I had that experience a couple of weeks ago because I went to Iceland for the first time. I was in Reykjavík for that big music day. That was incredible ! It was a shock to be in a country where everyone is an artist, you know ? People were either singing or playing or writing a saga or making a film. [both laugh] It was like a dream come true. What is it like to live in a place where everybody is doing something like that ? Was it claustrophobic at all, or was it inspiring ?

For me at least, it felt great. It’s not only art : My father built his house, and my family hunts the food they eat. Or half of it—let’s not exaggerate. They knit dresses, too. So it’s kind of self-sufficient in that way. It’s also kind of nice because being an actress and things like that aren’t put on a pedestal. Sometimes the reason why you start making music is that the music in the local bar is rubbish, you know ?. So you might as well do it. So, I think you are right because on most small islands, the people have a really strong tendency of getting claustrophobic—you have that sort of lifelong “Should I stay, or should I go ?“ I noticed that also in places like Japan or New Zealand or Hawaii. You can feel pretty stuck after a while.

But Iceland seems so different from the other islands like Japan or England. They seem like they have a lot in common : They have the king and the tea and the big navies and the gardens and all—they have the same kind of obsessions, and they’re very formal. But I was so shocked by the people in Iceland. They didn’t see formal at all. They gave me this book to read, Independent People [Halldór Laxness’s chronicle of tragedy and survival in Iceland], and while your record is filled with so much generosity and graciousness, in that book there’s a lot of silence and stubbornness. Can you relate to that as an Icelander also ?

I think Icelandic people are very stubborn. It’s kind of a stereotype to find the reason, but I think maybe it’s because it was a pretty hard place to survive in before the last century. The people who survived were the ones who were almost aggressively optimistic. It was like they insisted on surviving. Like, with a lot of people in Iceland—I don’t know if you know this—but if you start saying, “Oh, the weather isn’t so nice,“ they get really defensive. They go, “Yes it is !“ [both laugh] But we’re definitely not the Latin kind of extrovert types.

Oh, yeah. Hot Latin blood does not come to mind when I think of Iceland.

No. [laughs]

People in Iceland were also talking pretty casually about elves. They would just drop them into the conversation, and they’re quite sure they exist. You know those little houses they build in Hong Kong for the elves ? Have you ever seen those ?

I’ve heard about them. They wanted to get a woman from Iceland who is a specialist to go over there and help with them. I heard rumors about it, but I didn’t see pictures or anything. So they built the houses ?

Well, they built a tiny one because they don’t have a lot of room. I heard that when they build a new high-rise and displace the elves, they need to have a small house for them. So they attach a little one, the size of a dog house maybe, next to the door to the high-rise for them to live in.

[laughs] Wow !

It’s very hospitable, no ?

Yeah ! It’s funny

Interview Magazine - 01.11.2004