As an actor, you like when a character has both sides – when you actually are terrified but try to keep your calm.”
By Gary M. Kramer.
Claes Bang excels at playing suave, amoral men. His breakout performance in The Square, pivoted on his smug museum curator getting his comeuppance. Bang’s characters (even his Dracula) exude a cool, sophisticated demeanor – they are charming, sexy, and charismatic. But under the surface, the men he plays are all weak, vulnerable little boys.
In the engrossing psychological thriller, The Bay of Silence, Bang plays Will, a man who is first seen having a whirlwind romance with Rosalind (Olga Kurylenko) in the Bay of Silence in the Italian Rivera. Cut to eight months later as Will and Rosalind move into a home in London with their twin girls, Harriet (Litiana Biutanaseva) and Florence (Liibet Biutanaseva), and a baby on the way. But all is not well. Rosalind is troubled by a past trauma that manifests itself in strange behaviors. She also has uneasy suspicions after her son Amadeo is born. Will tries to calm and care for his wife, but one day he returns home and finds Rosalind and the kids have vanished. What he uncovers takes him on a disturbing and dangerous journey.
Bang taps into Will’s determination as he goes to great lengths to unlock the truth about his wife. He tries to be grace under pressure, but he also makes some questionable – read perhaps illegal – decisions. As he is haunted by anonymous texts that demand answers to events that have transpired, Will struggles to protect the family he loves.
In a recent interview Bang talked about making The Bay of Silence, as well as The Square, and Dracula.
Gary M. Kramer: You are an executive producer of The Bay of Silence. Can you talk about moving into producing? What prompted you to attach yourself to this project?
Claes Bang: Caroline [Goodall, who adapted the novel for the screen] sent me the script and I think I read it in a way like my character experiences the whole thing happening to him. It has all these weird secrets and surprises – his wife is something he did not know she was. I really liked it. I came on board to get behind it. Producing is quite new to me.
GMK: You seem to have been typecast in films with art themes after The Square. From The Burnt Orange Heresy and The Last Vermeer (aka Lyrebird), and now The Bay of Silence. Do you have any explanation for this career trend?
CB: I only do films if they are sort of about art. [Laughs] It’s purely coincidental, but it is kind of weird. The Burnt Orange Heresy could be the continued story to the guy in The Square – after he lost his museum job. I don’t know… There is absolutely no connection, and I know that sounds silly, but I can tell you, working with Dolly Wells on Dracula was a great collaboration. That was so inspiring. And The Affair, and what I’m doing now, have nothing to do with art in any way.
GMK: You also had great rapport with Elizabeth Debicki in The Burnt Orange Heresy.
CB: That was important to us. That connection they have carries the story. I can’t see them going as far out on a limb if they hadn’t had that connection. There’s something more that drives them into this terrible situation. It works for the story.
GMK: …And Guy Pearce in The Last Vermeer.
CB: He’s so brilliant. We had a marvelous rapport. He’s so good. I’ve been so fortunate to work with amazing people the last 3-5 years.
GMK: In your films you come off as suave and in control, but the characters you play are often masking an unseen tension. Your performance, in The Bay of Silence especially, is rooted in Will trying to remain calm as his world crumbles. Can you talk about that aspect of this role in particular and your work in general?
CB: But that, perhaps, is also a question for the people picking me for these parts. They go for this feeling of this guy that seems in control and tries to stay calm, but you get the feeling this is not going really well. I enjoy these things. As an actor, you like when a character has both sides – when you actually are terrified but try to keep your calm. If you are a two dimensional character, that doesn’t allow for that space, and to me, it’s also where I like to go because there’s an open field to investigate, and it gives you a lot of room to play with.
GMK: You also play characters who are often amoral or have compromised morals. Will makes some pretty difficult decisions, but it is hard to blame him for his actions. Can you talk about that aspect of the character?
