Somewhat poetically, Vicky Krieps was participating in an anti-Nazi demonstration in Berlin when she got the call about the biopic of a real-life Auschwitz survivor that Barry Levinson was putting together.
But that coincidence isn’t the only reason the actress — hailing from the tiny landlocked European duchy of Luxembourg — says she still gets “goosebumps” on recalling the first time she read the script for The Survivor, starring Ben Foster as Harry Haft, a Polish Jew who was forced by his SS captors to box fellow camp inmates. Krieps’ late grandfather Robert Krieps, who passed away in 1990 when she was just six, also spent much of WWII in Nazi concentration camps, and she immediately began thinking of him.
“It was almost like my grandfather talking to me, saying, ‘Vicky, you know this is one you have to do” she tells The Hollywood Reporter, speaking from the Palace of Fontainebleu outside Paris, where she’s currently shooting Martin Bourboulon’s big budget The Three Musketeers two-part adaptation. “It’s like, ‘It’s not about you… you have to carry the sword.’”
The Survivor sees Krieps play Haft’s wife Miriam, who he meets in post-war New York, where he was briefly a lightweight boxer, and who helps him overcome the deep emotional scars and guilt he’s still struggling to contain. It’s a delicate, nuanced performance — Krieps likens her character work to “painting with a miniscule brush” — and one in which she offers the same reassuringly calming screen presence that first catapulted her into the spotlight in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread back in 2017.
The Survivor — bowing in Toronto — also marks the culmination of just a few short months in which the 37-year-old has dramatically resurfaced after effectively turning her back on Hollywood following this much-lauded breakout as Daniel Day-Lewis’ plotting (and poisoning) muse.
“After Phantom Thread, I really wasn’t interested in Hollywood, because it just felt like everything was the same and nothing was as good as Paul,” she says. The film’s tightly PR-managed press tour and Oscars campaign were especially gruelling, something Krieps admits that, as someone from a much quieter part of the world and with a distinctly rebellious “punk” streak in her, she just wasn’t used to. “I come from this small country and grew up with cows and trees and forests,” she notes.
So, despite the clamouring of casting directors (she turned down at least one major project), she fled potential tinseltown stardom and headed back to her European arthouse roots, trying her hand at French cinema. “I was sent a few scripts, which I accepted right away, even though they were small and independent,” she claims.
It took over two years and lunch with Anderson for Krieps to be able to “close the circle” on any anxieties and scepticisms borne from her first brush with Hollywood.
“I remember Paul looking at me from over a bowl of ramen in this really little restaurant, and suddenly he said to me, ‘Vicky, I think we did a good movie.’ And I said, ‘Yes.’,” she recalls. “It was really simple, but I think it was really important for both of us, after all this time, to just once, for us, say, ‘Okay, I think we did a good job’.”
Only after this ramen-assisted closure did Krieps feel she was now ready to find herself a U.S. agent, but even that was something she did on her own terms, buying her flight (she mostly now lives in Berlin) and renting a car (“It makes a huge difference if you’re in your own car in LA,” she says). Eventually she signed with CAA, a move she credits with playing a major part in 2021’s grand resurrection.
Alongside The Survivor, in July she led M. Night Shyamalan’s time-twisting supernatural mystery Old for Universal as a mother who watches her children age years in matter of minutes on a secluded beach, then weeks later she showed up in Netflix’s Locarno-opening action thriller Beckett as a Greek political activist. Earlier in the summer she was arguably one of the busiest attendees in Cannes, where she had three films, including Mia Hanson-Love’s English-language debut Bergman Island (playing one half of a filmmaking couple opposite Tim Roth).
Krieps’ experience on the French Riviera was supposed to be a “fairytale” but she admits it more closely resembled chaos. Scheduled to look after her two young children over the summer holidays (Krieps doesn’t live with their father) and with Cannes’ dates having been pushed back to June, she decided to just bring them along for the ride, renting a “beautiful house with a pool” and persuading her father to come down to help. “I had all these ideas about swimming in the pool, but in the end I never had five minutes in the house,” she says. “My dad basically spent his holiday with my kids and I was just working and testing [for COVID]. I even missed one film because I hadn’t got the test result on my phone.”
Her newly buoyant credits may span an impressively broad spectrum of the film industry — from studios, to streaming giants, to indie distributors, and across a wide range of genres —but Krieps says she’s noticed some distinct themes running throughout.
“I realised that I have a few topics that keep coming up,” she says, pointing to the political elements of Beckett, The Survivor and Faithful, an upcoming French drama set against the Algerian War of Independence, and Old, Bergman Island and her other Cannes feature Hold Me Tight, which deal with “leaving timelines and opening yourself up to a different kind of reality and realising you find peace the moment you let go.”
And it’s her late grandfather — who would help bring about the abolition of the death penalty as Luxembourg’s Justice Minister in the 1970s — Krieps again credits with these perhaps subconscious role decisions, the horrors he witnessed in the Nazi camps forcing her to question humanity from an early age.
“I never found an answer as to why people would do these things, but I really wanted to believe in good … and I think I still do — there’s not one day I don’t think about what we should do to make this world a better place,” she says. “So I want to use the time I’m here for right thing.”
And how would Robert Krieps have reacted on learning that his granddaughter had become undoubtedly Luxembourg’s most famous actor?
“Imagine, that guy, at 20 years old, in a concentration camp, and somebody telling him that one day your granddaughter will be the biggest star of your country, and for making movies mostly about good,” she says. “I think he would have cried. He lives in me now.”