Feeling the Love with Renate Reinsve

Feeling the Love with Renate Reinsve

One of the best films of the year showcases a major new female talent in Renate Reinsve, the lead actor making her feature debut with The Worst Person in the World. The Norwegian actor plays a woman on the cusp of 30 trying to figure her life out – she speaks with Contributing Editor Ella Kemp about the many ways this film has changed her life.

The most difficult thing in the world is writing something that might hope, in whatever tiny way, to be relatable. So what do you do when not only you succeed, but you succeed in what’s your own first major job, a transformative experience in itself, that the world now suddenly loves and wants to claim as their own?

Nobody knows this feeling better than Renate Reinsve – winning the award for Best Actress at last summer’s Cannes Film Festival where The Worst Person in the World premiered was only the beginning. Her performance as Julie, in something of a mature coming-of-ager as she feels her way through an evolving city and a shapeshifting identity crisis, captures lighting in a bottle: it’s tender, truthful, surprising, moving, unforgettable.

I tried to pinpoint exactly what makes her arrival so special, in a candid conversation with Reinsve about her fear of intimacy, the significance of a fringe, and what it feels like to be the most loved person in the world.

You made such a big impact on Joachim Trier after having one line of dialogue in Oslo, August 31st, that he wrote The Worst Person in the World for you. What impact did he make on you when you first met?

We didn’t become friends initially, we would meet in doorways or at a club, and every time we’d be like, ‘Hello, how are you?’ And go straight into deep existential conversations about how hard it is to make relationships work. What is right? What is wrong? How do we adapt in society? What is the time we live in? He talked about mortality, I hadn’t started thinking about that yet but started joining in on the conversation anyway… But it came out of the blue that he wrote this film and this character with me in mind. It changed my life on so many levels, so I’m so glad that he did. 

Julie has struck a chord with so many people because of how relatable her struggles feel. How much of yourself did you put into the character?

I really needed to be honest and specific about my fear of intimacy, the shame in not being comfortable being myself when I enter a relationship – all those complex emotions you have all the time. I tried to go deep in the complexity about these things, like Joachim and Eskil. They tried to be open and honest. 

The script implied Aksel was a romantic thing for Julie but I was provoked by that, I wanted it to be a problem. She needed him because she needed an identity and someone to define her, but that’s also why she has to leave. I wanted her state to be strong. She wasn’t passive in not knowing. She’s trying to explore her social structure in the relationship and her whole life. What’s expected of her and how she actually feels. Being vulnerable there is important to find out what makes you happy. 

The film feels like it understands what it’s like to be a woman on such a deep level – I think that’s a beautiful achievement to have such truthful detail in a script written by two men.

Eskil and Joachim are so empathetic and curious. They foremost write a human being and then a part of her identity is being a woman. I feel in some ways she’s genderless. But by being a woman she has issues only women have – sitting around the table being ignored a bit, trying to take her place, small things like that. Eskil and Joachim have seen these things in their life. It was a good collaboration between the women in the production who really wanted to fight to expand those things that were already there in the script. They wanted to make them bigger, to make Julie stronger. 

Julie goes through so many changes – careers, relationships, but perhaps most obviously, she changes her hair a lot, which I think is always a major sign of instability. How much did that feed into your understanding of her?

She goes through so many stages and wants to change herself, but she’s always looking for an identity in the wrong place. She’s looking from the outwards in, but she needs to confront herself and find happiness and calm from within. She tries a fringe, she tries to adapt towards what men want her to look like in that new relationship. We found a good balance between how much we could change in a subtle way that didn’t look too contrived. 

The Worst Person in the World has touched so many people over the last year, since the film first premiered in Cannes. How does it feel to have changed so many people’s lives?

I’m so grateful to have been in a project that means so much to me, but then to have people see it and have the same experience is overwhelming. It was such profound experience and changed everyone’s perspective. We went home each day and we were happy, we were sad, we were always affected by what we did that day. For people to see their own lives and for the production to grow like this, it feels like there are more of us. We’re now together in talking about these things. It’s been beautiful.

After the premiere in Cannes, someone ran towards me and threw themselves around my neck – and this was in the middle of Covid! It was my first experience of like, Wow, okay, wow. There’s so much love. I have become better at saying thank you. And I’ve become better at actually understanding how important it is to people, and how it’s affected them. But I don’t know if I’m going to get used to it.  

The Worst Person in the World is now playing in UK cinemas, and will be available to stream on MUBI from May 13.

Ella Kemp (@ella_kemp) is a film critic and editor based in London. She is the Contributing Editor for READ ME and the Film Editor for the Quietus. She writes for NME, Empire, Letterboxd and more. Her favourite word is “verklempt” because it’s what she often is.

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