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Claes Bang: Working with Ruben Östlund on 'The Square' was like 'the Rolls Royce of acting'

Danish actor Claes Bang at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.
Danish actor Claes Bang at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.
Danish actor Claes Bang at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.
Danish actor Claes Bang, star of "The Square."

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“The Square” is a movie that grabs you — and tricks you — from the very start.

The film begins with an apparent confrontation on the streets of Stockholm that turns out to be something very different. Almost every scene thereafter goes into an unexpected direction, including a charity dinner with a performance artist who takes his job mimicking an ape a little too seriously.

“The Square,” which is the name of an experiential art exhibit that’s central to the plot, stars the Danish actor Claes Bang as Christian, the curator of a modern art museum.

The film is by Swedish director Ruben Östlund, the same man who made “Force Majeure” three years ago. Claes Bang came to our studio earlier this week to chat with John Horn.

Interview Highlights:

On how people react to his name, Claes Bang (pronounced Clayss):

It's quite common, but a journalist said to me it sounds like a space porn movie star. Not really sure what space porn is, but let me just get the chance here to say on public radio that this is not an invention. It's not something that I came up with. I'm actually called Bang, a quite common name in Denmark where I'm from, so it's not like me trying to come up with a very stupid name for people to remember me or something.

On the audition process for "The Square":

I went for the first casting for this one ... almost two years ago. For the first one, that was almost three hours. Then I had a second and a third casting before I got the part. For the first audition, I was actually asked to write and give the speech that I give in the museum to the audience explaining this new exhibition. So I wrote that and I went to the audition. Then, [Östlund] talked me through the whole film. I hadn't read the script, nobody read the script before the casting ... he was about to send me on my way and I said, I've written this speech — shouldn't I do it? That was actually quite lucky I think because that speech actually made the difference for him ... we kept almost everything that I wrote in the film, actually. 

On how Östlund directed the charity dinner scene:

I knew everything that was going to happen, but he said almost nothing for the first five rehearsals and takes. Then this guy comes into the room and everybody's like, Don't come over here, no, oh, he's coming over here, dammit I hate it. We did something like 75 takes of this. The surprise is not as big [at] take 50 as at the beginning, but because people had this feeling in their body from the first four or five rehearsals, we could go back to that. And I think that's how he kept it as palpable in the room. I think you can actually sense it when you see it, that this is not pleasant. 

On the condom scene with Elisabeth Moss:

This is actually something that has happened to a friend of Ruben's. Some woman, after sex, asked him for the condom and he said, Why would you want it? And she's like, Just give it to me. He was dead scared that she would impregnate herself with it. This was obviously one of the most fun scenes to shoot, because we did it over two days in Berlin and you come to this part where they fight about the condom. And Ruben wanted every possible way of editing it. So we had her winning the condom, me winning the condom, the condom breaking ... I actually ate the condom at one point because Ruben said, There's no other choice now, eat it. So we played the whole scene with the condom hanging out of my mouth, Elisabeth Moss trying to get it out. And we laughed our asses off, it was super funny. 


On working with Östlund on a film like The Square:  

If you like your job, I suppose you enjoy working hard. And I did that here. I really worked hard. Obviously, I doubted myself and there were a lot of days where I came home to my flat and I was just devastated and I was dead sure that everything was wrong. But still, to get the opportunity and the time and the trust to work through something like 30, 40, 50 takes on every scene, and really dig in deep and investigate and explore every kind of direction you could go in with this scene, is totally fulfilling as an actor. In that sense it's like I got to drive the Rolls Royce of acting with this film. 

This is only a partial transcript. Press the play button at the top right to hear the full interview!

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