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The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of The Dead Don’t Hurt.

What was the process of getting in sync with each other? Was there a lot of workshopping or did you wait until the outset to really work out the scenes?
Viggo Mortensen: I don’t think we workshopped anything. When Vicky was doing something that worked really well, I didn’t say much of anything. But when I had a different thought or wanted to try something different, I would say something. But mostly, I thought she always understood the character really well, which was great.

Vicky Krieps: Yeah, I think he trusted me. There’s wasn’t much talking about it really. I mean I was talking, but not like, what do you think she feels? Viggo was trusting me to understand her as a woman, really from the inside. So that’s what I did.

VM: The first time you read it we talked about it a little bit, but it was clear from the beginning that you had a strong idea of who she was and it made sense to me. Then you just prepared and came ready to play.

she’s really holding on in the movie

Viggo, did your relationship change to actors after you started directing?
VM: No, I’ve always been interested in actors. I like them. I don’t think being an actor automatically makes you helpful to other actors. It depends what kind of actor you’ve been. If you’re an actor that stays in the trailer—you show up and memorize and you know that on the third line in this scene there will be a tear coming from your left eye. If you’re like that, you may be polite when the director says, well, I would rather the tear came out of the right eye. And you go, oh, that’s interesting. Okay, thank you, I’ll try. Of course you don’t do it. If  you’re that kind of actor, you might not be very helpful when it comes time to directing, if you’re even interested in directing, because you’ve never shown much interest in what the other actors are doing. But if you’re an actor like Vicky, who’s interested in talking to people and is interested in what her partners are doing, then you probably can be helpful to other actors, because you are adapting to different kinds of actors.

There are some really strong themes here. You have the imagery of the saint, you have the imagery of the knighthood, and all the characters in this movie live in some kind of area in between.
VK: Viggo wrote the script not thinking of me, but thinking of his mother. When I received the script, I had—that very same week— been thinking about doing a western, just like that. Because I was in Arizona doing a movie about the border to Mexico. I don’t know why, but somehow, I had this image of being on a horse. And the same week I got the script. From the beginning, there was something surrounding the movie, or maybe the character that felt otherworldly. The connection to Viggo’s mother maybe? Maybe to my grandmother, to the woods, to Joan of Arc. But what are these things, what are these things that make us dream and hope and believe and hold on?  Because she’s really holding on in the movie. So while we didn’t talk about it, it was always there from the beginning. We shot in Vancouver Island. Even though it’s never mentioned in the film, there was a lot of awareness, always, of native people and indigenous people. What is land? Where does this land come from? Who owns this land? Why? And all of these topics are woven into the story even if they’re not clearly talked about. It’s kind of spiritual.

So what was it like finally making a Western? Was it everything you dreamed of?
VK: I really loved it. I mean, I probably suffered the most from everyone because I didn’t get to shoot guns, you know? I was mainly doing what women do—I was carrying the heavy stuff, the emotions. Next time I want to ride more and I also want to shoot some guns.

Viggo, this isn’t your first Western as an actor. Did you draw upon any of those experiences while making this or was that just more in the background?
VM: Not in any conscious way. I didn’t write the story from a starting point that was conceptual or paying homage to any western, not with any model in mind. I just assumed that all the movies I’ve seen, the movies I’ve worked on, and the things that have happened to me in my life influenced me. I’m assuming that nothing in this movie is original. And yet, as far as I know, it all is, you know what I mean? We are always influenced by every breath we take and everything we see.  But I wasn’t consciously thinking about any of it. Rex Peterson, our horse master, who helped us with the horses and the training of riders and stuff, he’s somebody I worked with on both Hidalgo and Appaloosa. That’s the only connective tissue to those stories.

VK: You did have a great knowledge though. Like, you would never accept it if the clothing or decor didn’t look right. That’s because you know, you’ve seen it before. You could tell that there was experience.

Can you talk about composing the film? Was it that you felt you didn’t have enough on your plate? When did you decide to do that?
VM: It wasn’t something I did after or even during the shoot. Almost six months or a year before we started shooting, I had all of it almost recorded. Which sounds kind of backwards, but I had done that on my first movie, sort of by accident, because I was restless. It took four and a half years to raise the money, so in that time, I was like, well, what else can I do? I had the script, I had Lance Henriksen, and I started to imagine it looking at the scenes. It was a form of work, like continuing to write the screenplay in a way. Maybe this scene or maybe this transition needs some music, maybe not, so I’ll try this or that. Then I had most of the music by the time we finally raised the money. I didn’t really play it for anyone, but I had it in mind when we were shooting certain scenes, and that was helpful. In terms of knowing how long the scene should last, and things like that. And then editing it was very helpful. So then I did it intentionally in this movie. And it’s a more complex score, but it really worked. We went with the musicians, and we came up with the right way to play those themes, and what the instrumentation should be, and all that. And then I did share that with the cinematographer, and members of our team, in order to understand certain transitions. It helped especially with some of the scenes that were not linear and in difference time periods. There’s a period where it suddenly moves very quickly from where Vicky is pregnant, and there’s a baby, and there’s a boy, and yeah, it’s like boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. There’s one piece of music that goes through all that, and it’s helpful. I mean, I don’t like it when the music tells you what to think or what to feel, whether to be scared or happy, or anything. And sometimes it can be counter rhythmized to what you’re seeing, but it somehow complements it. So that’s the idea. It was very helpful in the editing, of course.

The casting is phenomenal across the board. As a member of the Danny Houston fan club, what was it like working him?
VM: I’m a member of that club too. I was really happy that he wanted to play the part. I didn’t say it to him while he was doing the scene because I didn’t want him to be self-conscious, but the scene in the back where he’s speaking with Garrett Dillahunt and he’s quite verbose, at one point, I was just listening without looking. I was listening to his voice, and it sounded eerily like his dad’s. I told him at the end of the shoot. I said, by the way, in that scene… and he goes, oh yeah, I’m not surprised. I’m glad you didn’t mention it at the time. He’s a good sport and he was fun to be around and he did a great job. I mean, we had a great cast. Not intentionally, but there were three alums from Deadwood— W. Earl Brown, Ray McKinnon, and Garrett Dillahunt. We had some really legitimate Western actors in there, and also a mixture of other people. I felt really good about all the characters.

Vicky, what’s it like working an actor that is also a director?
VK: It’s interesting because in almost all the interviews this is the question. So now I’m thinking, do they always ask that? There’s always a question to the actors, how is it working with a director who’s an actor? I’m just me thinking.

We’re contractually obligated to ask it.
VK: It seems to be very interesting to people. But that is also interesting because that means that people think a lot about it. I mean, to come up with that question means that you’re already thinking about what it is like being an actor, and what it is like being a director. It really felt very natural to work together. The only thing is, of course, if you work with someone who’s also being solicited by, let’s say, the light crew or the sound crew or whoever comes talking to him, that will affect me in a way because then his attention suddenly goes off to the camera. I started developing a way to work when I was in a scene and suddenly the other actor went away. The actor was gone! So I had a very intimate relationship to all the decor and the vases and the furniture. Because I had to substitute it with something that felt real and was in the moment. I could hold onto that and I could be in the character and remain in that moment. I love that. It was a great experience and almost like a school of acting.