The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of The Innocents.
This is a very adult film about children and childhood. What were your inspirations for the story?
Eskil Vogt: I think I never would have made this movie if I hadn’t become a parent. Which may give you the wrong idea about my kids! But I never had that sort of nostalgic childhood that a lot of my friends had, that they’re constantly referencing. I was very happy to finally grow up and become an adult; I never looked back… until I had kids of my own. And then suddenly, I was reminded…looking at them…I had childhood memories that were triggered for me. And I just realized how differently you perceive the world as a child. How they live in kind of a parallel universe. And I just became curious about that secret world of childhood. And I think the first idea I had was about the “magic” of childhood. If a group of children were playing together, maybe something magical and inexplicable would happen, and then they’d go back to their homes and sit down for dinner with their mom and dad and that magic wasn’t there any more. And you would assume that it had been their imagination. But I thought maybe it would be interesting to make a film where that magic was for real. So I think that was the very first idea I had.
I thought maybe it would be interesting to make a film where that magic was for real
Did you know you were going to direct this film while you were writing it?
EV: Well, I’m a screenwriter, and usually I only write with my best friend Joachim Trier. And so it’s very comfortable, and it’s very easy for us to write together, because we start out sitting in a room together for a long time. And what comes up in that room is for him to direct, and when I sit alone writing, it’s for me to direct. So that’s usually quite easy to distinguish. But I think the first germ of this idea came when I was brainstorming with Joachim a few movies back (when we were writing a film called Thelma), and we knew we wanted to do something… I don’t know if you’ve seen his movies, but mostly it’s more human drama, and trying to make that cinematic. Trying to make scenes featuring two people talking more cinematic and interesting. And we thought, well, this time we’ll try to tap into some of the other kinds of movies we love: genre movies, that are inherently visual, where you are expected to create those kind of iconic visual moments. We love those movies! And we wanted to make one of those to see what happened. And I presented this story about the magic of childhood, and he wasn’t a father at the time, and maybe that was the reason he didn’t respond to that? And that’s normal— we kind of throw ideas at each other, and if the other one doesn’t pick up on it, it just lies there and we move on. This time it came back to me afterwards, however. And I started to work on it on my own.
The four main child actors give incredible performances. Can you discuss your casting process?
EV: When I write, with Joachim or alone, I have this rule of not thinking of the practical concerns of shooting a film as I work. We don’t think about how hard it is to shoot at night when everyone’s tired, how that’s so slow… or how hard it is to shoot in a car (it’s so cramped, it takes so much time)… you have to leave all of that outside of the room in order to be creative. And I ended up writing a movie with four young kids and a cat! Which… you know what they say, “never work with kids or animals.” But we knew that that would be the main challenge of this production. So we used quite a lot of the budget to have time for casting. We spent about a year finding the kids and a little bit more time training with them, and getting them ready for the shoot. And I think also one of the keys to finding good child actors was to have an open mind about the characters. The casting director [Kjersti Paulsen] made me aware of how the underlying reason you see so much bad child acting in films and television is often because you start with the adults. You start with the most famous, most important adult actors you can find. And that’s usually the parent character. And then you have to find child actors who resemble the parents, or you need to find a child actor that resembles the adult actor, because they play the same character in different time layers. And you have a very limited selection to choose from. And so we said, “let’s just start by finding interesting kids.” Not even thinking about if they resembled the characters I’d written. And then when we find great kids, let’s see if we can fit the characters to them, and accommodate the actors. And then after that, we’ll find the adults. And I think that was a very important decision. I actually ended up changing the sex or ethnicity of all four child leads, because we found such great kids! In the original script, it was two brothers, for instance. But when we found the girl who plays the non-verbal autistic child [Alva Brynsmo Ramstad], that was written as a boy of 14, because I thought that just had to be an older actor, simply because that’s so hard to portray. But the casting director, she saw this girl waiting to audition for probably one of the other parts… and she was just zoning out and waiting. And she had this look… and something about that look captured the interest of the casting director. And we found that she actress had such easy access to that kind of zoned out acting. And she was so talented!