Björk resists the siren song of Oscar buzz

USA Today, 12 octobre 2000

Björk isn’t the first name that comes to mind when the word "Oscar" is bandied about. But the buzz is building for the Icelandic singer, whose first starring role won her a best-actress prize at Cannes this year.

The film, Dancer in the Dark, is gradually opening across North America after winning Cannes’ top honor - and a bit of old-fashioned controversy in rumors of disputes between its star and Danish writer/director Lars Von Trier (Breaking the Waves).

Which is why the 35-year-old musician still sounds a bit amazed by Academy Award talk. "For me, it’s so way out ! The music and film worlds are such different worlds. I know people in L.A. who think music is like religion, and I can relate to that. It’s interesting to see another world has the same passion for things, and I’m completely flattered - especially when you do something out of your way and the universe acknowledges that."

Her performance - as Selma, a Czech factory worker losing her sight and saving for an operation that would protect her son from the same fate - has earned her more film offers, but she says she will never make another movie.

"I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but my mission in life is music - and I’m firm with it," she says. "That’s how I felt before the film. Doing the music and the whole thing felt creative, and that’s why I made an exception. These people who do music and are amazing actors, I don’t agree with that. I’m stubborn and loyal, and music has saved my life 9,000 times."

It was music that drew her into Dancer in the first place. She agreed to compose songs for scenes in which the scrimping mom escapes from her drab life into old MGM-style musical fantasies. But she hesitated before taking the role, which Von Trier had created with the singer in mind.

Von Trier found himself intrigued by a widely reported incident at Bangkok’s airport. Björk, a single mother, was with her 10-year-old son, Sindri (now 14), when a photographer began taking pictures. Björk went wild, attacking the man.

"It’s the sort of thing you’d never do for yourself," she says. "There’s a lot of good stuff with my job ; I’m lucky. And I’m willing to take on the not-so-nice things that come with my job. It’s fair. But when it starts to leaking over to my family or especially my child, I get very protective."

Björk says Von Trier was inspired by "that woman who would never ever hit anybody but loses it when they come for her child."

During the year Björk was writing the music, she "fell in love with the character" and agreed to do the part. But there were wrinkles from the start. Before filming began, Björk demanded she not be part of the film’s making-of documentary.

"I was going out of my way for this film, sacrificing three years of my life and going to Denmark and stuff and trying to understand (Von Trier’s) idiosyncrasies," she says. "It’s only fair for him to understand mine. One of them is : When I’m working, I don’t want a camera around.

"We have very different views on how to document the creative process. From my point of view, if I’m doing an album and I invite a musician to the studio, I’d never film them while working with me. I would find it rude and some sort of prostitution, and I think it would affect the way we’d work together."

By all accounts, filming in Von Trier’s studio outside Copenhagen was grueling.

Yet Björk held her own, collaborating and improvising scenes with accomplished veterans Catherine Deneuve (as Selma’s best friend) and David Morse (as Selma’s neighbor), while Von Trier shot the entire film with a handheld digital camera. For the musical numbers, Von Trier stationed 100 cameras around the set, shooting simultaneously.

As for her acting, Björk says : "I can’t snap into a character one day. For me, the process was a lot more organic, a very slow process. One of the first things Lars taught me was I should not ’act,’ because he can’t stand actors. On that I think we would agree.

"It took me 1 1/2 years to slowly become Selma. During the shooting of it, my friends would come and not recognize me, and it would get scary. It took me nine months after the shoot to become me again."

Some reports in the Danish press said that at one point during filming Björk ripped up her costume, walked off the set and stopped production for four days. When she returned, it was with lawyers and a demand to be released from the film.

Björk has a different story. "I was handing over a year of work of music I’d done, and these Danish engineers were chopping up my songs to fit the movie without asking me. I told him if he wanted to do ’film music,’ I don’t do that. Most films, they chop the music to pieces.

"The only thing I could do to stop them was very calmly to write out on a piece of paper, ’I will have final say of how the music is mixed,’ and I’ll do it in London with people I have a relationship with. And also, if they edit my songs, I want to be there and have the final say on what the soundtrack album is. It’s all musical ; it has nothing to do with the film. At that point, it was the only thing I can do."

(The Björk-supervised soundtrack, Selmasongs, is now in stores and includes a special version of one song, I’ve Seen It All, with Thom Yorke of Radiohead.)

In a way, Dancer in the Dark was just another semi-surreal adventure for Björk.

Raised in a commune by her divorced mother and seven other adults, she was encouraged from childhood to be creative. By age 11, she was a star in Iceland. Such a star, in fact, that it was recently proposed she be given her own Arctic island.

"I was going to buy one with my hard-earned money when the prime minister said they should give it to me because I’ve done so much for the country," she says. "But the guy in the other political party made a big thing about it. It was like corruption to shake hands with the pop star. So I walked away from it. Maybe I’ll do it later, secretly. Maybe when I’m 50."

par Stephen Schaefer publié dans USA Today