With Antichrist, Charlotte Gainsbourg Rises

An interview with Cannes's 2009 Best Actress

It seems that most of von Trier's animosity is directed at Willem Dafoe's psychotherapist character.

But Lars does have a real respect for psychotherapy—well, for his [psychotherapist], anyway. He was always saying, "That's what my therapist said you should say." [Laughs.] I needed to think that Willem's character was not the bad one, but I had to blame him. What did help me a great deal—and this is also another answer to people who say Lars has such a bad view of women—was that I did have the feeling that I was portraying Lars. All the panic attacks—those were Lars's, so it was easy to make the link. In his own fragility, Lars was the female character.

Did he go into detail about what it's like to experience a panic attack?

My biggest fear before we started shooting was those panic attacks. I had never experienced one myself, and, according to people who've had them—well, there's nothing like it. It's very hard to describe them apart from the fact that you think you're going to die. The external aspects of it, which I needed, are very hard to find. Lars tried to show me some videos on the Internet of people having panic attacks on airplanes. But you can't see much—it's very hard to analyze. I think what you feel on the inside is 1,000 percent more than what people really see. And so he was able to be very generous in his way of describing his own experiences and to be a real guide during the shoot, because I had no idea if I was going too far or not far enough.

Was there anything you said "no" to doing?

Yeah. Before we started to shoot, he said there would be three inserts with porn actors. I was OK with that, but in one shot, he asked me if I would mind being with that porn actor just to see my face come up on one part of the screen and the man's erect penis. I didn't have to touch him or anything. If I wasn't willing to do it, he was already prepared to do it in a different way. I said I didn't mind. And I was in this little cabin with this guy who was not Willem, and I felt so awkward. I shrieked like a little girl. [Laughs.] I realized that was my limit—I didn't want to do it.

You have been associated with provocative material ever since you were 12, when you sang "Lemon Incest" with your father. Is there something about taboos that has always appealed to you?

Not in the sense [of thinking of "Lemon Incest" as] provocative—not on my side, because I was so young. But after that, I did do The Cement Garden [1993, directed by Andrew Birkin, Gainsbourg's uncle], which also has to do with incest between a brother and sister. It's not that I'm attracted to that kind of material, but I find that those are subjects . . . Well, it's difficult to say that you understand it because you don't want to accept it, but there is something that I did find beautiful in those stories. I wouldn't refuse material just because it has to do with something taboo.

You've been acting in movies since you were a teenager. Do you think that Antichrist and the Cannes award will open new avenues to you as a performer?

I'm not sure. I don't know what it really does. I'm very proud of having won that, and it was a wonderful, exciting time, and really great. I'm just hoping people will see the film and love it as I love it—well, as I loved the experience, anyway.

Antichrist plays at the New York Film Festival October 2 and 3 and opens in theaters October 23.

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