It requires a subtle sort of acting to pull off the complex dynamic between the husband and wife at the center of the new film 1,000 Times Goodnight. But Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Juliette Binoche rise to the task, riveting the film with performances that allow silence to speak volumes and outbursts to inform their profound baggage of unresolved issues. Binoche plays Rebecca, a war photographer motivated by a righteousness that leaves little room for her family, which also includes two daughters. Coster-Waldau is the weary father and husband, Marcus, reluctantly supporting her choice of career. His concerns for her safety and her perfunctory performance as a mother is upended when she barely survives a suicide bombing in Afghanistan that she was chronicling for the “New York Times.”
I spoke with Coster-Waldau via phone, while he was on break from shooting Season Five of “Game of Thrones” (he plays the “Kingslayer” Jaime Lannister) in Seville, Spain. For a 15-minute chat we had a chance to go pretty deep, so this article actually expands on an article I wrote for the art and culture blog “Cultist” operated by the “Miami New Times,” which you can read by jumping through the blog’s logo below:
I was offered to ask him one “Game of Thrones” question, but what I really wanted to do was go deep into how he made this relationship so real and sympathetic. Between the director’s restrained tone, which allows the actors to say more about their feelings when they are not talking, and the dynamic performances, the carefully constructed dramatic arc of the film is an analysis of a relationship held together by fraying threads. When I asked the Danish actor about how he approached Marcus’ feelings for his wife, he notes a Catch 22 in their relationship. “I think they stopped, a long time ago, to communicate about the things that are the most important to them,” he says of Rebecca and Marcus, “and then, with her, it’s easier not to talk about what she’s doing, where she’s going, what the job was that day. It’s easier for him not to hear about it because it would make him more worried maybe. But it’s also, I think, at the very core of why they no longer can be together because they’ve lost the ability to be a couple, to communicate and all that.”
The film is actually based on the real life experiences of the film’s director, Erik Poppe. What is interesting about what he does with this movie is that he only presents a couple of intense scenes of action involving Rebecca, which inevitably resonate back home. Though both moments are adrenaline-fueled scenes of compelling action, Poppe is more interested on the effects of those instances of violence and trauma on the family of the photographer. In his director’s statement, he admits that, during his own chronicling of war zones, his relationship suffered. “I had a strong relationship with the woman whom I shared my life with, but it couldn’t sustain the choices I’d made,” he says.
This marks the most personal film by the Norwegian director, and he was quite open with the cast about that. Coster-Waldau says though the scenarios were up-dated for today’s headlines (Poppe was in Cambodia in the early ‘80s, among other places), the repercussions of Poppe’s career choice, including a zealous righteousness to affect some good in conflict zones for the innocents, had vivid effects back home. “He’s had to deal with those exact conflicts with his wife, where he would be in these situations where he could die and wouldn’t be able to call home for weeks, and it takes a toll,” states the actor. “It’s really tough on the people who are left behind, and sometimes you’re so driven and you’re so focused that you kind of forget. You forget, or you kind of push it aside because you have to.”
That passion and focus, a sort of entrance to a zone that calls for a vision sometimes blinded by an intensity for the work that excludes the family, can be quite traumatic to those outside that area of ego. Back to Poppe’s director’s statement, he even says, “my ego was bigger than my love [for my wife].”
Binoche channels that potently in her character. In one scene, Marcus confronts her about her work and she reacts as if she was caught in an infidelity. “She’s also quite passionate. She can’t help herself,” notes Coster-Waldau. “Yes, there’s the whole — which is very important — that she wants to make the world aware of these horrendous things that go on in these horrible places. There is also that thing that happens that it’s really her passion. It’s those moments when she’s doing her job that she can lose herself a hundred percent because she’s quite good at that, and in a way that’s what she does, she gets in there and she gets the shot. When she removes that part of herself, she removes part of the essence of who she is. Clearly, it’s worth it. It’s worth it that she got it out, and she took these pictures that no one else would take, and it has positive change for these kids or these families or refugees, but at the same time there is also negative consequences for not only her own relationships with her family but also for her kids. They suffer, and if that worked objectively, you’d say, yes, it’s for the better, but for those two kids and her husband, it’s not.”
The emotional struggle this brings to the family is quite vivid in 1,000 Times Good Night. For Coster-Waldau, the feelings do not seem foreign to him. He speaks with an enlightened wisdom that comes from his own experience as a family man who must balance his own passions outside of his personal life. “He loves his wife,” he notes about Marcus’ struggle to compete with her calling. “What happens early on in the movie, of course, when she gets into the explosion, is that suddenly that thing happened that he’s been living with, and that he just accepted and wanted to ignore, and of course this is a movie, so of course it’s life and death, but I think that it happens in many relationships where you change, and people change, and we don’t necessarily change together, and we change in different directions.”
Though he is but an actor, Coster-Waldau knows some of the difficulties that arise at home when he focuses on his work, which also includes being away from his family for some time, and he brought that to his role as Marcus. “It’s all those discussions, all those conflicts that were interesting to talk about,” he says, “and then, of course, in my own life, because I also have two daughters myself. I am the one who travels most of the year doing what I do … and I could use those discussions we’ve had in this movie. In this case, in the movie, I’m the guy who’s left behind, so it was interesting.”
Again, Coster-Waldau brings up personal experience in relation to the film. “I’m a father myself,” he adds. “I have two daughters, and there’s something about that whole discussion of what does it mean to be a parent. A good parent is not necessarily a woman or a man, and can a father be as good? You would think it’s an obvious thing, but I think that a mother is more of a parent than a father in some ways, and I think I like to explore that because that’s something that’s very much a part of my life, being a father.”
1,000 Times Good Night runs 117 minutes and is not rated (contains violence and language). It opens in South Florida this Friday at the Bill Cosford Cinema in Coral Gables and the Tower Theater in Miami. It’s opening across the U.S. right now. To see other play dates across the nation, visit this link.