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Cannes' Best Actress winner Renate Reinsve is also 'The Worst Person in the World'

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Early adulthood can be a confusing time of personal uncertainty, changing relationships, aimless wanting. That's the case for Julie, a medical student who decides to pursue psychology, then photography and ends up behind the counter of a bookstore in Oslo, Norway. She is the protagonist of the new movie "The Worst Person In The World," and it is not a spoiler to say that she is not actually the worst person in the world. Renate Reinsve is the actor who plays Julie, and she joins us now. Welcome.

RENATE REINSVE: Thank you. Hello.

SUMMERS: And Joachim Trier is the director of this film. Welcome to you, as well.

JOACHIM TRIER: Thank you very much. Thanks for having us.

SUMMERS: So we've got to start out with some congratulations. Renate Reinsve, you were recognized as best actress at the Cannes Film Festival for your role in this movie. Is it true that you're the first Norwegian to win that award?

REINSVE: Yeah. I'm still very amazed and overwhelmed by the fact that that happened. It's - yeah, no one before me in Norway.

SUMMERS: Joachim Trier, we said that Julie is in early adulthood, but she's in and around her 30s during the course of this movie. When you think about Julie, what stage of life would you say she's in?

TRIER: She's in that eternal stage of existential crisis that some of us go in and out of. And I think it's particularly interesting right around the age of 30 for this character because she is grappling with all these possibilities that she feels that if she doesn't live up to figuring out her professional life and her love life, she will be a failure and feel like what we say in Norwegian - the worst person in the world, which is, as you were pointing out, meant self-deprecatingly and ironic. Obviously, the film is not about pointing fingers and judging.

SUMMERS: Renate Reinsve, it feels like a lot of this film grapples with gender and expectations. The idea of what a woman is supposed to be and when she's supposed to accomplish certain things - that's a really big theme in this film. And we see Julie question her career, her relationships, her feeling towards motherhood, the question of whether or not she has grown stagnant. You are also in your 30s, so I wonder if any of this felt familiar to you and what message that you think the film is trying to send here.

REINSVE: Yeah, I - the first time I read the script, I was just blown away by how accurate the portrayal of this woman was by Joachim and Eskil, who wrote the script together. And I don't know, I - we never really talked about the gender aspect of it because it's - I think for Joachim and Eskil - I'm just saying this now, Joachim, because I heard you said it - say it before, too - that it's not about writing a female character, but about writing a human being that's complex and nuanced, and then a part of her identity is being a woman. And I really loved that angle and that perspective, and I felt it was, like so many themes, so many questions I'll ask myself and been through myself. So it's - I was so scared of failing, of, like, giving the same feeling with what I did.

SUMMERS: How did you grapple with that feel of failure? Because that is also a really big theme of this film.

REINSVE: Yeah, I - Joachim did write this role for me. And I - he knows me a little bit, so I think that in the culture of Norway and - or in my personality is - the fright of failure is very present. And maybe for a lot of artists, that's something that drives. So it's a positive thing but also a kind of destructive thing. It's a struggle.

SUMMERS: Joachim, what was it that you saw in Renate that inspired the character of Julie?

TRIER: So let me start by saying that actually, a little bit more than 10 years ago, I made a film called "Oslo, August 31st," and I cast Renate in a - in her first role ever. She was actually still in drama school and kind of snuck away because they didn't want her to do professional work before she had graduated. And I only gave her one line of dialogue in that film. I just felt she was amazing, but I didn't have a bigger part to offer her at the time.

Ten years passed, and I saw Renate do amazing work, in theater particularly. So I thought, OK. Eskil Vogt, my co-writer, and myself were kind of interested in exploring a film with a big dynamic between what is funny and what is sad. And I think Renate's incredible talent is to do both. She has humor, levity, physical running-around playfulness that you will see in the film. And on the other hand, she can do those amazing close-ups and show vulnerability and has that lack of vanity that I think makes for good dramatic acting in movies.

SUMMERS: A lot of your films are very serious, often a little melancholy, and there's some of that in "The Worst Person In The World," but this film is also really funny. It's very hopeful at times. What made you want to add that kind of lightness to this film?

TRIER: I think I got older. I'm in my 40s (laughter). I think - I'm honest. I don't know. I'm just at a stage in my life where I need hope. And I come from kind of punk and anarchism and, you know, the sense that art should contrast where we're at. And when I grew up, in the '90s particularly, things were kind of glossy sometimes, and pop culture was kind of happy. And you got a sense that you got to rebel against, like, the rules or something. At the moment, I feel that the world just feels quite chaotic and aggressive and contrasty, and I want to add some peace and love. Maybe I'm turning into an old hippie, and I'm not a punk anymore.

SUMMERS: Renate, is it true that you were reconsidering acting before this role, and has this movie made you think about that differently?

REINSVE: Yeah, I wanted to quit because - well, I'd done theater for so long. And you don't really get to do anything because you work day and night, and you work holiday. So you don't really get to travel or do anything. And then in movies and films, I found myself in productions that didn't really take care of the art and didn't have any kind of intention of, you know, exploring human state - the human state in the time we live in that - what's - I'm interested in. So it was just so frustrating. You know, these two-dimensional characters or, like, a function for this plot was not really what I wanted to do. So I decided to quit.

And then the next day - like, after my big decision, Joachim called me for this role. So that was very - yeah, big change and a very, like, absurd story that when I gave up something - like, my biggest dream happened. And then now, if I get to do more roles and more productions like this, I would, of course, love to continue. And I would, of course, love to work with Joachim again.

TRIER: Yeah, that's mutual. I would love to work with you, too. There we go.

REINSVE: There we go.

SUMMERS: That's Renate Reinsve and Joachim Trier. Their new movie, "The Worst Person In The World," will be released here in the U.S. February 4. Thanks to you both.

REINSVE: Thank you so much.

TRIER: Thanks for having us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.