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Lukas Moodysson may finally be ready for his close up. After making a name for himself in the Euro indie scene with the award-winning “Fucking Amal,” “Together” and “Lilly-4-Ever,” the Swedish director abandoned the mainstream with the brutal “A Hole in the Heart” and the black and white experimental project “Container.” But now he’s back where it all started, at the Berlinale, with his English-language debut, the competition title “Mammoth.” Moodysson spoke with THR German bureau chief Scott Roxborough on globalization, casting Gael Garcia Bernal and why he’d rather spend winter in Berlin than summer in Cannes.
The Hollywood Reporter: What were the origins of “Mammoth”?
Lukas Moodysson: I never have an idea how things start — the how and why or the where. But I think it had something to do with cleaning. I was quite interested in the idea of cleaning people. People who clean other people’s apartments and how so many people in the world today have other people taking out their rubbish.
THR: Why did you choose this story to be your English-language debut?
Moodysson: The language was never important for me. I’ve done a film in Russian before. It’s whatever fits the story. For this just made sense to set in America and do it in English.
THR: The story is quite universal. It could take place almost anywhere in the Western world. Why did you set it in New York and not, say, Oslo?
Moodysson: Well, America is so much the center of the Western world and for this story it felt like I needed to go to heart of the Western world. We discussed making it in London but that didn’t seem right. I couldn’t have made it in Sweden. New York is the world’s main street. Sweden is more like a side alley.
THR: Did you have Gael Garcia Bernal and Michelle Williams in mind to star from the start?
Moodysson: During the writing (of the script), I thought a lot about the ages this couple should be and I changed that quite a bit. First, they were in their 40s then, when I was writing the script, I decided I should make them about 10 years younger. When I decided on how old they should be they, (Bernal and Williams) were the first actors I contacted.
THR: Globalization is a theme running throughout the film. What problems do you see with the globalization of labor — cleaners and nannies from third world countries taking care of first world families?
Moodysson: I remember someone telling me that if all the (foreign) domestic workers and nannies left Manhattan, then Manhattan would collapse — the economy is dependent on these people. It got me thinking about how interdependent we all are. In “Mammoth,” we have this young family in New York who need someone to help with their child. And this woman Gloria (Marife Necesito) needs a rich Western family to support her children. Really, I didn’t think of the story in terms of politics. I don’t think it’s a political movie in that way. I think it’s more a film about human beings trying to deal with life and its difficulties more than a film with a political agenda. It’s about a family and their struggle.
THR: Do you think film can have a political impact?
Moodysson: As a side effect maybe but not as a main effect. If I wanted to be a politician, I would run for office. I’m not sure if film is the best way to be political.
THR: You’ve had a long connection with the Berlinale. You’re first film, “Fucking Amal” premiered here. What draws you here?
Moodysson: Berlin’s my favorite film festival. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s just the (northern) climate. I just don’t feel as comfortable in Cannes or Venice. I guess I like the cold. Must have something to do with being Swedish.
THR: What’s your next project?
Moodysson: I don’t have one, which is really strange for me. I’m trying not to have a project for a little while. Usually I feel like a vampire whose always out to eat reality, I’m always hungering to start something new. But right now, I’ve very relaxed and just taking a little time off. I’ve killed the vampire.
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