Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread doesn’t just include what may be the final screen performance from our greatest living male actor, Daniel Day-Lewis, but the film announces the arrival of a serious talent, the Luxembourg-born actress Vicky Krieps.
In some of Phantom Thread‘s most intense scenes, Krieps is every bit as convincing as Day-Lewis playing Alma, the new muse to renowned couturier Reynolds Woodcock.
EW spoke with Krieps toward the end of last year about Phantom Thread (which expands its release Friday) and what it’s like to face off against DDL himself.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You said that your parents were artistic. What were your first experiences with acting?
VICKY KRIEPS: I was definitely in acting class in school, but I was never the princess of the play. I will always remember, they always gave me the part of the gypsy or the old man in the corner. I found this old video of myself, and it’s so funny. I didn’t see myself, and I was looking at this tape thinking, “Why the hell did my dad film other kids on stage and write ‘Vicky’ on it?” Suddenly, I saw myself dressed like a boy, but I did it so well. A boy with huge glasses and I didn’t even have a line. I would just sit there reading, while my so-called mother would talk about me in the background. So I was just sitting there. The funny part is — and this is why I say that I think this was always in me — I remember feeling so important. For me, this reading was so important. It was about taking serious what I do. This reading to me, I remember, I imagined so many things trying to read as well as I could, not knowing that it would not show.
Reading that book became the most important thing in the play for you.
I was so naive. I was so in the moment that, for me, this was important. I thought I was doing something very important, and I took it very seriously. But now watching it, I can tell how wrong I was. There weren’t even any lines. I did it for the passion. Afterward, when everyone comes down on stage, you can see me. I’m smiling like I’m so happy because I think I just had this big moment on stage.
Were you envious of those other parts, of the princess?
I think so. I was kind of dreamy in my world, but kind of aware that as a girl I wasn’t perceived as one, so I was a little melancholy about it.
So in pursuing acting, were you just chasing that feeling, of reading the book?
Yes, and never thinking that I would be an actress because in Luxembourg, that would be so huge, to see myself as an actress. I didn’t have the tools in my head to see myself in this place. Although, I think it was my passion and probably always was, but I would say that I was going to study law. Maybe I’ll do social work. It seemed to glamorous to me, to be an actress like in the movies. That was so far away.
When you act today, does it still feel like you’re reading that book?
Yes, that’s the interesting part. That’s a good thing to find out — this hasn’t changed. The moment of reading the book is still the same, expect now when I read the book, people are looking.
You said that in Luxembourg becoming an actress wasn’t even an option. How did it become a reality then?
I didn’t know what acting school was, so I went onto the computer and typed “acting school.” I found one in Berlin, and I found ones in Vienna, Zurich, and London. I went to all of those places to audition. You were supposed to have two monologues, and I only had one. So I wasn’t really well prepared. The one in Berlin is quite famous, and I was surprised they let me into the last round only with one monologue. There were so many things that I could choose to do in the moment, and the one thing I chose was I took my pajamas — because I only had a little bag with me — and thought, “That’s like a second costume.” I took a towel, went on stage, sat on the towel with no text and looked at the decoration around me. I had this whole story in my head that I was at a lake and why I was there. Afterwards, they came and asked if I was right in my head. They were really like, “What’s wrong with you? You didn’t move.” Now this is funny to me because I work in the movies, where you sit around, don’t have a monologue, don’t say anything, and yet people are interested in what you think.
When you started acting professionally, did it match your expectations?
My first job in theater was not a good one because I was scared of the hierarchy. I realize being an actress means being part of this or that hierarchy. I could feel that it was very opposed to my nature. This is maybe why I thought I’d direct. Then came the movies and these castings. Then I could just feel something happening to me when there was a camera. I cannot explain it. Even if it was a short movie, not something I knew would be seen. It was just a simple fact of a camera being there. To me, the camera is like a living creature. It’s a machine, but it’s also kind of alive. I always have the feeling of being watched and knowing if it likes what I do or do. It was like putting your foot into a pond and knowing that I wanted to dive into this. It wasn’t even just acting. It was this medium, film. I had to explore it. The interesting thing was when I got this role in Hanna with Joe Wright. I remember coming to this huge set and feeling like I was home. It was so weird. I should have been scared or freaked out. The same goes for the camera. Most actors ask me, “How are you not nervous when the cameras are on?” For me, the opposite is true. I was always nervous for everything around the normal stuff, like going out and buying bread. As soon as there was a camera on me, I became so relaxed and cool. I don’t know what it is. Maybe I feel safe. Sometimes I think maybe I feel safe because I know I’m not going to be interrupted.
During a post-screening Q&A for Phantom Thread, there was a lot of talk about the difficulty of filming in the London townhouse. Did you struggle with the location?
I think it’s something that goes for Daniel or Paul because they’re used to different things. Me, as a European, it was a luxury. It was a huge house, and we had all the sets in one place. You could move from one set to the next. We could change in the same day, saying, “Oh, this is not the right room for this scene. Let’s move to the next room.” For a European, that was like, “Wow.” And maybe that was good. It didn’t feel like a different universe. It was something I know, being in houses from European independent films. But there was one day where I almost had a panic attack or something, but that was because of the city. We had come from Yorkshire, and I had been living in this dream world, very free and near to nature. Nature was my main source of inspiration for Alma, someone so open that she doesn’t care about who you are, where you’re from, what you do. I tried to really empty her of all my knowledge of society and fill her with nature and sound and air, which was perfect in Yorkshire. When I came to the city, I had all of these 2017 working people — leaving work, coming to work. It was suddenly full of people. I had a green room that was in a different place. That was actually what was claustrophobic, to be in the city and having all of these people.
When people write about actors performing opposite Daniel Day-Lewis, it’s always posed as a kind of physical challenge or competition. How does acting with him compare to acting in general?
It’s scary, but only as long as you think about what it is supposed to be and what it is supposed to mean. As soon as you get rid of those ideas, which I had to, you just dive into the work. You are in the moment and present and react to what is coming to you. I don’t want to say “acting in general” because there is no in general. Acting is always different and always a new person with a new way of working. What’s true with Daniel is that you’re always in front of someone very awake, so you have to be awake. You couldn’t just go and do something half-heartedly. You couldn’t go and do something not really knowing what you’re doing or being half thinking about your lunch. It wouldn’t work because you’d just crash against the wall.