Landing a role in the most infamous movie of the past decade—Lars von Trier’s four-hour epic, Nymphomaniac—isn't a bad way to start your acting career. In her screen debut, 22-year-old British model Stacy Martin spends the majority of her time groaning, moaning, and doing weird things with a set square. Dark, depressing, and funny all at the same time, it follows the often brutal sexcapades of a woman (played by both Martin and Charlotte Gainsbourg) from birth to the age of 50.
I met Stacy in Soho, London, where we drank free coffee and spoke about sex addiction, porn doubles, and the awkwardness of shooting sex scenes with Shia LaBeouf.
VICE: What was your first reaction when you read the script for Nymphomaniac?
Stacy Martin: I loved it! I read the script before I went to Copenhagen for a screen test, and I really fell in love with how dense it is and how there are so many different elements to the film—and the dark humor, which is very specific to Lars.
Shia LaBeouf said that, when he received the script, there was a note saying he had to send a picture of his dick to the production team.
Yeah. I’m guessing it wasn’t the same kind of deal for you?
No, I don’t have a penis [laughs], so I didn’t get that.
No weird requests?
No, actually. I just got the script on its own in a little brown envelope—pretty standard.
How were your sex scenes worded in your contract?
We had a nudity contract. Everything was set in stone before we did the film, so we all knew what we were doing. I was told that I would have a porn double—that I wouldn’t be doing anything sexual. We all agreed—and Lars agreed—that we would be using prosthetics and just stuff like that.
The blowjob scene in particular looks incredibly real.
Yeah, it looks real. I mean, I’m convinced that it looks real—but no, it’s not real. It’s not a real penis… They made fake vaginas and fake penises and we used them for that.
Well, we did the CGI for the porn doubles. For example, you have the wider shots of Joe [Martin’s character] having sex, they took what we did and what the porn doubles did and then put them into one image so that it looks like we’re having sex, basically.
How do you prepare for the role of a nymphomaniac?
I mean, I didn’t prep for the role of a sex addict, I prepped for the role of Joe, especially because I play her from her formative years, when she’s 15 to 31. [It's during] that time that you discover who you are, and you kind of experiment a lot. So to play a sex addict from the beginning is wrong, and Lars told me not to. He was like, "I don’t want you to play what you think is a sex addict, because Joe isn’t like that, and it isn’t about making this stereotype of a nymphomaniac. It’s about showing the humanity of this person who has an addiction." I thought that was a fair point, and he was right.
How did you and Shia prepare for your sex scenes together?
We talked a lot about them, because of the nature of the scene. It was very important for Lars and us as actors to know each other and to be comfortable and get on the same page, rather than going, "Hey! Here we are!" And, I mean, he was great, and very dedicated to what he wants to do. With him, you’re there immediately and you know what you’re doing. You’re not just kind of messing around.
So it wasn't awkward between you guys, filming those scenes?
Well, it wasn’t the most natural moment of my life, that’s for sure. But, as actors, if you’re gonna take on a role like Joe or Jerôme [LaBeouf’s character], it’s your duty in your work to honor those circumstances. And that’s what I did, for Lars, for his film—for all those things. It wasn’t like, "Oh, I’m gonna play whatever part and get naked"—definitely not.
So did Lars kick everyone out to film you and Shia?
Yeah, it was a closed set, so there was only Lars, me, Shia—or whoever was doing the scene with me—and the camera operator. It was very intimate, very calm. Lars works with people who he's known for years, so there’s this family feel. So, immediately, you feel like you’ve entered this safe haven. I could talk about things and be very honest with Lars.
So you and Shia both had porn doubles. How did it work between the four of you on set?
Because of the special effects, they needed the porn doubles to do it first. So they would have sex—they would do their job, basically, because I think they’re porn actors in Germany—and then we would come on and do exactly the same thing, but with pants on, basically. And then it’s all [edited in] post.
Did you hang out with your porn double?
No. I mean, I met her, but we didn’t have tea or anything. It’s strange just to see how quickly a set can change. Like, the atmosphere really changed when they did those scenes, and I did stay a bit too long at one point. When they started filming, I was like, "Actually, this is a bit too weird—I’m gonna go." It was like they were doing a porn movie, and everything they do, they do [for real].
When you were watching them have sex, did you think, ‘That’s going to be me on screen. That’s my sex scene'?
You have to. You read the script, and you know what’s demanded of you. It is weird, but it’s great. I mean, I can actually do this film without breaking my own integrity, and it’s like, "Yeah, great, thanks—go have sex for me! Thank you. I’m gonna go have a cup of tea and not have sex."
Math plays an odd part in the sex scenes, and you even have a remarkable scene with a set square. What did you make of that relationship?
It’s funny, because I don’t think Lars made a conscious decision to put math and sex together, but there’s something very technical about sex, and there was something very technical about the way we had to film those scenes. It’s very mathematical, because it’s how we survive as a race. We reproduce constantly—that’s technical, that’s math in a kind of weird, abstract way. But it’s also his way of taking all the romance out of it, of what you expect a sex scene to be on screen in movies, with the music and the beautiful sheets, and then suddenly they’re in bed. He takes it all away and shows it matter of fact, and mathematics does exactly that.
It’s very unnatural the way that Shia’s character thrusts the same amount of times—three from the front, five from behind—when he has sex with your character.
Hmm, yeah, it’s very formal. I guess maybe Shia knows more about it. It’s his character.
So how did you get on with Shia behind the scenes?
He’s got this energy that I think I would say is—I’m probably wrong—very American. So as soon as he arrives, he’s very dedicated—he’s there. We’re European, chilled and quiet. So he kind of livened everything up, because he was so excited to be there. You do the scene, and there’s no waiting around, because you love the part and you want to be there, rather than going, "Oh, I like this film, but I’m having a really shit time."
Do you think Shia absorbed some of Lars’s provocative nature, given what’s happened with him since?
With everything that’s happening, I think only he has the answers, really. And he’s not gonna give them out that easily. I mean, we filmed it about a year and a half ago, so he could have changed completely.
What do you make of his recent bag-on-head antics?
If he has an idea like that and he goes 100 percent… do it. I mean, I didn’t think of it!
Lars is known for his suffering female characters who go through all kinds of shit—were you nervous about that aspect of the role?
You know, the female leads in Dogville [Nicole Kidman] and Breaking the Waves [Emily Watson]—yes, they are going through shit, basically, but they’re also very strong women. I don’t think a lot of human beings can go through those things and be so brave and kind of stay true to what they believe in. And I think it’s empowering, because you see them in shit situations—which, most of the time, are influenced or happening because of men or culture—and they still manage to power through and believe in what they believe in. That’s great, so to play that is a gift. Because, otherwise, I might as well just not act. You know, why does a painter paint? You need to communicate, you need to challenge preconceived ideas.
All photos by Christian Geisnaes
Nymphomaniac: Volume 1 and Volume 2 will be released in the US on March 21.
This article has been amended. As von Trier pointed out, Shia LaBeouf's character actually thrusts five times from behind, rather than three, when he has sex with Stacy Martin's character.