In Conversation: Stacy Martin

After Nymphomaniac, the breakthrough actress looks towards a towering future...

“I really want to be in a Japanese film and only speak Japanese,” says Stacy Martin of the unusual directions that her future career could take. “It would be so confusing as I don’t look Japanese at all.”

It’s the sort of mind-meltingly audacious idea that prime Takashi Miike would’ve conceived and one – that on the surface at least – sounds unlikely. And yet it’s not beyond the realm of possibility. For one, the challenge of the language is something that this former long-term Tokyo resident is optimistic that she can rediscover. More importantly, however, her nascent career has already seen her forge connections with outlandish and remarkable talent.

Her recent past boasts a lead performance in Lars von Trier’s provocative Nymphomaniac, while her future will deliver a role in the The Clown, which stars Charlotte Rampling and features Terrence Malick as executive producer. The present brings High-Rise, another collaboration with a singular talent: Ben Wheatley, the genre-splicing director of cult oddities Kill List and Sightseers.

Wheatley’s interpretation of the J.G. Ballard novel focuses on the inhabitants of an isolated luxury tower block back in 1975. That theoretical ideal of such tight-knit living soon becomes a claustrophobic nightmare of decadence, paranoia and class warfare. It’s Lord Of The Flies with brutalist architecture, collective psychosis and a really unusual take on ABBA.

“I like letting people have their own interpretation of the film because it’s so subjective. When you watch a film and how you watch a film is so subjective as well,” she considers, citing how even simple changes of moods can alter your perception of a film. “I like leaving the freedom for people to interpret.”

Martin plays Faye, a character within a sprawling ensemble cast who is described in the film’s production notes as “a disgruntled teenage supermarket checkout girl.”

“She’s definitely disgruntled,” laughs Martin. “But I think she’s disgruntled because she’s in that block of flats and she’s on the lower levels than other people. Seeing the richer people makes her remember where she is and that she’s never going to be able to rise up.”

Faye’s nihilistic attitude reflects the experience of elements of today’s society: simply, if it’s impossible to progress, why care? That concept, together with the trend of prohibitively expensive apartments escalating in metropolises all over the globe, means that this cinematic version of High-Rise is perhaps even more relevant to today’s culture than it was back when Ballard put pen to paper. And yet, High-Rise is also a gloriously dazzling ride of riotousness and bad behaviour if taken purely on face value. As Martin summarises, “It’s all about surprising you in a way that you don’t expect.”

Part of Martin’s attraction to the project was the chance to work with the director. “When you’re watching a Ben Wheatley film, you know you’re watching a Ben Wheatley film: it’s so obvious in a very visual and creative way,” she affirms. “I love seeing a signature and a vision within a film – almost like with a painting; you can see the difference between a Monet and a Paul Klee, for example. Seeing that in a film is something that I find really exciting and inspiring.”

Martin can’t really pinpoint a specific inspiration that led her to the world of acting. After graduating from university, her friends were extending their studies or looking for employment. It was a time when she had the freedom “to do exactly what I want without thinking about it too much,” and so she enrolled in an acting class. “It was only towards the end of my training that I considered the possibility of it being a job – whether that was a possibility or not I had no idea, until Lars cast me.”

It’s the kind of opportunity that only seems to happen in fiction: a previously undiscovered talent suddenly stars in the most controversial work from an already notorious director. The impression that she paints of von Trier is akin to an lovably eccentric uncle: protective, warm, dryly hilarious.

Nymphomaniac was a project that opened a whole horizon of new openings. “Mostly it’s really given me an opportunity to work in the direction that I want to work. And to a small degree, some control over my career, and to be able to only work with people that I find inspiring as directors and artists, and who have something to say.”

In addition to The Clown and High-Rise, other upcoming projects include The Childhood Of A Leader, which is the directorial debut from 24/Funny Games actor Brady Corbet (“he’s a born director”) and Danny Huston’s The Last Photograph. She’s inspired by directors because they have such a drive to bring their ideas to fruition, and draws parallels with artists. Just like an artist calls on a spectrum of colour palettes to bring their painting to life, a filmmaker needs to utilise a small army of people with different skills to push their tales from their imagination to the big screen.

Martin’s passion for film and the creative process is palpable. “I love my job and this is what I want to do,” she smiles, while discussing a scene in High-Rise in which the supermarket descends into a battlefield. “Even if I end up having to throw cans of beans at someone.”

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Words: Ben Hopkins
Photography: Daisy Walker

High-Rise is in cinemas from March 18th, distributed by Studio Canal.

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