Boundary-crushing silver screen sensation Stacy Martin on life as Miuccia’s new muse. We take a look behind the scenes on her shoot.
The first time Stacy Martin watched her debut feature-length performance in Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac – 2013’s graphic insight into self-hatred, torture and sensation – it was with her parents. “I made them watch it with me,” she says, in a daisy-speckled garden in Peckham. “The only way to break through that level of awkwardness is to actually approach it.” The two-part epic sees Martin, armed with a prosthetic vagina, appear to fellate a middle-aged man on a packed train and then proceed to grope, tongue and molest her way through its remaining carriages.
In person, Martin is nothing like Trier’s mania-inflicted protagonist, portrayed in the film’s second instalment by Von Trier-regular Charlotte Gainsbourg. A mixture of amazing grace and a beckoning, freckled face landed her a modelling contract with Premier, a recent Gaspar Noe-shot editorial for VMan and a boyfriend in Daniel Blumberg, Yuck’s equally lithe guitar hero.
This winter sees her team up with photographer Steven Meisel as the face of Miu Miu’s AW14 campaign. In her biggest fashion project to date, Martin doubles as a sixties screen icon: all sharply symmetrical fringes, folded arms, shadows creeping across a focussed, lensward stare. The project marries two of Martin’s great loves: vintage glamour (Martin wore Prada at Nymphomaniac’s premier) and classic cinema; Godard, Fellini and all.
It was Des Hamilton – Nymph’s casting director, known previously for scouting the chicly gaunt This Is England ensemble – who plucked her from obscurity, stunned by her resemblence to 70s film enigma Jane Birkin, Gainsbourg’s mother. Before they met, she was flitting between Tokyo, where her cosmetics consultant father worked, and Paris, where she was born. Now, Martin is primed for roles in High Rise (a thriller based on JG Ballard’s Trellick Tower inspired day-mare) and The Tale of Tales where she stars alongside Vincent Cassel.
So how has this Hackney humbleton become film’s new good taste barometer? For someone so breezy and affable – while writing this piece, I bump into her in a fish and chips shop, and we swap a few friendly glances – she’s loath to give too much away. It’s an inspiring rather than infuriating look for Martin and plus, who needs silly old words when you have the eyes of a Lloyd Alexander princess, Bardot skin and a project roster to rival precisely no one? The silence is deafening.
Wonderland: You were cast in the new Miu Miu campaign. Was Steven Meisel a dream to work with?
Stacy Martin: I had an amazing time shooting with him, because he’s so gentle. The pictures are like something out of a Godard film. Rather than a straight-up fashion shoot, it became something different, I really enjoyed that side of it. When you have a team like Miu Miu… they’re so lovely and caring. We just ended up talking about film the whole day.
W: What films were you talking about?
S: A lot of Italian films.
W: La Dolce Vita, et al?
S: Yeah. At the time I’d just been cast in an Italian film [The Tale of Tales], so it was perfect. But they’ve always supported creativity. For the last campaign, they cast Lupita [Nyong’o], Elizabeth Olson… actresses not yet at the peak of their careers. They just really believe in that.
W: You grew up in Tokyo. Was this an intense and vexing experience for a seven-year-old born in Europe?
S: Well, when you’re young you’re more able to adapt to a culture. Plus, I went to a French school and everyone around me spoke French, so it never felt like something we shouldn’t be doing. I picked up Japanese quite well, too.
W: Is this how you feel about new challenges? That you’re great at being a fish out of water?
S: I guess challenges don’t scare me very much. I’m used to being in new situations or being somewhere where you don’t understand a word and get away with what you can. It becomes fun!
W: Which actors did you look up to? If you’re getting into acting from a young age, I guess it’s a case of, “I could do that!”
S: I never thought I’d become an actress. I went to university [London College of Communication] and I never really believed I could I do acting as a job. But I went to acting class because I loved it in quite a casual way. I never really looked for it and in a weird way it fell into my hands. Half the time I’m like, “What’s going on? I’ve got an agent. Why me?”
W: Have you ever had a day job?
S: I moved to London when I was 18 and I’d been to a few modelling agencies before that. I was very lucky because at 18 I was completely independent from my parents financially. I didn’t have to work in a pub, and I could fund all my acting classes [because of the modelling jobs]. It’s something I did alongside my studies, because it’s not an everyday job. It gave me a lot of freedom when I moved.
W: Tell me about meeting Des Hamilton for the first time.
