It sounds like a story fit for the tabloids. The dashing chief curator of a modern art museum in Stockholm finds himself in the midst of a professional fiasco while at the very same time he’s attempting to manage an out-of-control personal crisis as well as an off-the-rails affair with an American journalist. If it seems like a lot to take in, well, it is—but that’s part of the charm of The Square, the latest film from Swedish director Ruben Östlund. The movie won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year.
Claes Bang, a 50-year-old Danish stage veteran, stars as Christian, the troubled curator. His undeniable screen presence, coupled with the film’s funny, strange, and at-times discomfiting take on the art world, has won him an array of accolades and even ignited a grassroots campaign to have the dashing Dane step into the role of James Bond when its current inhabitant retires. Here, Bang talks to T&C about landing the part, its most challenging moments, and what his next big role may be.
Claes Bang and Elisabeth Moss in The Square
This movie has been huge you for. How did you get the part?
I went to a regular casting. Well, not that regular because Ruben is really thorough, so we did three castings for this one—and they were all two or three hours long. The casting director in Denmark is a personal friend of mine, and she told me that she got the task to find an actor for the film. I was like, “Oh my God, that sounds amazing,” but I was dead sure that after Ruben’s previous film [2014’s Force Majeure], he could get any actor in the world he wanted. I thought it was such a longshot.
What about the character did you find most interesting?
It wasn’t so much about the character, actually, it was about working with Ruben. It was also about the story—I thought the story was just amazing, and I thought the script was amazing. Ruben has this way of working, he does one scene a day or perhaps spends two or three days for one scene—we shot this over 78 days and I was there for 76, I think. I was really interested in this way of working, because it allows you as an actor to really dig deep into the material and so it wasn’t like I thought that the character was the thing that was driving it. It was more about working with Ruben, working with this story, and working in the way that he’s working.
That must have made this different than other films you’ve worked on.
I’ve done a lot of television over the last years, and you know, with some television productions, if you can do with just one take, you can move on and do something else. This was something quite different, to really allow yourself the time to really explore and investigate what can you do with this.
It’s a movie with some very uncomfortable parts to watch. What was most difficult to film?
The most challenging scene to do for me was the press conference where my character is resigning from the museum, because journalists really grilled me super hard. I mean, at least half of them were real journalists, and Ruben, he really wanted me in a corner, so they just hit me with all kinds of tough questions.
Ruben I think, really wanted me to feel really bad so he actually treated me like Christian. We argued so much on those two days, and he really wasn’t too nice to me over those two days—and I can see in the film that I’m super uncomfortable sitting there—so he actually got what he wanted.
Claes Bang in The Square
On the other hand, one of the most enjoyable parts of watching the movie is the way it skewers a very specific part of the art world. Is that something you were able to research?
I met with museum directors in Denmark just to find out what kind of job it actually is. And Ruben and I spent a lot of time rehearsing as well for these different things. At one point, I could actually answer any question you could ask a museum director, I mean, about how a museum is run, how it’s funded, what is important, what kind of art would you go for at this moment.
The movie was a hit out of Cannes, you won the Palme d’Or, you were nominated for the Jury Prize and the Grand Prix. This was a big deal. Was that surprising to you?
I don’t think you walk around thinking, okay, I’m going to be surprised if this doesn’t win. But I definitely had the feeling that we were doing something really special because I thought the story was amazing, and I think the dramaturge of the film is like something you’ve never seen before. I didn’t think too much about it while we were shooting, and when we were in Cannes, and we won, it was perhaps a little bit of a surprise in the sense that everybody was saying, ‘you made a marvelous film, and it’s super good, and it’s very, very funny, but it’s also too funny to win in Cannes.’ Everybody said that a film that funny can’t win because normally your Cannes winner will be something more serious. It’s not very often that a film that’s bordering on comedy has won in Cannes. When we actually got to the awards ceremony, I think we were a little bit surprised that we got that prize, the biggest one, because the predictions were something else.
There’s a lot of talk about what’s coming up next for you after this part. Can you clue us in?
Well, I’m here right now, in L.A., meeting a lot of people and I think a deal is actually almost there. I think it’s going to be finalized in the next few days, but until I’ve actually signed it, I won’t say anything about it. But it looks super cool, it’s a very interesting project here.
*This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com
*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors