Charlotte Gainsbourg and Shia LaBeouf Talk Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac'

Charlotte Gainsbourg Shia LaBeouf Split - H 2012
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Charlotte Gainsbourg Shia LaBeouf Split - H 2012

"He's a visionary...I'll do anything he tells me," says LaBeouf of the controversial Danish director and his new "porno film."

Sex might sell but the stars of Nymphomaniac talked down the eroticism of Lars von Trier's self-defined "porno film" and focused on the art of the controversial director's latest project.

Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard and Shia LaBeouf, speaking for the first time since shooting on Nymphomaniac began, took turns praising the Danish director as an inspiring, if misunderstood, cinematic genius.

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LaBeouf said he didn't hesitate when von Trier asked him to play in his sexually explicit film billed as "a woman's erotic journey from birth to the age of 50."

"He's a genius. He's a visionary. We have maybe, what, 10 of those on the planet?" LaBeouf said. "I'll do anything he tells me. I came here ready to do anything."

Gainsbourg, who stars in the film as Joe, a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac, countered the oft-repeated claim that von Trier -- whose films often focus on suffering or self-destructive women -- is misogynist.

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"The fact he depicts women who suffer or make themselves suffer doesn't make him misogynist," said the actress, who has worked with von Trier before on Antichrist and Melancholia. "[My role] is incredible. It could have been written by a woman. I feel I'm actually playing Lars in this role, which is an honor."

Skarsgard, another von Trier veteran, played down the sex in the film -- which, the actors and producers pointed out, will be carried out by body doubles and visual effects. As LaBeouf joked, "All the bases are covered."

Said Skarsgard: "When we call this a porno, it's meant ironically, but irony doesn't work well in print. The film is sexually explicit -- but, believe me, it will be a very, very bad wanking movie."

Gainsbourg said she “thought it was a joke” when von Trier first announced – in Cannes last year – that he planned to make a porno film but said she didn't hesitate when he asked her to play Joe, whose erotic life the film depicts in a series of flashbacks. Despite some superficial similarities with her role in also-explicit Antichrist, Gainsbourg said there was “no connection” between that role and that of Joe in Nymphomaniac.

Christian Slater, Jamie Bell, Connie Nielsen and newcomers Stacy Martin and Mia Goth have supporting roles in Nymphomaniac. Von Trier is shooting the project as two separate full-length films, which he plans to relase in both soft- and hard-core versions.

Despite the film's title and erotic content, von Trier has said his main goal is not to titillate but to transfer, in film, qualities from the world of literature. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter in Cannes last year, von Trier citied literary inspirations such as Marcel Proust's monumental classic In Search of Lost Time as an example of the kind of literary style he was aiming to transfer to film.

The smiling filmmaker showed up for the photocall Thursday in Cologne, Germany, with the actors and producer Louise Vesth but did not take part in the press conference. Von Trier has said he will no longer speak publicly after the fallout from his infamous press conference at last year's Cannes Film Festival, when his comments about Hitler led him to be banned from the festival and, briefly, to be questioned by Danish police on behalf of French authorities on accusations of propagating hate speech. The investigation was later abandoned as baseless.

Skarsgard, who starred in von Trier's 1996 international breakthrough Breaking the Waves, said he doesn't expect the outspoken director to stay quiet forever.

“I don't think he will stay away too long,” Skarsgard said. “He will eventually come back. But he is dealing with something we all are dealing with, which is that the press needs conflict for entertainment, so they often don't go beneath the surface. And that makes it very difficult to express yourself before the press. And that is what he experienced in Cannes last year.”