Vicky Krieps, hailing from Luxembourg, has over thirty credits to her filmography. At a young age, a family friend gave her the compliment that was like a teenage Meryl Streep. It’s an opinion I share with Erik Anderson at AwardsWatch, reinforced after watching Krieps make her American film debut in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread.
I caught up with Krieps for a quick chat about how walks in the English countryside helped her find the character Alma — her magical, exquisite and beautiful portrayal in the film of the young muse who captivates Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis).
Read our chat below:
The first thing, I’m going to say is a fellow film journalist agrees that you reminded us both of a young Meryl Streep in this.
That’s so funny because when I was younger in my teenage years someone actually came up to my mother and said I looked like a young Meryl Streep. I was petrified. I thought she was an adult and I didn’t want to look like a grown up. Now, I know it’s a compliment, but back then I didn’t even realize how much of a compliment it is. Also, at that time, I didn’t know I wanted to be an actress.
I want to hear your audition story.
It almost feels like it’s not an audition story because Paul found me after watching a small German arthouse movie I did, The Chambermaid Lynn. I think he found it on iTunes because it was on there. I got the part because of the audition, but I got the audition because of a movie I did. In the end, it’s really what you do that makes you get work. It’s not about who you know or who you sleep with or who your agent is. I never believed in that and in the end that never worked for me. I’m so happy Paul saw my work and this is why he thought of me and asked me to audition.
His casting agent wrote to me to put myself on tape. I had my iPhone, I was on the bus, read the email and scrolled through it. I’m not interested in names, I’m not interested in the work. If I get an email from my casting agent, the first thing I do is read the script. Of course, I’d never expect an American casting agent to reach out to me. So, I read the script and immediately related to the words and Alma’s work. I always choose my work based on the character and if they speak to me, and Alma spoke to me.
I closed the email and thought I had to audition so I went home and decided to audition. I was thinking it was a London student film. I think I had seen London in the story somewhere and that’s what was in my head. I thought I was making an independent student film. To me, it was huge, it was a big thing that if someone from another country asks you to work. So, I did it and I sent it off. My agent called me at the weekend and said, the director loved my tape. What’s funny is that she was so excited and normally she isn’t. Then after a while, she said, “Vicky, do you even know who we are talking about?” I said, “No. What’s the name of the director again?” She told me it was Paul and went through his movies.
What a story! Alma is a great character. She starts off quiet, but she evolves with confidence. What was it like to play someone like Alma?
There were so many things. It was somewhere in between a tour de force because to be able to maintain my focus in the world of the House of Woodcock and Reynolds and of course, Daniel. I had to be very patient and restrained. It’s something that’s not my nature so I had to learn to stay patient, silent and concentrate. It was absolutely wonderful because it was like walking blindfolded into this because I couldn’t prepare, there were no rehearsals aside from a short reading. In January, I met this man called Reynolds, someone I’d never met before. I relied on my knowledge and intuition and everything I knew about movie making. It was great because it felt like I was flying. I never knew the day of the week or what time it was. We were shooting in the Cotswold and I never called home. I really lived in the world of Reynolds Woodcock. In order to do that, I stepped back from all of my own private ideas and it was a tour de force and a ballet dance at the same time.
What was it like to film inside that house because it seems like a confined space?
I was really influenced by the places. We didn’t shoot in a studio, we shot entirely on location. Every space we were in was breathing its own energy. The house in the Cotswold was really an old castle and it was breathing this strange ghostly energy. We had the hotel in Yorkshire which was an old English hotel, nature there was breathing a strange energy too.
This is where I constructed Alma. I’d go on long walks in Yorkshire, breathing the air and nature around me, trying to fill myself with energy and nature and no so many ideas. All the places really influenced me.
The house in London was claustrophobic. We were in the city and away from nature. You could feel the city around you, but to then go into this world which was not part of that world, there was a small moment where I felt claustrophobic. It was hard to fit the world that we had previously created into this one small house. As soon as you left that house, you were in modern time London, and that was not the world I was living in.
It took a while before I could walk around and I became like Alma, where she becomes more confident and stronger and relaxed.
The romance is very interesting between Reynolds and Alma.
It’s the ultimate love story. Paul has a very good way of taking things and making them crazier than you normally would. I think they meet like you do, you fall in love, they recognize the other person, they see the other person. When you see someone for the first time, you really see a person and you see the person behind that person. I think that’s the ground where their story grows from.
From there, it becomes this difficult relationship because when you’re two people who want to live a life, it becomes trouble. Then it gets to a stage where you need to make it work because it’s worth making it work because that’s love. Paul made this movie about love, about what it is, and how we fight for it. I think every couple finds their way in the long run of making things work. Often couples exist because one person finds they can give the other something the other doesn’t have. In this case, it’s a bit extreme, but in the end, it’s a placeholder for every other thing that we find in people to maintain a pure love and get rid of the power struggle and who’s right and who’s wrong.
Alma, in the end, is wondering how to clean this love of those games and see that pure love that is there.
You play Alma with this phenomenal emotional canon. Was she like anything you’d ever done before?
I think she does have that Chambermaid Lynn thing. Chambermaid Lynn is Alma, but autistic. It’s weird. I don’t think I’ve ever played a character so loud and quiet, beautiful and ugly, but you see where I’m going with this. Alma is hard to trace and that’s exactly who she is. She is really in between all those things and that’s what makes her so free. Alma is a simple girl. She’s free and all humans can be free if they want to be if they stay true to themselves. It’s basically what Alma does.