When Thomas Vinterberg was announced as a nominee for Best Director at the Oscars, there was a collective shock across the web. Another Round was always expected to pick up a nomination for Best International Film, but to receive a Best Director nomination was huge, not just in itself, but in beating out such names as Aaron Sorkin and many other acclaimed directors in the 2021 awards race. To anyone who has watched Another Round, however, the only surprise was how long it took for everyone to wake up and recognize the Danish film’s absolute brilliance.
“The spectrum of highs and lows captured showcase Vinterberg’s absolute mastery in storytelling.” The film’s comedic tone mixes seamlessly with certain moments of utter tragedy, and others of elated outright joy. It was a huge honor therefore when we got the opportunity to speak to the man responsible for it all. In our exclusive interview, we have a heart-to-heart discussion with Thomas Vinterberg, touching on the tragedy that beset the production of this film, the contrasting tones, and Another Round‘s ability to find beauty in tragedy.
So to start off, very basic question which I’m sure you’ve been asked many times, where did the concept of the film come about?
Thomas Vinterberg: It was a bit of a long journey. We worked on this since 2013, and in the beginning, we just looked at World History and all the great accomplishments that have been done by people who were drunk! We looked at your own country [the United Kingdom] we looked at Churchill, who decided to send 300,000 civilians or a couple of 100,000 civilians into war in fishing boats! We found that was an interesting and very irrational idea. We discussed whether he would have done this if he was sober.
And, you know, we also realized that a lot of great art has been made by people who are drunk. So in the beginning, we just wanted to make a celebration of alcohol as such. Then that developed into becoming an exploration of the whole spectrum of drinking, including the fact that families can be destroyed and people can die from this. We also felt a certain obligation towards that. Finally, I guess we ended up making, or at least trying to make, a life-affirming film about living, as opposed to just existing. That’s how ambitious we became.
I was wondering, how did you go about building the obvious camaraderie that you see on screen between the stars? How did you guys craft that dynamic because it comes across as very genuine in the film.
Thomas Vinterberg: This is something I worked on very hard from the beginning, even already in the script, which is written for these specific four actors. In the time of writing we, of course, worked very hard to get the feeling of a past and mutual understanding between these people. Then I followed that up with a rehearsal period, where they get to know the characters and each other. In this case, those four actors have known each other for years already. So that was a bit of a head start.
Then on the set, it’s about looking at each other and reacting to each other as if people have been doing the same thing throughout your life. It’s about reminding the actors to constantly refer to a common path, a path that they’ve had together. What I do often in the rehearsal period, is to have improvised stations from that path, you know, invent situations that they’ve experienced together and improvise that. So that they actually feel this.
You mentioned that you had the actors in mind when you were writing it. Were they all signed on already so early or was that just a hope that you would be able to get all four?
Thomas Vinterberg: That’s always problematic, to get actors to sign up for a project without a script! You know, they have agents and have become rich, they want to read something first. At the beginning of my career, it wasn’t a problem. But now it is. In this case, they all signed on from the get-go before there was anything that made sense on paper.
So this isn’t your first collaboration with Mads Mikkelsen. How beneficial is it to have that existing relationship with your starring man? And how beneficial is it to work with such a great actor like Mads?
Thomas Vinterberg: I knew Mads from The Hunt and from traveling around the world with that film, and from living very close to him in this neighborhood. Having become his friend gave us a lot of mutual faith when we started on this project. There’s a common understanding of things, we grew up from the same soil, having the same heroes, having the same understanding of moviemaking. So there’s an element of trust, which creates an environment where you can actually be courageous, where you can do things that you wouldn’t normally do, such as bursting into a dance at the end of a movie or stuff like that. So this safe zone between us creates courage and actually allows us to leave that safe zone.
Yeah, absolutely it does. So you mentioned before about some improvisational work, how different is the final film that we actually saw from the scripts you originally wrote?
Thomas Vinterberg: I can’t remember to be honest! I think it’s pretty close to the script. It’s as if when you write a script, there’s something at the beginning that makes a long detour, trying a lot of stuff. Then you end with something slightly similar to where you started but with some improvements that you found on the way, and I guess it was the same here. With the editing of [Another Round], it was a very different movie than anything else I’ve tried. This movie did not like to be controlled. What I normally do is curate things, repeat things, and try to sort of create a hole. This one liked to be a cocktail of all sorts of different flavors.
There are scenes that are really silly when they find catch Codfish in the harbor, there are tender scenes where Max is crying, there is a documentary sequence with foreign politicians, and there’s a musical scene at the end, so we’re in all sorts of different directions. And every time we tried to tame that, it became a castration of the script. It was the same experience in the editing. So it was very difficult. It was untameable, and we had to obey that somehow while still finding a way to control it.
