Film4 Summer Screen

One take, over 22 locations. Laia Costa on playing Victoria.

09 Aug 2017

Ahead of Film4 Summer Screen we catch up with Laia Costa who plays the lead in Victoria, showing on the big screen at Somerset House on 11 Aug. The thriller follows the story of a young woman on the run through the streets of Berlin, shot in one take, and was a labour of love for German director Sebastian Schipper and cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grovlen.

We asked Laia about her experience of playing Victoria, staying in-character, and filming a non-stop race to stay ahead of the law.

Victoria, image courtesy of Curzon

SH: We’re really excited to see Victoria outdoors at Film4 Summer Screen this year. 

Laia: It’s the kind of movie that works perfectly to watch outside, at night. 

When the film came out there was a lot of hype around it. The New York Times described it as ‘the queasy excitement of being dropped onto a roller coaster mid ride.’ Was it a similar experience playing Victoria?

Sometimes when you watch a movie it can go to your heart, or alternatively it makes you use your mind. But with Victoria it goes to your nervous’s true. For the audience I can see how it was similar to that of a rollercoaster. At the end of the movie they were asking me to stop, and I was like...“I want to do it more.” Actually I did an American movie last Christmas and it was shot in 24 hours real time, so I was inside the character for 24 hours, which was kind of fun because with Victoria I had wanted to play her character more, which was just two hours and 30 minutes. My excitement was shooting it, not seeing it.

When the film was released what were your expectations? 

We knew nothing! Everyday when we were shooting I would call my parents; there was pressure. We were a very small crew. When they said that it was premiering at the Berlin Biennale it was a big surprise because we didn’t think about film festivals ever. Ever. It was my first movie in a lead role. It was really, really new for me so my expectations were low. 

Victoria Trailer

How did the director Sebastian Schipper and cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen prepare the cast for the shoot?

I spent two and a half months in Berlin beforehand. We rehearsed over 12 days before the first take, but we didn't do a huge amount of hours. We would rehearse a specific scene in a specific set location, and the transition to the next scene. It was as much about talking and trying to find out about the character. I remember Freddy (Frederick Lau) who was playing Sonne, was questioning all the time why his character was doing what he was doing, and the same for me, and talking to Sebastian and Sturla. It was very nice, like a creative workshop together. We did the first take and then two more. I had ten days holiday break in between the process - we weren't rehearsing every single day. It was a very soft process, easy to get into it, and to go through it. And suddenly, I was already another girl, you know. It was very nice; sometimes in movies you don't have that time to rehearse at all. This movie is very specific though - one  shot, one take, so of course you need to rehearse it beforehand.

Given that the film was shot in one take, in real time and in 22 locations, between 4:30am and 6:48am, how much technical preparation went into filming in Berlin?

If you are the set designer, you will have in mind the locations and a clear idea of where they are and how they are used in the film. The process is very different for the actor, so at the time I wasn't aware of how many locations we were working with. We all needed to know a certain amount of technical detail, for example in a particular scene where is the blood? I would need to take the fake blood from behind the tree and put it on my stomach, or when I’m getting in and out of a car to be aware that the camera guy is entering with me, so I can’t just shut the door in his face, you know... We worked on a lot of the emotional process, but everything was improvised. Like the piano scene - no two piano scenes are the same, as the three takes that we filmed were are all different. 

"We worked on a lot of the emotional process, but everything was improvised."

I find the technical stuff easy to follow - you have to be aware that you're not alone. When you’re doing improvisation, you have to be very aware of the process of everyone else. No one is going to tell you when the scene is coming, but you have an idea that Freddy has an emotional process that he has to do in this scene. You have to wait for the moment to happen, and that he has done his own process, before me saying, “Let’s go to the pub”- the creative and technical elements have to work together.

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There is a real intensity to the film - how does Victoria’s story and character develop throughout?

In the film we know nothing about Victoria’s past. We have no idea why she keeps on going with the guys in the film. A lot of people say it's weird - but if you know her well enough, to see where she comes from, and what she's going through at that moment, you can totally engage with the fact that she needs to have fun that night, and she wants to have friends to have a fun time. 

I think the film is about the killing of innocence. Victoria is a girl that is running away from a life that she has been following. She has been playing a role somehow. In the end she finds out that it’s not working at all, and that success isn't easy anymore. Victoria has been in Berlin for three months, and it's very hard when you need to go away, you’re broke, trying to run away from your old life - sometimes it’s hard to make friends again. This is her case. She is very lonely. A lot of people can relate to that sensation these days. When she meets the guys, they are the opposite - they are very present, very real and very sycophantic. She absolutely falls in love with this freedom and courage though they come from a very different place.

It’s the story of one night where this girl, Victoria, and these guys are like a family. You know you’ll do anything for your family. When shit starts to happen maybe they will stick together and try to fix it. For me friendship is the big word of the movie. Good conversation usually comes from friends, so you need to keep your social friendships going...when you don't have that, which is the case with  Victoria, then you need to fill that gap somehow. She discovers whilst trying to fill that gap who she really is, and what  she wants to be. It's like a big process for her.

What was your impression of Berlin - does that loneliness come with the city or the nightlife that the film touches upon?

I love Berlin so much! It was my first time there, and I had this major movie experience. At the same time I was saying,  “Oh my god, Berlin!” During the filming I was living in Barcelona and want to go back home... I wanted to stay in Berlin longer.  I got the feeling that there’s a lot of stuff going on there. You can actually have fun and you don’t need a lot of money in Berlin. It was very easy. 

Also, I have to say that I was living in the happy, sunny side of Berlin. The crew was  taking care of me. I was very looked after and they were making sure I was having fun. But I can also understand that it can be a very hard city, if you go there, and you need to find a job. I guess like every city it has two opposing sides. 

Victoria, image courtesy of Curzon

Were there any particular moments that you thought were a real challenge to act / to be Victoria?

I thought the whole movie was a challenge.  It was like a basketball match - I've been playing for 15 years - I love it - but you cannot play alone. It isn’t tennis. You have to be aware of your teammates, so the challenge was for everyone to be in the same tone of voice. I think that was a challenge. 

Another thing that Sebastian said at the time which was very interesting… if you’re playing in a jam session where everybody is playing together and improvising, you need to really listen to your partners. If you’re just improvising by yourself it doesn't sound great. The challenge was that and if you are in the same place as everyone else, everything flows. 

It's not just you alone…

The music was scored by Nils Frahm.  What part does the hypnotic soundtrack play within the film? 

Nils did an amazing job. The funny thing was that he was actually improvising when he was composing the music. I heard that Nils and  his musicians were watching the film on a big screen, and whilst seeing the scenes progress they were creating the score . They were improvising whilst watching the film. Music is a very important element. There are a couple of scenes where the emotion is heightened by the music, so  when they are getting close emotionally, the music takes over. The emotion comes through in the music. It's really impressive how it works.  We were improvising and the music was improvising and you can feel it. It was so beautiful, so unique.

What do you hope audiences will take away from the film?

We were trying to make something great. When shooting Victoria before every take all of the crew kept saying, “Keep It real!” Like a football team. I now try to remember that, whenever I start a project. Just play with the real stuff. Trust the process and trust the director - they are going to take you there.