I told Paprika Steen during a lunch earlier today that she seems to have moved beyond “acting” in Martin Pieter Zandvlier‘s Applause (12.3), about a brilliant but half-unhinged alcoholic actress. She performs the part, of course, but I didn’t fully believe that Steen (a Danish dogma star best known for Susanne Bier‘s Open Hearts and Thomas Vinterberg‘s The Celebration) was 100% acting. Deep down I was persuaded that she was mostly playing herself.
Applause star Paprika Steen outside Italian joint on West 4th and 10th Street — Wednesday, 12.8, 1:10 pm.
I’m not saying that she was, but that I believed as much. That, in my book, is acting of a very high and unusual order.
“Uh-oh,” she replied. “Maybe that’s not so good, people might think I’m a problem alcoholic.” No, no, I said — it’s a very good thing if people really understand, as I think I do now. For the record Steen, who’s on the tallish side, looks and seems un- addicted in most respects. She speaks perfectly fluid English without much of an accent. She has a exotic, vivacious smile and a magnificent mane of blonde hair and absolutely no trace of the somewhat puffy, boozy complexion she has in the film.
In short I thought she was okay and vice versa. We’re both Scorpios, etc. She seemed to enjoy my resemblance to Chris Walken. I taped our conversation, of course, and will run some of our conversation sometime tomorrow.
“Ms. Steen doesn’t just surpass herself in Applause — she gives one of the best screen performances of the year,” wrote Karen Durbin in the N.Y. Times on 10.29.
“[She] plays Thea, a famous theater actress fresh from a lengthy stint in alcohol rehab who is eager to regain at least partial custody of her two young sons. Applause intercuts the tense drama of her troubled present with pungent flashbacks to Thea triumphant as the drunken Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? We see that she was not only great but, once offstage, viciously abusive to her young dresser.
“Playing an alcoholic has been known to bring out the scenery chomper in the best of actors, Ms. Steen never puts a foot wrong, even though she’s playing two alcoholics, wild Martha with the meat-cleaver mouth and the more alienated, calculating Thea.
“There are no melodramatics in the latter portrayal, just a silent, simmering rage at everyone but her children, a tormented sense of being forever on the outside looking in, and a self-destructiveness so willful that when her ex-husband lets her take the boys on an outing near a lake, it’s impossible not to think she’s going to drown them.
“To say that Ms. Steen commands this film is no exaggeration. She’s in every scene, with Thea’s drink-ravaged face often shot in unforgiving close-up. There is even a single eerie, fleeting moment when we can’t tell if she’s Martha or Thea: Ms. Steen is that good.
“Thea’s story is harrowing. Yet for all the pain she depicts, Ms. Steen is delving so deep and with such unerring precision into the human psyche, not even for a moment do we want to look away.”