Stacy Martin still couldn’t really believe that she was sitting there, in a hotel in New York City on a Wednesday morning, to talk about her leading role in Lars von Trier‘s “Nymphomaniac.” Given the circumstances and string of serendipitous moments that led to her casting, it was hard to blame her.
Rewind a few years and Martin, now 22, had just finished the kind of degree — Media and Cultural Studies at the London College of Communications — that generally leads to writing about movies, not starring in them. But she’d been modeling to support herself, using the side career to fund lessons for her true interest: acting.
Though she had just decided to focus on finishing her training — she was learning the Meisner technique — her modeling agency asked her to attend another fashion audition. She almost didn’t go, which would have made the rest of this story impossible.
“I sort of reluctantly went and thought, well if I do get this, I can earn more money which means I can pay for more acting classes,” Martin told TheWrap in New York on Wednesday. “So I was like, OK, OK, I’ll go, and I huffed and puffed and went. And it turned out that Des Hamilton, who was casting for this fashion thing, was casting for the Lars von Trier movie. And he says to me, ‘You know, you kind of have this familiar, Charlotte Gainsbourg-esque vibe. Do you act? What do you do?'”
He invited her to come audition for “Nymphomaniac,” which delighted her to no end; not only was it a great opportunity, but she had just finished watching the director’s 1990s mini-series, “The Kingdom,” with her boyfriend, and the two were obsessed.
So a few weeks later, Martin went and auditioned for the part of young Joe, the woman whose journey through sex addiction is at the heart of the film. They went through two rounds of tests in London before she was asked to fly to Copenhagen for a screen test with the director. She wasn’t surprised to see another actress at the airport, headed for von Trier’s Zentropa Entertainment office, but it wasn’t all that encouraging, either.
Martin spent the morning with von Trier, working on scenes with an actor they had brought in to read lines with her. Then, she had lunch with the director, where they discussed their backgrounds and why he even was interested in an inexperienced actress. Von Trier had an otherwise big name cast lined up, with Charlotte Gainsbourg (as the older Joe), Uma Thurman, Stellan Skarsgard, Christian Slater, and Shia LaBeouf amongst the major names assembled.
“I thought, ‘Lars you can work with anyone,’ and he was like, ‘Yes, but who are you?'” she recalled. “And I was thinking, ‘Well, I have no experience, I’m just in training, I’m kind of still a baby in the midst of it all. So that’s me, I’m training, apart from the boring fact that I’m half-French and half-English, la-di-da, I don’t really have much to say.'”
After the lunch, Martin said, “I passed out because I was so tired. I was sleeping on the sofa, because they give you a little waiting room at Zentropa. They had a little TV and loads of Lars von Trier movies, and I thought, I’d really like to watch one, but what if he comes in and I’m watching one of his films?”
Afterward, she returned to London and to reality, convincing herself that she was such a long shot that it wasn’t worth worrying about; after all, she still had acting classes to finish up, so she dove back into her assigned scene, from Chekhov’s play “Uncle Vanya.”
Weeks went by, and then she got a call from her new agent. The part was hers. Ironically, she didn’t end up getting that fashion model job for which she originally met Hamilton, but this was a solid trade.
There were a few things that needed to be ironed out once she got the offer. Most important, of course, was all the adult elements involved in her part, which was all about the sexual awakening and obsessions of a girl over a 15 year period of her life.
“I think the only reservations, when I did get the part that was offered to me, was more just making sure the whole nudity and sexual content, that those were controlled,” Martin said. “But once that was settled, it was so easy.”
The 200 page script broke down her sex scenes — copulation contests on trains, a montage of men in her apartment, brutal moments with LaBeouf — in intricate detail, to the point that preparation could become tiresome.
“I knew what I was getting into. There was a million breakdowns of what was needed in the scenes, so you just go, OK can we actually film them? Can we stop talking about them? Can we just get it over with?” Martin said, reliving her nervous exasperation. “And I have to honor that as an actress, if I’m going to say yes to this part, I can’t suddenly go, ‘Oh no, I can’t,’ because that’s what the part demands. If I’m going to say yes, I have to honor what I’m taking. And then having a porn double and having prosthetics just gives you so much more freedom to not have to worry, and to actually focus on what my real job is, being an actress.”
Christian Slater played Joe’s character in the film, and though he spent much of his time working with the young girl who played Joe in her pre-teen years, he did share several intense scenes with Martin, which ranged from violent to tender and ultimately tragic.
“I felt safe to push the envelope with her a little bit,” the actor told The Wrap. “When it called for some violent moments to take place, I trusted that this girl was going to be OK with me pushing her, shoving her, and she was. She went right there with me, and I just found her to be wonderful.”
When it was time to relive the experience, at its premiere at the Berlin Film Festival, Martin was both excited and a bit overwhelmed.
“People were like, it’s really small, it’s really chill, but because it was my first, I was like, this is not chill!” she laughed. “We’re being escorted by ten cars, and then there’s barriers and people shouting my name and I don’t even know their name. Normally the people I talk to know my name. They were throwing pictures of me. But it was great because we were all there, Lars was there which was an amazing surprise.”
As for being in the room when all of her more salacious scenes were on screen, she copped to a bit of nerves there, as well.
“It was quite terrifying, and [the audience] also knew where you were sitting, so you kind of just felt awkward,” she said, laughing again.