A version of this story about Renate Reinsve and “The Worst Person in the World” first appeared in the International issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
Her movie is called “The Worst Person in the World,” but Norwegian actress Renate Reinsve is one of the international film world’s best breakout stars of 2021. The Joachim Trier film in which she starred won her the best-actress award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and promptly landed a distribution deal with Neon. It’s now the Norwegian entry in the Oscars international race and one of the favorites to advance to the shortlist, and Reinsve herself is receiving the kind of attention about which she can only laugh.
“It’s impossible to wrap my head around all of this,” said the actress who’d spent most of her time in theater. “The whole transition from being a nobody into having so much attention, it was just a big shock. But I slept for a week and a half after Cannes, so now I’m more relaxed.”
Reinsve had never before played the lead in a film until director Trier tapped her to play Julie, a young medical student in Oslo who’s uncertain about what she wants to study, who she wants to date and, essentially, who she wants to be. “She’s a really complicated, complex person in a lot of messy life situations, and I think everyone can relate to that,” Reinsve said. “And when I got the script, I thought the story was told in a very subtle, nuanced way, very different from anything I’d read in any script I’d gotten for film or TV.”
Trier, whose past films include “Thelma” and the English-language “Louder Than Bombs,” cast Reinsve almost a decade after giving her a one-line role in 2011’s “Oslo, August 31.” “I was a fan of hers for all these years,” he said. “She’s an actor who got good parts in theater but nothing good in television or film. I looked at her career and thought, ‘She’s fantastic. Why is no one writing something for her?’ She was one of the inspirations to make the film at all.”
An alternate title for “Worst Person” is “Julie in 12 Chapters,” with those chapters numbered as they chronicle the character’s wild ride through young adulthood. “I wanted to be honest with my own sadness and loneliness and melancholy, to explore that,” Reinsve said. “I think we talk about our faults too little and try to make ourselves look strong too much.”
Still, the actress admitted that at times even she didn’t comprehend Julie’s choices. “Even though I connected to her emotionally, I couldn’t completely understand her,” she said. “I wanted to just ask questions and try to figure out who she was in each situation. In life, you don’t have absolute control of your identity. So I think it’s more true to be confused. And that also leaves a space for the audience to fill in what they think the characters are or what they want the story to be.”
Trier said that because he partly wrote the script with Reinsve in mind, he and co-writer Eskil Vogt brought her into the process early on and worked with her closely as the script developed. “I think Julie was a little more romanticized in the script,” Reinsve said. “I took it as Julie wanting to define herself through someone else – like, she’s searching for an identity by getting somebody else to define her. And when she breaks up with (longtime boyfriend) Aksel, he thinks he’s the stronger one and she’s an emotional mess, but that should be empowering for her, too.”
While Reinsve admitted that she was initially thrown by all the attention she received in Cannes, Trier is confident she’s weathered that initial storm. “She knows what it’s worth,” he said. “She’s a grownup person, and she knows how to appreciate what’s real and to shed the passing glamorous aspects of it. I think she understands the value and the depth of it, which makes it her more grounded in this experience.”
Still, Reinsve admits that she identifies even more than before with Julie’s wild ride. “Yeah, yeah,” she said. “But I’ve just surrendered to the chaos in my life.”