Norwegian thespian and star of Thelma, she’s searching for strength in female roles.
“I’m up for anything as long as it’s an interesting project with a strong, complex female character.” Eili Harboe has my attention across three screens. One playing Thelma, her latest feature; red wine in one hand, my phone in the other, her Instagram account glares on the second. The final is her agent’s email on my computer, bearing the above and more. “As a young actress I feel a responsibility to be a part of creating strong, female characters,” she says, “and not portray those who are simply buffers for the male protagonist.”
The actor and art history student (a BA in English Literature is already hers) is somewhere towards the end of a promotional tour for Joachim Trier’s Thelma, the supernatural picture in which she plays the title character, a biology student navigating life beyond the confines of her religious upbringing. “I’m so grateful to be a part of this project,” Harboe writes. “Filming Thelma has been one of the greatest experiences of my life so far.” Acting in some form for the better part of her 23 years, it’s the Norwegian language film that is seeing her championed by audiences far beyond her native Stavanger (she’s since been announced as one of the 10 most promising up and coming actors selected for the European Shooting Stars).
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“I actually draw a lot of inspiration from literature, art and music,” Harboe clarifies with a nod to her education. “I love actors that are vulnerable, committed and versatile.” She’s listing the qualities that determine her thespian heroes – namely Natalie Portman and Naomi Watts – but the attributes could just as easily be appointed to her own brand of drama. Certainly the contrast between Tale, the outspoken wannabe she portrayed in 2013’s Kiss Me You Fucking Moron, and Thelma, offer some verification of the latter. “You’re a fucked chicken,” Tale yells to a famous actor, mid-way through preventing a male companion from being raped by a group brandishing a fir cone – Thelma can barely vocalise the expression “Jesus Satan”.
“We’re a small country and a small industry,” the actor observes later, responding to a question on Norway’s film and TV industries. Beyond the praise Trier, in his own right, and Thelma have received, the web series Skam, in particular, has this year won recognition outside of its locale. The Fader named it the world’s “most important” show about high school, while Simon Fuller’s XIX Entertainment bought the rights for an English speaking remake. “I think Tarjei and Henrik are incredible,” Harboe tells me, herself a fan.
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“I get the sense that it’s more personal,” she continues, speaking again of the wider industry. “We are very lucky in the way that we have state financed means. Unfortunately, with our new government, they don’t see as much value in culture – they’ve cut the state budget [for culture]. They are also racist and make decisions that favours the richest in our society. I think it’s a huge historic setback.” It doesn’t take a great deal to comprehend the actor’s frustrations.
Once the singer of an acid jazz funk band and formerly involved with a hip hop orchestra (they toured Norway), recently signing with a US agent, the actress is keen to reiterate her commitment to portraying complex females, in Norwegian cinema, Hollywood, and beyond. “That’s something I’m very conscious about when I’m doing auditions,” she enthuses. La La Land – by which I mean David Lynch, Harboe’s dream collaborator (“if I would have to choose”), are you ready?
Taken from the Winter 17/18 Issue of Wonderland; out now and available to buy here.
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