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Susanne Bier

Susanne Bier


The Independent - Radar

October 2014

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When Susanne Bier and spirits didn’t mix

Susanne Bier tells one of the best Oscar stories I’ve ever heard. It begins with Jennifer Lawrence, who stars in Bier’s new drama, Serena, alongside Bradley Cooper, and ends with the Danish filmmaker’s head in a toilet, dressed to the nines in a posh frock and diamonds, Oscar statuette at her side on the ceramic tiles.

Bier’s In A Better World was christened Best Foreign Language Film at the 2011 Oscars, and she spent the day of the ceremony in a state of high anxiety. After Helen Mirren presented her with the award, Bier, who hadn’t eaten and never drinks spirits, downed three vodka-oranges backstage in swift succession, before heading off to the Governor’s Ball (where she got a hug from Spielberg) and ending the night in a restaurant with fellow Scandinavians. Famished by then, she began devouring a plate of pasta, until an alarmed colleague pointed out the mussels within. Bier, who is violently allergic to shellfish, was forced to make a beeline to the ladies room.

“I come out trying re-establish the glamour and there are a bunch of photographers waiting,” she grimaced, reminiscing at the Zurich Film Festival. And where does Lawrence fit into her tale of vomit and victory? Attending the London Film Festival this week with Serena, Bier picks up the part of the tale she’d prefer to focus on: how she landed the Hunger Games actress for her Depression-era tragedy in which Cooper and Lawrence’s romance plays out against the backdrop of a North Carolina logging community.

Lawrence was Oscar nominated for Winter’s Bone the same year and the pair arrived on the red carpet simultaneously. As the director trailed the actress down the press line, she became convinced she’d found her film’s heroine, who ends up losing her mind. “It was clear she had everything a big star was made of,” says Bier. “The next day I called the producers and said, ‘We need to get Jennifer Lawrence.’ Back then, they didn’t think they could raise the money; now, you could finance the phone book with her.”

Indeed, by the time Serena began production in the Czech Republic, in spring 2012, the buzz around Lawrence had grown deafening, and Bier praises the actress for sticking by her side. As for the two-and-a-half year delay between production and release, Bier admits she struggled shaping a narrative driven by two largely unsympathetic characters in the edit suite. She also found herself at the mercy of superstar scheduling. It proved virtually impossible pinning Cooper and Lawrence down to re-record dialogue, a necessity due to the fact that “we had airplanes flying overhead all the time”.

Bier’s exertions show: there are awkward lurches in Serena that leave her leads flailing in the compassion stakes. But the director, who previously directed Halle Berry in Things We Lost In The Fire, isn’t fazed by her Hollywood travails.

“I’ve yet to deal with the horror stories of difficult stars. Bradley and Jennifer were completely supportive,” she says. “I think, funnily enough, American actors are less prone to impossible star behaviour than Scandinavians.”
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