S: It was really weird, because at the time I was training and I really wanted to have a shift in my life. I knew I didn’t want to model. One day, my modelling agency said, “Look, we have a casting for this campaign, you can do more acting training.” I told them I’d go, but secretly never did. The only one I turned up to was cast by Des. He’s this incredible Scottish guy – this freak staring at me all afternoon. Then he said, “I’m casting this film called Nymphomaniac for Lars Von Trier.” It turned out he wasn’t a freak at all, and he became my fairy godmother – without the dress.
W: He explained the concept to you there and then, right?
S: I don’t think there’s anyway around it, you just have to say it like it is. “So it’s called Nymphomaniac, quite self-explanatory really, and you’ll have a porn double…”
W: I just watched it.
S: Oh, how are you feeling?
W: A little bit harrowed, a touch haunted. I feel like I need some kind of mild therapy, and I’ve seen all of Lars Von Trier’s films. Maybe I’ll check in after this.
Green and mustard lurex wool top by Miu Miu
W: Did your parents react in a similar way?
S: They were supportive. We’ve always been very honest with each other. My mum would call me during the shoot and ask me what scenes I’d done that day. I’d be like, “I need to get this cast done [of my vagina], and we need to talk about this blowjob scene, then the porn doubles have to come in…” Mum was like, “Remember to take your vitamins!”
W: It’s a weird dichotomy, showing a film about sexual fetishes to an audience who has probably seen most of them play out on the Internet already. For instance, everyone knows what fisting is now, but they might not have known about it before the Internet kicked in. Was that something you considered when you accepted the role?
S: No, not really. The thing I really liked about the film is that anyone expecting to see a titillating porn film will be disappointed – it’s the near opposite of that. Obviously it’s sexually charged, but it’s not about the pleasure of watching someone have sex.
W: Tell me about about your part in High Rise. Is it another gruelling one? JG Ballard doesn’t really pen sensitive narratives…
S: I play a clerk and she’s so different from anything I’ve read before, so it’s really fun. She starts out very calm, and loses it. The building sort of revolts on itself.
W: Are you much of a Ballard fan?
S: I’ve only read Cocaine Nights. He writes in such a particular way, you hate it and you love it at once. The feeling that it’s all so, so bad – what’s going on makes you feel so uncomfortable. You completely indulge in it. It’s strange.
W: When you started getting into acting, did you envisage
yourself doing roles that pushed certain boundaries?
S: I never thought I’d work with Lars Von Trier so early in my career, that’s for sure. I’m a huge fan. It’s more the part I’d expect an actress to do after being rejected for twenty years, doing plays or short films. It’s something that’s always fascinated me, doing the parts that people run away from. Not because of the sexual content or anything, but because it’s a meaty role. I love that idea. I’m not just going to go on screen and play my usual, relatively contented self. I’d rather learn something and challenge myself. I might just end up asking, “What have I done? I’m crazy.” But at least I tried to find out and communicate something.
W: You also starred in a film called Winter this year. Was working with Heidi Greensmith on her first film a challenge, or amazing fun?
S: I never go, “I want to work with this person.” I never thought I’d work with Ben Wheatley [director, High Rise] or Heidi. She’s the first female director I’ve worked with and was really gentle. Lars loves women too, so it wasn’t that different. The directors I’ve worked with so far are obsessed with women: they kind of admire them so much that you don’t really feel like you’re working with a female or male director. You’re just working with an artist.
W: What’s the character like? The story?
S: It’s a story of two brothers who try and help their father out of depression and alcoholism. I play the girlfriend of the big brother. He tries to help but miserably fails. Some people have the best intentions at heart, but it never really works out. The faith my character has in people is quite endearing.
Blue nylon shirt, yellow pvc skirt with metal embellishment and red lurex bra and panties all by Miu Miu
White satin dress by Miu Miu
Grey chevron gilet and leopard print persian wool skirt both by MIU MIU.
Words: Jack Mills.
Video: Sharna Osborne.
Fashion Editor: Danielle Emerson.
Photographer: Clare Shilland.
Hair: Selena Middleton at SOHO Management using Kiehl’s Stylist Series.
Make Up: Thom Walker using Chanel Le Lift Serum & AW14.
Photography assistance: Liam Hart.
Hair Assistance: Chloe Campbell.
Make up assistance: Lois Moorcroft.
Fashion assistance: Georgina Thomas.