Vicky Krieps is in Cannes. It is the day before the premiere of Mia Hansen-Løve's Bergman Island, in which she stars opposite Tim Roth and Mia Wasikowska, and she is celebrating this year's less hectic festival. "I think I got lucky because it's very quiet. And that's the only reason somebody like me would enjoy it, as I am quiet," she says.
Now 37, the Luxembourgian actor, who is cheery and self-deprecating, avoided the business's more hectic corners until 2017, when Paul Thomas Anderson found her a breakout role opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in the fine Phantom Thread. She did not immediately rush into Blockbuster Alley. Indeed, it is only now that Krieps is taking over the screens. This year she appears in Bergman Island; Beckett, an action film for Netflix with John David Washington; The Survivor, a boxing biopic by Barry Levinson; and M Night Shyamalan's typically macabre Old.
We can’t say too much about the plot of that last film – spoiler embargoes are particularly threatening – but it is already well known that it concerns a beach that causes holidaying visitors to age dramatically quickly. It was filmed during Covid. There are messages in that scenario for those who seek them.
“I had moments where I felt very weak,” she says of her Covid times. “And then suddenly you receive this script, and it’s kind of talking to you about time, about family. I am a mother and I have two children. So all these things were resonating with me. We all had that feeling. So to all of us receiving the script almost felt like a … ‘safe rings’ they sent out when you drowned. How is it called?”
“Life… belt? Yes.”
Krieps doesn’t often stumble over her English. Like so many Europeans, she puts Anglophone idiots such as me to shame with her grasp of multiple languages. Would I be wrong in suggesting that Luxembourgers are particularly prone to an internationalist outlook? In a tiny country they speak three official languages. To move into many professions you have to study elsewhere. Am I talking nonsense here?
“No, you are on point,” she says. “That is it exactly. I grew up as a European – believing that I’m European. I didn’t even understand borders. And speaking the languages, of course, made me be free as an actor. Language is only just a way of communicating but everything I really want to say I will say here and here.”
She points to her face and to (I assume) her heart.
“It gave me the strength and the freedom to move freely in countries, but also in ideas and thoughts and different ways of doing cinema. Approaching someone like Daniel Day-Lewis, I could have been scared. This famous actor. But Luxembourg is so small, no person is more or less important than another person.”
Krieps was born in 1983 to a German mother and a father who ran a film distribution company. She studied at the Conservatoire de Luxembourg before going on to work at a primary school in a South African township. Krieps was drawn back to drama school at Zurich and, by the start of the last decade, was securing smallish roles in decent films.
She had a decent career by the time Paul Thomas Anderson came calling, but Phantom Thread – nominated for six Oscars, including best picture – really powered her towards the front of the stage. Krieps plays a waitress who gets dragged into the unhealthy obsessions of Day-Lewis’s sinister fashion designer. Anderson later told her he had been drawn to her face in the decent German film The Chambermaid Lynn.
"And I said: 'But why?' And he said: 'I thought I knew you.' That's not possible. I didn't star in a movie before. So now what we think happened is that he saw me in A Most Wanted Man with Philip Seymour Hoffman. I play a very small part in it and I liked to believe I was being invisible. So it's really interesting that he remembers me from a movie where I was trying to be invisible!"
I had read that she deliberately avoided Day-Lewis before they shot the scene where his character first encounters hers in the dining room of a chilly hotel. This seemed in keeping with Day-Lewis’s famously dedicated approach.
“I think I took it a little bit too seriously,” she says, laughing. “I thought: this is the game. Because I thought my character shouldn’t see him, I was looking at my feet and at the ground. I was hiding and running away because I thought that was the game. Later on he said to me: ‘I got so scared. I was wondering: who is this woman? Why is she not looking at me?’ ”
Sense of humour
So, for all the seriousness of his approach, he has a good sense of humour.
“Oh, yes. Very much. I think he is partly Irish, yes? Would you say the Irish have a sense of humour?”
Well, we certainly like to make that boast at every opportunity.
“Oh, I would say they do.”
That was a strange year for the Oscars. Many felt Phantom Thread was a little too recherché for the Academy, but it ended up scoring six nominations. When fans of the film caught their breath they noted that, whereas Day-Lewis and Leslie Manville, who plays the anti-hero's sister, were on the list, Krieps's breakthrough turn had been left out. That now feels like a snub.
“I remember Daniel saying to me that he was angry I was not nominated,” she says. “I looked at him and I smiled. I had started lighting a candle every morning to not be nominated. And I know I know sounds weird, but I was scared of it. I wasn’t sure what it would do to me. I felt it was sort of a poison.”
She will not be able to avoid attention for ever. The current year is looking like a standout one for her. Bergman Island brings highbrow attention. Old plays to the mainstream attention. Is this all part of a plan?
“Oh no,” she says. “I think if I had a plan it would be the end of my job. How does an artist have a plan?
Old opens on July 23rd