Foreign Language Oscar: Four Directors on Their Contenders

Directors Break Language Barriers - H 2012

Directors Break Language Barriers - H 2012

This story first appeared in the Dec. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

A Royal Affair (Denmark) 
Nikolaj Arcel 
He cast an unknown for his film about Denmark’s mad 18th century monarch. 
"The film was originally set to star Carey Mulligan as Queen Caroline and Paul Dano as King Christian. Lars von Trier, producer and script consultant, was quite proud, mostly because he was sure we’d based the crazy king on him. But financing turned out to be tough in 2008, so we did it in Danish, with Mikkel Boe Foelsgaard [far left], who’d never done a single role before. When Mikkel won best actor in Berlin, jury members Mike Leigh, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anton Corbijn and Charlotte Gainsbourg sneaked up to him at the afterparty, trying to get a feel of him. They said, ‘If you are really crazy, we want our award back!’ He is the opposite of Christian, a soft-spoken, humble, sweet guy."

The Deep (Iceland)
Baltasar Kormakur
When suits tried to lowball his shipwreck movie, it helped to know Mark Wahlberg.
"On Contraband [which Kormakur also directed], it felt very soon like Mark was a childhood friend, someone I had known forever. We just understand each other without talking. We are both really competitive and athletic. When [execs] wanted me to use a tiny little boat for The Deep [about a shipwrecked Icelandic fisherman’s incredible 1984 survival], I talked to Mark. He stepped in at a crucial moment and said, ‘Baltasar has to get this.’ A bigger boat. I never used the power of him until this one time, and he really showed his chops. He got everyone to the table to figure it out. After that, he and Steve Levinson offered me The Missionary, the HBO pilot."

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Lost Loves (Cambodia)
Chhay Bora
The first-time director risked it all to tell the truth about the nightmare world the Khmer Rouge created.
"In terms of financial backing, we were in a difficult situation. My wife and I were university professors for many years,  and this is my first movie. We had very little support, so we used all of our savings. Many people are investing their savings in real estate in Cambodia these days; we put ours into our film. Some of our friends said we were crazy to invest everything we had into this risky project. We haven’t made all our money back, but I feel that we have achieved something. The important thing was to make sure the Khmer Rouge story was told — to connect the younger generations in Cambodia to the experiences their parents and grandparents went through."

Lore (Australia)
Cate Shortland
Finding the right female lead in this German-language Holocaust drama meant settling for perfect.
"The Lore we originally cast was in fact 14, not 16 as we thought. Under German law she could only work four hours a day. Maybe I swore a little. How could we find a new Lore in a week? Casting director Jacqueline Rietz showed me photos of six new girls, and one struck me: a girl [Saskia Rosenthal, right] with serious eyes and porcelain skin. All the girls had acting experience except for 17-year-old Saskia, a classically trained dancer. Jacqueline informed me I had rejected her three months before as ‘too perfect.’ We began to work, and within 30 seconds I had cold shivers. She is perfect. It’s like working with a beautiful Dalai Lama."