"If you don't get a prosthetic vagina, then you're not cool enough," deadpans 23-year-old actress Stacy Martin in her Anglo-French accent. Martin is referring, of course, to her role in Lars Von Trier's upcoming Nymphomaniac, an exploration of a hypersexual woman named Joe. Told in flashbacks, the film follows Joe from her teenage sexual awakening to middle age. Martin plays Young Joe, with frequent Von Trier collaborator Charlotte Gainsbourg taking over when Joe reaches her 30s. While the film's first installment isn't out in the U.S. until March, there is a stir of excitement each time a new still is released. The film's posters—which feature 12 actors including Uma Thurman, Stellan Skarsgård, Jamie Bell, Willem Dafoe, Sophie Kennedy Clark, and Christian Slater posing as if mid-orgasm—are already infamous.
Nymphomaniac is Martin's first film. A former model, Martin was still enrolled in acting classes in London when she was cast as Young Joe. "I think it helped me because I wasn't conscious of what you're meant to do and audition politics," she tells us. "It was very straightforward—a very normal audition process. I didn't really know what an audition process was when I did the audition, but there was nothing weird or strange." Since Nymphomaniac, Martin has completed a British film, Barking at Trees. This year, she'll begin filming the Terrence Malick-produced The Clown in Georgia.
HOMETOWN: Paris, France. I know Paris is my hometown, but I would never say, "Oh, I'm going home back to Paris." Because we kept moving when I was a child, my home was just where I was at that moment.
CURRENT LOCATION: London, England. It's quite nice to stay in one place. I keep moving around anyway—I did this film in Germany and then I came to New York—so it's nice to have a base. I'd like to move somewhere else to have a change in the next few years, but it's not really something I'm focusing on at the moment.
FIRST AMBITION: I think I wanted to be a dog trainer or a ballerina. It always changes when you're a kid because you think you can do a million things.
CURRENT AMBITION: I know what I want, but I'm still vulnerable. I'm still a human being, but I know what I want and that makes me stronger. I want to work until I'm old and wrinkled.
AN ITINERANT CHILDHOOD: I grew up in Paris and in Japan. My parents didn't have any kind of glamorous jobs or anything—it just happened. We moved a lot and wanted to go to Tokyo, so we did it. They were never afraid to give up on the present and move on.
ACCENTS: People get quite confused. They're like, "How can you be from Paris and speak so well in English?" I just cheat—I'm bilingual. I used to go to an international school, so my accent used to be much more Americanized that it actually is now. When I was in New York, I slipped back into the way I used to talk when I was a kid. I was like, "Oh! I feel like I'm 15 again."
DREAMS: Do I dream in French or English? I have no idea. I keep thinking, "Okay, next time I dream I need to remember what language it's in." But I never remember. I remember one dream I was really angry and it was in French because I kept saying, "putain, putain." It's my favorite swear word. I used to use it all the time.
DAY JOBS: I was a model. Am I happy to be done with it? [laughs] Yeah, I am, actually. With anything that you don't look at in terms of a career or as a long-term thing, it's always nice to stop. It did give me amazing opportunities and I was able to live my own life from the age of 18. I didn't depend on my parents. It paid for my [acting] training. It was great in that sense, but I'm happy to move on.
BECOMING YOUNG JOE: I met the Nymphomaniac casting director Des Hamilton and he was like, "What are you doing? Are you an actress?" So I explained to him that I was training at the time and he said, "I'm auditioning for this Lars von Trier movie with Charlotte Gainsbourg. It's called Nymphomaniac and you get to have a porn double and a prosthetic vagina." I thought, "Oh, okay. This is interesting," but I didn't really believe him. Then he did end up calling me in. Suddenly I was told that I was going to Copenhagen to meet Lars to do a test screening. In Copenhagen Lars showed me a box of prosthetic penises and prosthetic vaginas. I went, "Oh, okay. Well, that's good. They exist." [laughs]
MEETING YOUR PORN DOUBLE: I think they only used her for the vagina bit, but it's quite surreal to me—anyone who works in the porn industry. To think that she was my porn double is quite funny and quite great at the same time. She was there to do everything that I didn't want to do. She went by Cindy—I don't know if it's her real name, though. I didn't really talk to her. It was kind of like, "Okay, we're done with everything on set. See you later. I'm going to go and have a cup of tea."
THOSE POSTERS: Did I keep it from my parents? No, I did the complete opposite, because obviously they are going to see it. There's no way out. I told them from the start—sent them all the pictures. I was like, "This is going to come out, so just be warned." They were really cool about it. Obviously were like, "Stacy, you couldn't have done something a bit more discreet for your first film?" I was like, "Well, I couldn't say no, could I?"
THE MAN HIMSELF: Lars is actually really, really cool. He doesn't really talk that much. He lets you listen to your own devices and does a lot of improvisation with the text. He's very free. He just knows when he has something—from the scenes, from the actors and what they bring—then he's happy and he moves on.
