Since her breakout role in Lars von Trier’s controversial 2013 erotic classic Nyphomaniac, Stacy Martin has moved with care, choosing each role on its merits rather than being swayed by the broader currents in the film industry as a whole. It shows: she’s been nominated for a Bodil Award, and was honoured by the BAFTAs as one of the breakout stars in 2014. The half-French, half-British actress is returning to our screens next month in hotly tipped Vox Lux. Directed by Brady Corbet, and featuring original songs by Sia, it stars Natalie Portman as Celeste, who is catapulted into celebrity after the song she wrote after being the victim of a high school shooting becomes an unexpected pop success. With fame, comes horror: Celeste becomes a fame monster, lurching from one PR disaster to another, and sunk in the depths of alcohol and drug addiction. Martin plays Eleanor, Celeste’s older sister and arguably the true musical talent behind Celeste-the-pop-star. It’s a calm, compelling performance from Martin, who more than holds her own against Portman in tightly written, densely satirical scenes. We caught up with Martin ahead of Vox Lux’s UK release date.
Sirin Kale: Hi Stacy, thanks for chatting with us. I really enjoyed Vox Lux – it was twisted, and satirical but it also had a humanness at its core. What was filming like?
Stacy Martin: I really enjoy that, with Brady’s filmmaking, you never quite know what you’re going to see. I worked with him on Childhood of a Leader, which was his first feature film. His writing is so specific: I knew from the moment I read the script that I would really enjoy playing Eleanor. You just want to say those lines and play the part because there’s something very human, but also quite grotesque, about them.
SK: I feel like the character of Eleanor is one of the only moral people in the film – especially compared to Celeste, who unravels so much by the end.
SM: They’re a little bit like yin and yang. Without Celeste, Eleanor wouldn’t have a function, and vice versa. What I like about Vox Lux is that no one’s guilty, and no one’s a hero. They’re all complicit in creating the monster that is Celeste, whether it’s her manager, her sister, or even her daughter to a certain extent. And it’s not like Celeste started out a terrible person. But society, and her work, and the people around her, turn her into a monster, which is really sad.
SK: What was it like working with Natalie?
SM: I like Natalie because there’s something very business-like and efficient about her. She comes in and just does these amazing takes. Her scenes were really hard, and very text heavy. And she came in and just did it.
SK: I read somewhere that before you got cast in Nymphomaniac, you’d wanted to be a journalist. Is that true?
SM: I think I was always curious about how we are as human beings, and how we function as a society, and how the two can collide and contradict themselves. I don’t know if I’d have been any good as a journalist! But I certainly had that curiosity.
SK: Can you tell me any more about The Bell Jar? [Martin has been cast in Kirsten Dunst’s directorial debut, a hotly anticipated adaptation of Sylvia Plath’s classic novel.]
SM: I think we have as much information as each other, to be honest! I think the beauty and sadness of independent filmmaking is that you put something together, and you fight to get it made, but it can take quite a long time. In this case, it’s taking a bit of time, I think.
SK: Your breakout role in Nymphomaniac was the sort of role that many actors spend their whole careers trying to land. Do you think success came too early for you?
SM: I’m really proud of that film, and I’m really proud I did it. It’s interesting really, because I was clearer I wanted to do the film, than I was clear that I wanted to be an actress. Being an actress came afterwards. And you know, it’s a great film. The problem is when you start getting typecast, off the back of it. That’s something I really had to fight against, after Nymphomaniac. I kept getting offered so many roles that were sex addicts, or prostitutes. Not that I wouldn’t play a prostitute, but it just wasn’t the kind of story that interested me. Also, I needed to establish myself as an actress, because I’d never done anything else.
SK: How do you pick your roles?
SM: I always grew up with the notion that I should be very clear about what I don’t want. Because if you don’t know what you do want, sometimes it’s easier to find out what you want if you eliminate what it is that you definitely don’t want. With acting, I try and apply that: if I’m going to be spending three months of my life abroad, working on a project, it has to be something I feel really passionately about, and I have to know I’m going to get on with the director and with the team. It all has to come together.
SK: You’re a bit of an indie darling. Would you like to mix it up and play an action hero, or something?
SM: That would be incredible. I like to surprise people and go against what people expect of me, so a role like Tomb Raider would be quite a surprise. I’d love to do a role where I train really hard: like, I used to do ballet when I was a kid, and I loved it. It would be great to play a ballet dancer, or another part that required physical commitment. I mean, I say that, but two weeks into training and I might hate it...
Vox Lux will be in Curzon cinemas and on-demand on May 3, 2019.
Hair: Peter Lux using Oribe. Make-up by Shinobu at CLM.