'Phantom Thread's' Vicky Krieps on Playing Daniel Day-Lewis' Last Leading Lady

The actress makes her way from Luxembourg to the world stage in Paul Thomas Anderson's dark comedy.

Vicky Krieps only met the real Daniel Day-Lewis once, when they got together in London to read through the script for Paul Thomas Anderson's 1950s dark comedy Phantom Thread. "I remember standing in the hotel lobby and suddenly there was a man with a hat and an earring," she says. "I realized, 'Oh, my God, I think it's Daniel Day-Lewis!' Because in his movies, he's always so much the character, you almost don't have this idea of him as a person."

Weeks later, when Krieps, who grew up in Luxembourg, got to set to shoot opposite Day-Lewis (in what he now has said will be his last performance before a self-imposed retirement), the Oscar-winning method actor was already in character as the temperamental dress designer Reynolds Woodcock. Krieps, who plays Woodcock's soft-spoken but strong-willed muse, found herself, just like her character, obsessing over him. "I studied his world — I had to be very aware of every movement he did and every mood he was in," she says of the three-month shoot, an immersive acting workshop that also had its admittedly “horrible” moments of "suffering," as her character Alma is often shunted to the background. Since Krieps herself doesn’t share Alma’s constant patience and restraint, the movie’s most tumultuous scene includes a few improvised, notably heated lines: “It had come to a point. We had these scenes where he was so horrible, and I could not release. That was me having to relieve.”

Krieps never dreamed of becoming an actress. But she and her friends often acted out their theatrical poems and tried to be extras in period movies just to wear the elaborate costumes. An early onscreen performance came in high school, when she reluctantly covered herself in pig’s blood because her director friend Govinda Van Maele couldn’t convince his crush to take that leading role. (Entitled Sweet Dreams From the Slaughterhouse, the movie was never edited.)

“I didn't have the courage to let myself think or dream of acting because I come from Luxembourg — it's a very small country, and I think it's a place you need to get away from to see how big the world is and what's possible,” she explains. In search of purpose, Krieps — whose German mother studied art and Luxembourgish father distributed classic movies (and installed one of the country’s first home theaters) — signed up for a social good trip in Africa, and found clarity amid the landscape in Mozambique. “I stood in front of a mountain and was overwhelmed by the beauty and energy; I had goosebumps,” she recalls. “I thought, if I could record this feeling, go back home and pour it out again so other people can have that feeling, this I would want to be my work. I knew it was acting — I wanted to be like a messenger or medium. And I actually wanted to listen to my heart and do what I wanted to do, and not become a lawyer or whatever people expect from you.”

The actress and mother, who now lives in Berlin, has spent the past decade starring in German- and French-language projects, as well as Joe Wright's 2011 drama Hanna and Philip Seymour Hoffman's 2014 movie A Most Wanted Man. She put herself on tape for her audition for Phantom Thread (out Dec. 25 via Focus), at the time thinking it was for a student film. She was stunned when she realized it would be helmed by Anderson, whose 2002 film Punch-Drunk Love is one of her favorites. "He takes you into a new world," she says. "He could tell you anything, he could say, 'Actually there is no moon,' and you would believe it."

Krieps' next projects include Sky TV's Das Boot miniseries and Van Maele's latest movie Gutland, but since her Luxembourgish childhood was free of a pervasive celebrity culture, the actress doesn’t crave any collaborations with any particular actor or director. Instead, she's keeping her options open: "I never had a plan, I always follow my intuition."

A version of this story first appeared in the Dec. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.