We want to congratulate you on your Oscar nomination for Best Director! The fact that you were able to manage all the contrasting tones so beautifully in the film, because in many other projects it could almost come across as jarring, but it hits the mark perfectly in Another Round. Could you expand on how you were able to manage this contrast in terms of the film’s themes?
Thomas Vinterberg: The first thing to do was to accept that this should not be equal. It’s not even, it has to run in different directions. Secondly, it was about creating a very strong connection to the characters. So we follow them through all these different landscapes and atmospheres in terms of the movie, but stuff like that is just a result of hard work. We edited for a very long time. If you looked at a micro version of the whole film, I guess that’s the dinner scene, the beginning. They go through tears and dancing, discussions, and all sorts of flavors. It’s all in that dinner scene, and it took a month editing. It’s not easy. It’s a result of a lot of hard work.
Absolutely. So we actually spoke a little bit before the interview about how the film has really resonated with cultures around the world, such as British culture, which you mentioned in your speech at the BAFTAs. So with a film that’s so deeply rooted in Danish culture, were you surprised by the International reaction it has had across the world?
Thomas Vinterberg: I was indeed surprised with the reaction, and very satisfied! I think that people realized that this movie is about more than just drinking. They felt the undercurrent of love and celebration of life, and the undercurrent of rioting against an over-controlled existence, rioting against the performance culture, where everything is a result of strategies. I think also the specificity of the movie is what makes it universal. Ironically, when I watched some of the other movies in the Oscar race, such as Minari, it’s the same thing. They become rich from specificity, because this is told from people deeply grounded in the soil of their own country, such as I am. And that makes it interesting for other people, as opposed to when you start making something general. People lose interest.
Then, of course, this film landed right in the middle of the pandemic. I actually think that has elevated it further. There’s a need for running around in the streets, sharing bottles, dancing, embracing each other, holding hands, celebrating life. People live isolated, they feel lonely. And loneliness is a strong theme at the beginning of this movie. They overcome that through being together, which is now not allowed.
So in your BAFTA speech after winning Best Film Not in the English Language, you said that Another Round was made for your daughter, Ida. Could you possibly tell us what it means for such a deeply personal project to receive the reaction it has?
Thomas Vinterberg: My daughter died while doing this movie. And already before she died, this movie was so much about her and her generation; her school, her classroom, her friends, about being young, about being weightless. So the only possible way to finish this movie was to make it for her. She’s become an inseparable part of this film. So whenever it receives praise, such as when we won at the Baftas, it means something that I haven’t tried before. It’s as if it’s arriving to me, and it streams onwards to my daughter. Basically, it helps. It helps me honoring her memory.
Thank you so much for speaking about that Thomas, we really appreciate it. In an interview, you actually mentioned that the actors on this film were often trying just to make you laugh and use this to help you through this awful time. I was wondering if you could expand a bit on that and your relationship with the actors through this period?
Thomas Vinterberg: They could see how much I was in grief, and they were in grief as well. The movie, to some extent, is also about grief, but the film was also full of comedic scenes. And when they could see a smile on my face, they became so satisfied on a deeper level. Not just as actors but suddenly also as friends. If they found me chuckling a little bit, it was, I guess, ecstatic for them. So everyone on this crew and, of course, the four actors in the middle of this, gave me everything they had. They were all very unprotected and honest. There’s art by this. There was a lot of beauty in the darkness.
You already mentioned that Another Round came out during the pandemic, I think there are links in this film and to what you said about finding that beauty in an awful situation and how important that idea is right now. Would you say that almost makes this the perfect film to be coming out at this time?
Thomas Vinterberg: I must say, I feel the oppression of the pandemic. The isolation of the pandemic, of course, is on the top of our minds right now. But before that, there was something even equally serious, which is that element of control in our lives. Which I also find important, and which will return to us right after the pandemic. I feel that the youngsters that I’m making this movie for, in Denmark at least, they feel historically bad because they have to appear constantly. They have to perform constantly, have to appear on social media where they have to perform, have to perform at school, they have to perform socially.
They’re constantly evaluated and they need the free space. I think that’s why they drink. That’s why they wander around in the streets. They need to lose control. And I have to remind you, the element of the uncontrollable is something that can lead to very beautiful things. Such as falling in love. You “fall”, lose control, and you meet something grand which you cannot plan for, which you cannot study at school, which you cannot find on the internet. And there’s not much room left for that. Our film is trying to reach out for this.