Mia Goth is the half Brazilian, half Canadian picture of innocence starring in Lars Von Trier’s highly anticipated feature film Nymphomaniac. But behind the fresh-faced smile, there’s a whole lot of personality just waiting to get out!
We meet Mia Goth at her modelling agency on King’s Road, Chelsea. She suggests a smoothie peddler round the corner. “I go there when I want to treat myself,” she says, recommending something called a Leopard Banana. They don’t serve a Leopard Banana, but a Cheetah Shake is on offer. “Well, at least I was close,” she shrugs. Mia has natural star quality; a perfect balance of everyday and otherworldliness. She offers a smoke and then loses her light in a massive Prada bag. Drinking her Cheetah Shake, she absently wraps herself in the feathery fur coat she wears. She’s just turned 20, and she’s long and loose-limbed, high-voiced and fey. She’s half Brazilian, half Canadian and, while she’s beautiful, it’s not a classical beauty. She has a face that might betray her in its expressiveness; large eyes and almost invisible brows, a slightly upturned nose, a smile that can go and on and on again. Mia is not at full wattage here; that’s saved for the cameras. Instead, she’s funny and playful, as if she’s catching up with an old friend. Yet, as Lars von Trier so cruelly shows, Mia can change in a breath – from vulnerable to malevolent, from childlike to violent, from someone to care for and love as a daughter, to someone you might atavistically want to fuck.
“When I first met Lars [Von Trier] he was sat on the sofa wearing socks and sandals. He wanted me to imagine my cat had died. It took me a while to think about it, but then I felt myself physically crumble. I got myself into a state that was actually pretty hard to get out of.”
Eighteen months ago, Mia Goth was asked to try out for Lars von Trier’s new tour de force Nymphomaniac – a four and a half hour “abridged and censored” arthouse-veiled jaw-dropping porno shocker from the enfant terrible of Denmark’s Dogme 95 generation. It’s a story of one woman’s need for sexual realisation that, in this case, happens more than a few times a day. “Fill all my holes please,” is a request heard more than once. Mia’s first audition was the same day as her last A-level exam. She read for P, a confused teenager with a criminal background who is chosen to be the protégé of Joe, Charlotte Gainsbourg’s sex-addicted and sadomasochistic heroine. Then she went to a friend’s parent’s pad – “this, like, crazy huge mansion” - in the south of France, turned her phone off and partied hard.
A week into her holiday, an increasingly agitated mother managed to get in touch; Mia had a second audition. She got a flight home and went straight from the airport. A couple of weeks passed, and then her agent called. Lars wanted to meet in Copenhagen. “I didn’t sleep the night before,” she says. “I read my scene again and again. There were two other girls going for the audition too, but I felt really competitive. I can remember looking at them and thinking: ‘Yeah, you’ve got nothing over me. This is mine."
“My character had never known love, so she mistakes everything for sexual love. I was very deep into that character, so the sex scenes came very naturally to me.”
“Lars was sat on the sofa with his sandals and socks. He doesn’t say much at all, but he told me to forget about the scenes, we were just going to play. And the first thing he wanted me to do was imagine my cat had died. It took me a while to think about it, but then I felt myself crumble physically. I got myself into a state that was actually pretty hard to get out of.”
Nymphomaniac was the first film set Mia stepped foot on: “I was like a little kid,” she says. “But I just felt so hungry. I would have done anything Lars asked. I didn’t have fear because I trusted him.”
Nevertheless, the pressure on her was enormous, because Mia’s P is maybe the most crucial supporting character in Nymphomaniac. Along with Shia Labeouf’s Jerôme, P is the only partner Joe feels anything for, because P sparks in her a maternal feeling. But Joe’s all consuming desire results in a virtuoso scene – the two of them lost in violent, teeth-bared sex as Joe cries hysterically. “I knew I had to give myself to it, but I’m a rookie – I’ve never done this before,” Mia says of finding P. “I decided to be P. Any situation I was in, I’d imagine what P would do. Throughout the whole of Nymphomaniac, and even now, P never died. I became her.”
Of the sex scenes, she says: “P had never known love, so she mistakes everything for sexual love. I was very deep into that character, so the sex scenes came very naturally. It helped that Charlotte’s a girl, so we both knew what we were doing.”
Yet Mia is not best known for her role in Nymphomaniac. Instead, it’s for her newfound intimacy with Nymphomaniac co-star Shia LaBeouf. The pair met on von Trier’s set, and Shia fell for her. Type her name into Google and you now get a hundred pictures taken from a distance – “like birds in a tree,” she says of the paparazzi, pulling a face - of her and Shia in New York, in LA, in London and Rio de Janeiro, accompanied by pseudo-revealing ‘articles’ in the Mail Online or Huffington Post. They’ve never confirmed or talked about the relationship, and I’m forbidden from doing so in this interview. She only refers to him in passing, or simply talks of ‘we.’ “We went to Rio over Christmas,” she says. “I have family over there. We went down to Copacabana beach for New Year’s Eve – apparently there were 2.5 million people there. We partied right down the beach and everyone was dancing – one minute samba and the next minute electro. You could walk into the sea as the fireworks went off.”
It wasn’t an out of the ordinary experience for her though. “I didn’t have a typical upbringing,” she says. “I had a very full childhood. It means I feel a lot. I see myself as a professional feeler.” Mia was born in London but moved almost immediately to Brazil. “My first memories are of Brazil,” she says. “There’s so much music there. It’s one of my favourite places in the world.” At six she returned to the UK and spent her adolescence in Lewisham. Her father lives with Mia’s grandma in a sprawling farm in Nova Scotia, a Maritime province of Canada; it’s where Mia prepared for the role after Lars von Trier cast her in the film. “Canada was this canvas. I’d sit by this lovely bit of water my Dad has, and that’s where I got to understand P.”
The fashion photographer Gemma Booth scouted Mia at 15 at a music festival in Victoria Park, East London. “She was immediately so confident in front of the camera, like she knew exactly what to do,” Booth says. “She just comes to life and works it as soon as you open the lens. I looked back at the pictures I took at the festival and thought: ‘This girl’s got something really special.’ You don’t have to mould her into something – you can just photograph her.” Mia assisted Booth in her studio and, at the end of a day’s shoot, Booth would use the rest of her film to take pictures of her. On her final day, and with her new portfolio in hand, Booth took Mia to Storm Modelling Agency in Chelsea. They signed her within the month.
That was over four years ago, and Mia talks of the frustration of going to auditions and not getting parts, of having to remain determined in the face of rejection. “I think a lot of people didn’t get her look, her unusual energy,” Booth says. “I think she got knocked back more than I, and she, might have expected. But Lars von Trier saw it.”
I ask Mia about her future, about the person she hopes to be in ten years time. For the first time in our conversation, she takes a long pause – as if she’s never considered it before. “I want to be a woman who has a little bit more figured out, who doesn’t have so many doubts,” she says. “And then I would like to have a whole list of directors I have worked with – Woody Allen, Paul Thomas Anderson.” She pauses again. “I just want to act. And I want to be good. And I want to be happy, and I think that’s it.” Then she sits there for a while, looking away and not saying anything. And I don’t break the silence.
Mia thanks me for her Cheetah Shake and ambles down the King’s Road. She weaves through the crowd without anyone noticing, but it won’t last for long. This is the time before Nymphomaniac. And how innocent Chelsea seems.