If you don’t love Claes Bang, then you haven’t met him yet. The tall and handsome Danish star of Palme d’Or winner The Square has made a name for himself back home, but he’s yet to be fully introduced to America. That ought to change quite soon, not only because awards season is heating up and The Square is sure to get some recognition, but because the afternoon I sat down with him in West Hollywood as the same day Variety broke the news that he’ll be starring in the upcoming Dragon Tattoo sequel, The Girl in the Spider’s Web.
The film will be helmed by Don’t Breathe director Fede Alvarez and The Crown’s Claire Foy is set to replace Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander (and Noomi Rapace in the three Swedish-language versions). The Girl in the Spider’s Web is an adaptation of the fourth book, skipping the second and third for American audiences. When the film arrives in 2018, Bang should be well on his way to enticing American audiences. During the week he spent in Los Angeles promoting The Square, I witnessed people who had no idea who he was completely enamored with him and the few who’d already seen The Square couldn’t wait to speak with him.
Over the course of our conversation, we touched on the how Force Majeure director Ruben Östlund tackled his latest film, the online campaign fans started to get the debonair Bang cast as Bond, and the plays of August Strindberg, mostly because I’m not going to sit down with a Scandinavian artist and not discuss Strindberg.
The Square is a great, comedic take on the art world. But even though everyone loves it, people keep talking about its long runtime. Have you encountered that?
When we were in Cannes, people really loved it, but it seemed like a lot of people were saying it’s super good, but it might be slightly too long. And at the end of the festival, Ruben was really fed up with it. There was this journalist that said to him, “I heard a rumor that you might go and edit it.” “Yeah,” Ruben said. “I’m gonna make it longer.”
Ruben is really thorough. His casting sessions are really long as well. I think the first one was about three hours. The second was probably two, the third two as well.
The script goes to some pretty wild places. How did you prepare for that audition?
I actually didn’t read the script till after I got the part. For the first casting, Ruben asked me to write and prepare that speech that I give in one scene in the museum and we almost kept everything that I wrote, because he liked it so much. I think that’s where he said I sort of flipped it, and got in front of all the others. I think he asked the actors to write it, to see at which level they connected with the idea of this art exhibition. And he cast for very big names. I can’t say who, but he cast in [various European countries and the United States]. I’ve beaten some of my heroes.
Everyone’s favorite scene seems to be when you and Elisabeth Moss (who plays Bang’s lover) battle over ownership of a used condom. Is that yours as well?
It was so much fun to do the condom scene. We couldn’t stop laughing. But probably, my favorite scene is the whole writing of the note [demanding my stolen wallet is returned] and deciding who’s going to go [in the apartment complex to deliver it]. I met Christopher Læssø, who plays my assistant, during auditions and we did improvs for that scene. It worked out so fucking good and it was so funny, and then when I saw it, I was scared there’s no way we could make it better in the film but it’s about 10 percent better.
Also the scene in the museum where Elisabeth comes up to me and says we’ve been in bed together, so what are we gonna do now [in our relationship]? She’s an amazing actress and you can just do anything with her. We started out with the scene with me not remembering her character’s name. So we did 20 takes of that, we had a break, and then I said to Ruben, let’s surprise her, when she really pressures me, I’ll remember her name. I’m not sure if that’s the reaction of hers he used in the film, but it seems like it.
Where would people know you from before this film?
I did a television show, one that made a name for me, that you didn’t get here. A cop family show. It was called Anna Pihl. We shot three seasons, 10 episodes a season. So I’m sort of someone you would know there.
Like Mads Mikkelsen? Our current favorite Dane?
Not that famous. [Laughs] But I do know him, Denmark is very small. I was in the same school as his brother, Lars. It’s a small world and I’ve worked with Mads on this show Unit 1, a cop show as well. I did one of it, but he was a lead. He’s a bigger name than I am. I don’t mind it staying that way. I can truly understand the career he’s had, he’s super good. I hope I get to work some more with him.
So Wendy Mitchell at Screen Daily started an online campaign at Cannes for you to become the new Bond. Would you do it?
It’s all just a fun joke but bring it on. Some of [the movies] are quite good. Pretty much every one. But the one I really found weird was the one [Skyfall] where all of a sudden you realize that James Bond has had a bad childhood. I was like get the fuck out of here, James Bond has had a bad childhood, no way? He was born when he was 30. It was realism in a James Bond film. There’s no fun in the [Daniel] Craig ones. I really liked the action in the new ones, but it might be good for someone to add a bit of humor. They’ve lost that totally. Pierce [Brosnan] had that thing in his eye. He’s got a sense of humor. They could get that back with me.
It’s you versus Idris Elba.
I think that it probably keeps the brand going every time there’s a new rumor. But it would be fun to do it, right? Or it’s probably super technical. Just no acting at all. Stand over there, hit that guy in the face, then go home.
How would you describe The Square to fans of Force Majeure?
I read a review that said this is the film version of free form jazz. Because you’ve got so many things going on. Force Majeure is smaller, the conflict is like theater.
Do you work in theater too?
Most of my work has been in theater.
I love talking to Scandinavians about theater. I love Strindberg. Ghost Sonata is a fave.
Ghost Sonata is insanely difficult to do. Miss Julie is like, very sort of… it’s bordering on the American model of dramaturgy. All the psychology. And Ghost Sonata has no psychology to it. If you try and explain it too much it ruins it, which the one thing I think you do too much in America, where everyone needs to understand everything. The Square is super unexplained. People are like what happens with the man acting like an ape, etc… but if you try to explain it, you make it small. You’ve got to get people’s imaginations going.