DRAMA SCHOOL GRADUATE: I've finished the bulk of my training, but I'm still doing my classes. As an actor, I think it's a bit like you're an athlete or a musician: if you stop practicing then you dry up and you get really bad. It keeps me busy as well, which is good.
NYMPHOMANIAC: VOLUME ONE COMES OUT IN LIMITED RELEASE ON MARCH 21. VOLUME TWO WILL BE OUT IN APRIL IN THEATERS AND ON VOD.
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Stacy Martin in i-D Magazine
So you're just back from Copenhagen…
I went to see my movie. Well I've seen it already but I went with my boyfriend so he could see it before it comes out and the craziness starts. I really want people to see it now because there's so many expectations… it'll be interesting to see how people react because I don't think they're expecting the right thing. Not in a bad way at all, but Lars has done a really good job so it's going be a good present to watch.
Are you still in touch with Lars now?
I guess, here and there. We don't email every day, but we'll say hi, and if I'm in Copenhagen then I'll pop by and say hello. Yeah, I suppose he’s a friend?
What's he like then, Lars von Trier? Do you pop round his house for a cup of tea?
I've never been to his house; I'd like to see his house actually, it would be really interesting. But he's great, he's very intelligent and he's not at all as mean as people think; he's not the devil. [gorl, c'mon] He's just a really talented person, and people assimilate talent with, "Ah well, he's talented so he has to have problems, he has to be difficult to work with." No. It's quite inspiring actually to work with that kind of knowledge and that kind of work ethic, for me.
What was it like when you first met him?
I was terrified, or maybe I was just really nervous. It was sort of my first audition, my first big audition, and I hadn't slept because I was taking an early plane to Copenhagen. Once I was there I was like a zombie, functioning without really realising what I was doing; so I was in that state of mind, and I got into this little room, and he was just there sitting very quietly… I was so aware of how much I was talking without wanting to talk, and I was thinking, "Okay Stacy stop talking, stop talking, stop talking!" It was really weird and at some point I just stopped, I was like, "Okay, I'm embarrassing, I'll just leave the room now it's fine, I can go home and forget this experience ever happened." But no. We continued on to the actual scenes and he was very calm and, it sounds insane, but it was just easy to be there after all my babbling. Sometimes you feel like you have to talk so much, especially if it's someone that you admire, you think, "Oh I'm so sorry I'm making such a fool of myself, I'm going to stop," but you don't stop.
I do that a lot. It’s sort of my job to do that though.
Yeah? Silence is a difficult one I think, it makes people very uncomfortable. Lars is great at silences, he masters them.
What was it like on set?
The first few days were strange and exciting as well, but nerve-wracking because Lars just comes on set and says hi and sits down and doesn't tell you what to do. So for experienced actors it's great, but for me I really had to embrace it. After day two I was like, "Oh it's fine," but it's quite shocking at first because you think a director is going to tell you what to do. Lars just says, "You can start in the bathroom, you can start in the bedroom, you can start outside…" Suddenly you have this ability to do anything, you can present him with anything, and it's quite freeing but at first it’s quite scary.
What did your boyfriend think of the film?
I think, yeah, I think he really liked it, he was really excited. And I was just so relieved because, you know, some of it is pretty intense so I was sort of apprehensive. He saw the script and he came on set with us so it's not like he was completely unaware of what it was, but there's always a difference between imagining things and seeing them on screen... We really like Lars' work and we've always watched Lars' films, but there's this weird thing when you're an actor, the sorts of situations you put other people in! Like, you go away for three months and have this family on set, and then you come home and say, 'I've missed you but, oh the best experience of my life has just ended.' They have to deal with all of that and, I dunno, I think it's a hard one.
On which note, I heard that you had a porn double on set. How did they find her?
I've no idea, I mean, how do you find a porn double? I had one, and she was called Cindy. Or so she says. She could have been called something else for what I know, but she called herself Cindy… I think we needed to have like the same height and the same sort of body shape but, apart from that, I'm a bit afraid to know. It's just quite nice to say that, once in a life time, I had a porn double. Called Cindy.
So were you on set together?
Yes! We would alternate, so, usually the porn doubles would do their scenes first because they needed to find their positions and the framing and so on, and then we would arrive on set and have to recreate exactly what they did; we'd have all these sort of dots and it was like, you know, "Move your head to the right, okay, now open your mouth…" Then we'd switch, so I would see her when we did the switch over and I'd be like, "Okay, have fun!" At those moments the energy completely shifted on set, because it's kind of just this porn set then, basically. I forgot that one day and I was there talking to someone, I looked around and they were just doing what porn stars do when they're preparing to perform… and you know everyone else was acting completely normal and adjusting lighting and so on, and I was like, 'Oh my god, I can't stay, this is too much!' Yeah, it was just weird.
Weird is a good word for it.
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