He is a doctor. He is an actor. It’s an Indie Heartthrob.
The actors have long been engaged in side projects: some use their free time to write books, while others even lead rock bands. But it’s fair to say that few comedians navigate a dual career quite like Anders Danielsen Lie, who currently stars as a persistent lover in both ‘Bergman Island’ and ‘The Worst Person in the World’ – a double independent film title that prompted a reviewer to double it “the next big arthouse ex-boyfriend” – while working full-time as a doctor in Oslo.
“It was overwhelming,” Lie, 43, told me in a recent video chat, and he wasn’t kidding: In early January, he was named Best Supporting Actor by the National Society of Film Critics even though he was working three days a week. at a vaccination center in Oslo and two days a week as a general practitioner. “It seems a bit abstract because as an actor the most important part of making a movie is the actual shooting,” he said. “Then when the movie comes out, it’s kind of a surreal experience.”
Expect things to get even more surreal as the famous “Worst Person in the World” finally hits US theaters on February 4th. In this romantic comedy-drama from director Joachim Trier, Renate Reinsve – who won Best Actress for the role at the Cannes Film Festival – stars as Julie, a 20-year-old trying to figure out her future. For a time, she reconnects with Lie’s character, Aksel, an older, charismatic comic book artist, and embraces his sedentary life as her own. But even when they break up and Julie discovers new pursuits, she finds her bond with the rogue Aksel hard to shake.
Lie has already collaborated with Trier on the films “Reprise” (2008) and “Oslo, August 31” (2012), but “The worst person in the world” turned out to be a breakthrough: Already the Internet has made video tributes to his character, and the film struck a chord with an audience that prefers simple, human stakes to superhuman stakes. “It felt like we were doing something very local out of Oslo, and we were afraid that someone else in the world would understand,” Lie said. “But people on the other side of the planet can relate to it. That’s what’s so good about feature films, they bring people together.
Here are edited excerpts from our conversation.
With Aksel and Julie, it feels like the qualities that drew them to each other end up pulling them apart. How would you sum up their relationship?
He’s good at articulating his emotions and thoughts, and that’s probably something she wanted at an earlier stage in their relationship, but at this point she’s just annoyed by it. He’s a nice enough person, but he also tries, in a subtle way, to dominate her by using language as a tool, because that’s what he does well.
Is Aksel a “bad boyfriend”, as recent Vanity Fair article affirmed?
I don’t see him as a bad boyfriend at all, actually. She’s not bad; it is not bad; they are just human. They’re put in situations where they have to make tough choices and end up feeling like the worst people in the world, but it’s not really their fault. It’s life’s fault, in a way.
In the film, we see Julie oscillating between different identities, trying out new jobs, new passions. Do you act the same way at this age?
Personally, I thought my 20s and 30s were tough years because I spent so much time trying to figure out who I was and what to do. I still haven’t made that choice, but it doesn’t bother me that much anymore. I am quite happy to have two children and a wife. It may be as simple as that.
When you were younger, did you feel compelled to make an ultimate choice between acting and medicine?
This has been my ongoing identity crisis.
Maybe it’s just the bifurcated life you feel most suited to.
It’s definitely a bifurcated life, and sometimes it feels like an identity crisis because it’s just a lot of hustle and bustle that makes the timeline work. It’s difficult to reconcile these two professions, and sometimes I also wonder who I am. I try to think I’m something deeper than that: I’m not the doctor or the actor, I’m someone else, and those are just roles I step into.
Your mother is an actress. Has that affected the way you look at an actor’s life?
My mom isn’t the typical actress – she’s not a diva or anything like that. He’s a very ordinary person, and I think it’s important to have a foot in reality if you want to portray people on screen with confidence and credibility. But I grew up seeing what it’s like to be an actress and what it’s like to be a doctor, and I ended up being both! I should probably go to psychoanalysis or something.
Your father was a doctor. It almost split you in two, didn’t it?
Exactly. It may be an inherited disease.
Does one career inform the other?
Working as an actor has improved my communication skills as a doctor because acting is so much about listening to other actors and trying to establish good communication, often with people you don’t know very well, and that kinda reminds me of working as a doctor. I meet people, often for the first time, and they present me with a very private problem, and I need to get the right information to help them. It is a very delicate and difficult communication work, in fact.
You made your film debut at the age of 11 in a film called “Herman”. How did it happen?
My mom had worked with the director, so she knew he was looking for a boy my age, and she asked me if I was interested in auditioning. I didn’t really know what I had signed up for – I was 10 and it was like a game we were playing. I remember when the director wanted me to do the part, he came to our house with flowers and said, ‘Congratulations’, and I was scared because I realized, ‘Now I really have to play that role and deliver. For the first time, I felt this anguish of not doing a good job, exactly the same feeling that I can feel now in front of a shoot that really matters to me. I can be afraid of not being up to it.
After this movie, you didn’t work as an actor for 16 years.
“Herman” was an overwhelming experience. I felt like I was playing with explosives. I was dealing with emotions and manipulating my psyche in a pretty scary way.
Do you think feeling overwhelmed by this as a child might influence your decision to lead this bifurcated life? Acting can never completely overwhelm you now because you also have a completely different career at the same time.
You should be an analyst. I think you’re onto something here because I always thought it wouldn’t be good for me to work full time as an actor, especially when the roles are really dark and emotional. I often thought I had to find a psychologically sustainable way to work as an actor. I don’t know if I’m still there, but I’m starting to see how I can protect myself.
It’s interesting that you rejected it for so long, until Joachim Trier asked you to audition for “Reprise”. If that hadn’t happened, do you think you would ever have gone back to acting?
When I was asked to audition for Joachim’s first film, I had no intention of acting – I had a year left in medical school and had to other planes. But I’ve often wondered why I keep doing this, because I’m very neurotic as a person and if I perform on stage I get very, very nervous. It’s expensive for me to do it, and I often ask, “Why are you doing it if it’s so hard?”
So why are you doing it?
I think the process of creating fiction and the transgressive experience of stepping into that fictional character is something that fascinates me. It’s as if you’re discovering and amplifying potentials within yourself that you’re probably not able to explore in real life.
Have you ever done this “hang out in LA, meet Hollywood people” thing, or do you still keep it all at bay?
I’ve been to LA many times, but I have no naive illusions about what it’s like to be a movie actor. It’s important to me to be in this industry for the right reasons. I certainly have ambitions, but I hope they are more artistic and not professional ambitions.
I think those are good ambitions to have. I’ve seen European actors who have a great time like yours, and they cash in quickly to play the bad guy in an American comic book movie.
Maybe it would be a lot of fun to play this character! But I try to have a long-term perspective. I want to work with this for a long time, and I don’t want to be someone who appears for a year and then you never hear from this actor again. I want to build a long-term career.
After all that happened last year, did you feel more drawn to theater or medicine?
In an ideal world, I would like to continue doing both. Over the past five years or so, I think I’ve managed to find a balance that makes sense and doesn’t wear me out too much. But I do not know. I keep postponing this final choice.
If there hasn’t been a definitive choice so far, maybe there never will be.
You may be right. We will see.