bang: But does it get bigger and better than Cannes?
No, probably not. But I hear they are beckoning from the other side of the ocean, for a certain Oscar ceremony…
Bang: But is that bigger and better? If I had to choose, I’d rather win the one we already won. No, I can’t say that. I want all of them! I want the Globes and the Oscars.
But is it important to know that people are recognizing your work?
Bang: Yes, I totally get what she says Tilda Swinton, she’s amazing. I totally get this thing where you say, “Now we’re going to do this and we don’t give a shit”. And to sort of put yourself in a position where you do your thing, that’s the right way of thinking about it. I actually think that’s Ruben’s way of thinking about it too. But also, every day on set he would sit in front of the monitor and would say “This looks exactly right, this looks like Cannes.” So he’s super competitive. Obviously there is this thing where you work really hard on something that is supposed to communicate and do something with an audience. So to say that you don’t give a shit if people watch it or not, that’s bullocks. I think the best example is in theater. You spend four, six, eight weeks of rehearsals and then you’ve got the final thing — but it’s not final until you bring an audience into it. This is supposed to communicate and if no one is sitting there, it would be insane to have eight weeks of shows with nobody in the audience.
Acting is an audience sport.
How would you describe yourself to someone who doesn’t know you?
Bang: Nice, I’m nice.