The Worst Person in the World’s Renate Reinsve Finds Strength in Chaos

Reinsve was on the verge of quitting acting forever, then she won Best Actress at Cannes.

Interview by Lynn Hirschberg
Photographs by Tim Walker
Styled by Sara Moonves
Originally Published: 

Renate Reinsve wears a Louis Vuitton jacket, top, and shorts.
Renate Reinsve wears a Louis Vuitton jacket, top, and shorts.

Renate Reinsve can’t stand two-dimensional characters. No, she prefers them messy, chaotic, indecisive, or self-sabotaging—in other words, a lot like her character Julie, from Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World, an ambivalent, meandering millennial on the cusp of turning 30, living in Oslo, and constantly mucking up her own life. The film, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, struck a nerve for its audience and landed Reinsve the Best Actress award (leading her to also become the first Norwegian to take home the trophy). For W’s annual Best Performances issue, Reinsve opens up about her seemingly overnight success, and why she finds strength in a vulnerable character who is “stumbling around in her own chaos.”

When did you decide you wanted to be an actress?

I was 9 years old when I decided to become an actress. I didn't have a very safe home, so I went to acting classes, and I got to discover what I was going through through other characters. I got to think about all the big existential questions through a character or through another world. I guess it was subconscious, but it was important.

What’s the first job you auditioned for that you actually booked?

Oslo, August 31st. I auditioned for Joachim Trier, who also directed The Worst Person in the World. It's the first thing that I ever booked. I had one line. It was, “Let's go to the party,” in Norwegian. It was for a rave scene. I didn't get a lot of film roles after that. A lot of the characters after that were very two-dimensional in a very plot-driven script. I wasn't too comfortable in it. I did a lot of theater, but then actually one day, I decided to quit acting forever and ever.


Because of how things were produced. I feel that it's not given enough space for the art of it, the existential conversations, and that’s why I wanted to act in the first place. I wanted to quit, and then the day after, Joachim called me for this role.

Did he tell you the name of the film when he called you?

He called me, and he said, "Do you want to do this role? I wrote this role for you, and the movie's going to be called The Worst Person in the World.” I thought, “Oh, my ex is going to be very happy.” My face on the posters, The Worst Person in the World. Perfect. In Norway, we have this saying, it's self-deprecation. Norway is a rich country, an oil country, so if you don't succeed [there], then you're the worst person in the world. Most people are quite privileged in what they can choose in life.

Reinsve wears a Louis Vuitton jacket.

Did you find the movie funny?

Yeah, it’s funny. Julie is so self-destructive. The first time I read it, the wedding scene was earlier in the film. She sneaks into a party because she's sad and feels lonely and feels that she hasn't succeeded as much as her boyfriend. Then she sneaks into a wedding and just flirts with a guy. I like it. She's badass. You see her stumbling around in her own chaos, but I think she's very wise. She's trying to figure out why she's uncomfortable in the social structure she's in. Being vulnerable is how you can understand what you're going through in life. I think she's very strong because of that. I felt it was implied in the script that Aksel, Julie’s first boyfriend, was a bit stronger because he could articulate everything he was going through. He could put everything into words and context, but she couldn't. But I think that should also be a strong place to be: in the chaos.

What was it like getting all dressed up for the Cannes Film Festival?

I never wore fashion or anything before. I only had secondhand stuff in my life. And then suddenly after Cannes, now I have all these fancy clothes.

Do you feel different now that you’re famous?

I feel very strongly that I'm only myself. I’m 33 now. I’m very glad that it didn’t happen when I was 23, because now I know my values. I know where I stand, and I think that's very important. It's very confusing when everybody starts seeing you in a different way and relates to you in a different way. So I'm very glad to have my very good friends.

Did you cry when you accepted your award for Best Actress at Cannes?

I cried a lot, and my brain shut down. I was trying to say something intelligent about the way Joachim worked and how that was why it all came together, because of his collectiveness and the way he works. But I couldn't say anything. I said something like, “It was fun and easy to work on this film.” Of course it was very fun and easy, because I feel it's easier to play someone who actually goes very deep into the questions about what it is to love and live and be a human being today than play a two-dimensional character. I think that's the hardest to play.

Who was your cinematic crush growing up?

Viggo Mortensen. I was very, very nerdy when I was growing up, so I saw The Lord of the Rings in the cinema maybe 13 times. I wanted to be the elf that he fell in love with. And then I moved over to David Lynch. I got obsessed with David Lynch, but there wasn't someone to fall in love with in his movies. I saw Mulholland Drive 20 times. I saw Eraserhead, and it's strange. Lynch said he made his movies based on his dreams, so I really appreciate when someone dared to use ideas from strange places.

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