Directing the Actor

In casting his films, Moodysson casts for a look that will support the director's idea. For the adolescent roles in "Fucking Amal" and "Lilja 4-Ever" the look has to elicit empathy, which means it must be appealing, expressive, and energetic. It also must be a natural look. In "Together," the children Eva and Stefan must look like obvious outsiders, and the adults (who so often act like adolescents) who belong to the commune must look like earnest, intense young adults committed to the communal idea. Only Elisabeth and Rolf look like real adults. To convey the contempt in "Lilja 4-Ever" and 284 "A Hole in My Heart," the adults must look like they have no heart.

Beyond the look of the adolescents, children, and adults in Moodysson's films, the actors (similar to Kazan's sense of performance) have to key off of a single characteristic and then explore it in every way in their performances. Geko has to explore every aspect of his aggression, including the murderous dimension of his rage, in "A Hole in My Heart." Rickard has to explore every nook and cranny of his self-pity. In the case of Lilja in "Lilja 4-Ever," the young actress Oksana must hold onto every last morsel of her dignity, whatever the circumstances she finds herself in, and dignity must clearly be what her character values most. In "Together," Rolf must explore every dimension of his addiction to alcohol and its consequences. The courage and the humiliation provided by the alcohol have to be fully a presence in his performance. Moodysson's performers have to, in effect, risk it all because that is what their characters do.

The best way to capture Moodysson's approach to directing actors is to view his performance goals as being akin to those of Peter Brook, who is experimental in his efforts to achieve performances that go for a spiritual as well as a material presence. Although the word existential comes to mind, its implication is too academic for the Moodysson performances. They are raw and go far in generating a feeling equivalent to that of Brook's work, an edgy mix of the material and the spiritual.

Finally, there is a declarative dimension to the performances. Whether this is about a state ("I am so bored") or whether it is about a goal ("I love Elin") that obsesses the character, the outcome is the same. The performances gain an urgency that energizes the need of the character to find a solution. Lena tells Goran that she wants to sleep with Eric because he's so troubled. Afterward, she also tells Goran that she has had her first ever orgasm. All the ones she had with Goran were fake. Of course, her admission could be viewed as her character opening up, which might be true on the surface. In the performance, however, we also need to see her self-serving promiscuous urges. This is a girl who just wants to have fun. Think of it as the declaration and the revelation. Moodysson seeks both in the performance.

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