The “Phantom Thread” actress, burned by the experience of promoting the movie in the United States, retreated to art-house obscurity. Now, she’s back in the M. Night Shyamalan blockbuster “Old.”
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RAMBROUCH, Luxembourg — Four years ago, Vicky Krieps seemed destined for Hollywood stardom. The Luxembourgian actress had emerged from near obscurity to star in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread,” in which she portrayed the tormented muse of a domineering fashion designer played by Daniel Day-Lewis. Her performance — vulnerable, prickly, anguished — garnered critical raves and suggested the arrival of a major new talent.
Then Krieps seemed to vanish, turning down a host of Hollywood offers, including a big-budget action movie, and instead taking smaller roles, mostly in European art-house films and German television.
“I needed two years,” she said recently, sitting in the backyard of her family’s 200-year-old home in rural Luxembourg. The experience of being in the public eye, she said, “was almost traumatizing.”
This summer, however, Krieps, 37, is back in the spotlight, with lead roles in two movies at this year’s Cannes Film Festival (Mia Hansen-Love’s “Bergman Island” and Mathieu Amalric’s “Hold Me Tight”). And in a move that signals an end to her self-imposed Hollywood exile, she is also starring in M. Night Shyamalan’s glossy new horror fable, “Old,” which arrived in U.S. movie theaters on July 23.
Krieps, who is self-deprecating and warm in person but prone to earnest tangents about art and nature, said that the notion of “Old” being shown in so many theaters was stressing her out.
“I carry this huge paradox: I’ve become an actor, but I don’t want to be seen — it doesn’t make any sense,” she said. “I’m really scared that people might recognize me.”
In the film, which also stars Gael García Bernal, she plays a mother of two who, while on a family vacation, becomes trapped on a beach where people grow old at a vastly accelerated rate. Her character, who witnesses her children turn into adults in a span of hours, is the film’s emotional anchor, and Krieps has received widespread praise for her performance.
In a Zoom interview, Shyamalan said that he had been a fan of the actress since “Phantom Thread,” and that he had been drawn to her “classical dignity.” He added: “It’s so beautiful having someone of her caliber being so vulnerable at the center of a genre film.”
Her decision to do the movie, she said, stemmed from a confluence of factors. Amid the pandemic, she had been thinking a lot about the nature of time: “I felt that the film could tell us something about how we as people live in a construction of time and space, running from A to B, but really running from ourselves.”
But she also said she had increasingly come to terms with anxieties that emerged with the release of “Phantom Thread.” At that time, she said, she had approached her career — and life — without much of a plan, and had been unprepared for the promotional demands and industry attention.
Krieps, who now mostly lives in Berlin with her two children, said that her desire for self-effacement was largely rooted in her upbringing in Luxembourg, a tiny duchy squeezed between Belgium, France and Germany. The country’s size is conducive to modesty, she said.
A self-described “dreamy” teenager, after high school she left Luxembourg for South Africa, where she spent a year volunteering as a teacher for children with AIDS. While there, she had an epiphany about pursuing an acting career in a damascene moment involving a low-lying mountain that she glimpsed from a road. “I had a deep connection to this mountain and its energy,” she said, “and I decided I wanted to be someone who can capture this feeling, and release it, maybe on a stage.”
After enrolling in (and leaving) acting school in Zurich, she cobbled together a living with mostly small roles in German television and film. Then one day she received an email with a video audition request that she distractedly misread on her phone as an invitation to try out for a student film project. “I was sitting on the bus and had just started an interesting conversation with a stranger — you know how it is,” she said.
She sent in a submission, recorded on her phone, and it wasn’t until she received a call from her agent alerting her that Anderson had liked the video that she realized it was for “Phantom Thread.”
The movie’s press tour, she said, had been a culture shock. She had never had a credit card, and when she arrived in Los Angeles, she was surprised to discover that she would need one to check into her hotel. “I said, ‘I’ll go to a campground — I don’t care.’” (The hotel eventually relented.)
Then came her media training: “It was a woman telling me what was wrong about me and to not say my opinions,” she said. “I walked through L.A. in shock, thinking, ‘Oh my God, is this what they want from me?’”
That experience cemented her decision to evade international scrutiny by returning to Europe. Her work there included a supporting role in “Das Boot,” a German TV series and, more recently, “Hold Me Tight” in French and “Bergman Island,” Hansen-Love’s long-gestating English-language project. That film, set to be released in the United States on Oct. 15, centers on a filmmaker couple (played by Krieps and Tim Roth) who visit the Swedish island of Faro, where the director Ingmar Bergman once lived.
Hansen-Love, a French movie director, said in a telephone interview that Krieps had a “melancholy that is very European” and compared her acting style to that of Isabelle Huppert.
In “Bergman Island,” Krieps’s character has a series of encounters that make her question her role as a mother, partner and artist. Krieps said that her character’s search for an identity had also helped her overcome some of her own reluctance about Hollywood.
“This woman is trying to find a solution to the question of ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What is real?’ The answer is: There is no real,” she said, adding that the realization had pushed her to become more open-minded about what projects she wanted to pursue.
Krieps said she would be willing to make more big-budget American movies in the future, though her post-pandemic schedule is already packed. She recently completed filming “Corsage,” a German-language biopic of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, and her upcoming projects include a “Three Musketeers” adaptation and a film by the Belgian director Philippe Van Leeuw, in which she is set to play a United States border agent, her first onscreen attempt at an American accent.
Her return to U.S. filmmaking, she added, felt a little bit like closing a book that she had left unopened. “I had thought: ‘Phantom Thread’ will go away again, people will forget me — but I can’t undo this movie,” she said. “It’s like undoing who I am.”
Vicky Krieps Gave Hollywood One More Try. It Wasn’t So Bad. – The New York Times