Director discusses award, casting process

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In Susanne Bier’s drama, “In a Better World,” Christian (William Nielsen), reeling from his mother’s death, draws his friend Elias (Markus Rygaard) and Elias’ father Anton (Mikael Persbrandt) into a vicious cycle of violence and revenge. The Daily Texan interviewed director Susanne Bier about her Oscar-winning film at this year’s South by
Southwest festival.
“In a Better World” was Bier’s first nomination at the Oscars and won Best Foreign Language Film over other strong films such as Canadian “Incendies” and the
Greek “Dogtooth.”
The film was written by Anders Thomas Jensen, but Bier helped shape the direction of the film’s
story line.
“He’d written some scenes where some boys were being interrogated by police. We started somewhere, and we moved on to what it became. We’d talk about a lot of things, and then he’ll write like 10 pages, and then we’ll discuss those and move on from there,” Bier said.
Nielsen made his debut as Christian, the role around which the film revolves. Casting was a long and difficult process for Bier.
“We did an extensive search, probably 120 kids. I auditioned 12 of them myself, but I was very keen on this guy [Nielsen],” she said. “I thought he had something really charismatic and fascinating. I was kind of anxious to have a difficult part played by a boy, and that was a really big challenge. He felt right, though. He was the boy I wanted.”
Ultimately, Bier’s gamble paid off, and Nielsen’s is easily the best performance in the film. However, there was a slight acclimation period for the young actor.
“[Child actors] are less experienced than grown-up actors,” she said. “At first, he felt a bit threatened to be this horrible kid who screams and hits his dad, but after he kind of caught on to it, he really enjoyed the fact that he was this vicious boy. He really understood the whole process of being someone else for a short while, and then becoming
yourself again.”
When the film was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Academy Awards, many awards season pundits correctly predicted it would be the winner over the other, less traditional nominees.
“It was amazing. I can’t really say what was going through my mind, because it’s like ... When you’re on the stage, you realize that, sitting on the floor are all the people you’ve admired your entire life. It’s pretty striking,” Bier said about her Oscar win.
“In a Better World” opened Friday at the Regal Arbor and the Violet Crown.