CB: When you have to play [amoral] you have to get behind it and understand it. I understand why Will does what he does. He’s gone to a foreign country, and he has to get rid of [a body] or travel back with it in the trunk. When I read it, I thought: What the fuck is going on? But when you stop reading it, you think: What the fuck else could he have done? At this point everything falls apart for him. It’s just desperation. The decisions are in the script, but I like that it’s so radical and so out there. I was worried about that. Can we make people believe this is real? Some might not buy it, but we really tried to establish a logic – his logic. What could he have done? When we started talking about it and getting into that mindset, you really think: What could he have done? What I like is that doing what he does, it is him trying to survive and protect his family.
GMK: Will not only suffers trauma, but he also suffers watching Rosalind being haunted by her past. What observations do you have about this?
CB: When people are just decent and ordinary or what you want them to be, that’s not when you get behind then. You root for them when they do really weird shit and you understand it. In The Square, when the guy puts the letters in the boxes, it’s stupid, but he’s desperate, so you can understand it. I like how we can relate to these things ourselves. We go to the movies to find the truth about ourselves. We like it when the characters fail. I always look for the flaws and shitty stuff, because that’s where I connect with them. We like to see ourselves up there because we are flawed. When someone does something weird, we try to make sense of it.
GMK: What are your thoughts about being a kind of sex symbol?
CB: I think if I approach a character as a sex symbol, I wouldn’t be able to get anything out of it. I don’t think about that. You have to go with all the flaws. It’s about all the other stuff – trying to find the opposites where you can. In The Square, he says something and then does the opposite. He’s brilliant one minute and then fucks it all up. How do I connect the dots? When the audience works on connecting the dots, they are engaged.
Will in The Bay of Silence is a straight shooter. He’s reliable, and lovely, and good at his job, and a good dad, and a decent guy. And he’s presented with all these dilemmas and does all this weird shit. If I approached him as a sex symbol all would be lost.
GMK: Will has to solve a series of puzzles in The Bay of Silence. He has the clues and must piece together the information to find the truth. Are you good at puzzles?
CB: I’m not a puzzle kind of guy, to be honest. And weirdly, it’s my wife who in Episode 3 of 10 of a series can say “That’s’ the guy who did it!” I won’t get it even at the end of Episode 10. I don’t get it ever. With one exception, The Sinner, Season 2, which I thought was quite good. That’s the only time I ever figured it out. But I often tell my wife, “Just watch it! It’s not why they made it so you can figure it out after 3 episodes! You ruined it for yourself.” Perhaps I said this because I can’t figure shit out. [Laughs.]
GMK: Let’s bring this full circle. The Square was a breakout role for you. How did that film and that role bolster you as a performer, and take your career in a new direction?
CB: All of a sudden, I got cast in one of Ruben Östlund’s films, which were highly successful. When I got picked, I didn’t realize what it could do for me. I was more blown away by the fact that I could work on this incredible film, with an incredible story, director, and cast, in a part that is so meaty. It’s the best show reel because I got to do everything in it. To dive into that was amazing, and all that came with it – I didn’t see it all coming. But when something wins in Cannes, the whole world sees it. And they saw I can play all this in this film, which is 2 1/2 hours, and that I can play it English. It opened up a lot of possibilities. It was a game changer for me in many ways. What stands out for me was the collaboration with Ruben. I’m so fucking proud that I had understood it in my body, brain, and heart, and that I was able to deliver what he needed to craft this masterpiece he has been working on for years. At the core, it’s been so incredible that all this has happened after. Because I’ve had the opportunity to work on The Burnt Orange Heresy, The Last Vermeer, and Dracula – who saw that coming? It’s been an incredible ride. But I feel I’ve given it my best. I’m so proud of Dracula. It’s such an iconic character, and I was scared it would fall flat, but we came up with a Dracula that’s fresh and new. I can’t believe the luck I’ve had.
Gary M. Kramer writes about film for Salon, Cineaste, Gay City News, Philadelphia Gay News, The San Francisco Bay Times, and Film International. He is the author of Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews, and the co-editor of Directory of World Cinema: Argentina, Volumes 1 & 2.