The star of Marie Kreutzer's Corsage reveals the demanding details of portraying an empress.
At the centre of Marie Kreutzer’s Corsage lies a spellbinding performance by Vicky Krieps as the Empress Elisabeth of Austria, who, upon turning 40, begins to unravel and rebel against her royal duties. The film marks a stunning run for the actor, following Phantom Thread and Bergman Island.
LWLies: What were your first encounters with Empress Elisabeth?
Krieps: I knew her from the movies with Romy Schneider, which I was not allowed to watch at my house because my mum was very emancipated. We didn’t have any princess stuff, but my neighbours did, so I would watch the movies there. They also had the biography, and I read it. As I got to the end of the book something started to feel very dark and sad, and I remember just staying with this mystery. I could just sense there was something wrong, but I was too young to understand. There seemed to be a difference between what I read and what I had seen in the Ernst Marischka movies.
What were the physical preparations you had to do?
Everything [Laughs]. There was the horse riding on the ladies’ saddle, and it is very difficult to ride on a ladies’ saddle! It’s just bloody stupid. I loved the fencing, but I had to learn to do it with high shoes and a corset which, again, is bloody stupid. You can’t move. I could’ve screamed all through the shoot because every single thing was annoying and made me feel trapped. When I wore the corset I couldn’t eat solid foods, so I had to make smoothies and soups and I could only eat at night. I knew probably every single thing about her you can imagine. I was full of a million different things, but once I was on set, I let it all go. In German we say ‘scheiß drauf’, like I really didn’t give a shit, because she wouldn’t have given a shit – and that’s what made her suffocate.
That definitely comes across in the ways you channel Sissi’s melancholy through mischief, which brought this dark comedic element to the film.
Sometimes when I needed strength – because it was very, very hard to make this movie – I would close my eyes and hold Sissi on my right hand and Romy Schneider on my left, and I would say: Okay, now we go to the playground. I wanted to give this gift to them; the possibility to play, and misbehave, and make mistakes and not be perfect. I wanted to break the image of the perfect beautiful princess, of the perfect beautiful actress that Romy Schneider had been trapped in. Both had suffered from the same thing. There was no makeup on my face, and I know that was such an important part of both their lives, trapped in being beautiful and having to live up to that beauty. What a terror, really!
Were there any particular parts of the mythology that Marie Kreutzer decided to embrace in her script, that particularly drew you in?
It was really her research that brought up that Sissi had this friendship with her cousin. He was seen as a complete freak anyway, he liked to have his boys – the movie Ludwig is about him. It’s interesting that they were cousins and that they were both seen as so difficult. They were probably friends because they both felt that same “ugh” feeling about society. I knew about her daughter, but what Marie did… she showed the daughter becoming the father. I have kids and I see this with my daughters sometimes. They can become the moral voice of your conscience and say “mum, behave now”. The way Marie did it is so heartbreaking. Even the girl, who was wonderful to work with, got very sad and upset. I had to hold her in my arms for a long time. She could feel the harshness of her character. It must have been true because if you read her diary, she was very severe towards her mother, unfortunately. And of course the son, who famously killed himself. What he says in the movie, “the monarchy is dying” is actually a Sissi quote. She said that very early on, which is why it’s so ironic that she got killed by an anarchist, when she herself was an opponent of monarchy.
And with her ladies-in-waiting, there was this closeness that people never know, because it is so difficult when you talk about people that lived before. We don’t actually know what happened, so we might as well use it as an opportunity to make a fairytale, to say something about our society. The same way she brings in Louis Le Prince, possibly the first person to shoot a moving picture sequence using a single lens camera and a strip of film. When she found out about him, she was shocked that she was taught in film school that it was the Lumière brothers who did it first. No one talks about him, and that’s also unfair. He seemed to be ahead of his time just like Sissi.I think this woman was more intelligent than anything she was allowed to be.
I want to know what it was like to work with those beautiful dogs.
Oh, I love them… but to work with them was a pain in the ass! This breed of dog isn’t made to be trained like that. They are known to be almost like cats – very independent. But looking back, I love that they were misbehaving. My dress was always full of sausage for the dogs to follow me, but they still wouldn’t follow! The costume designer had a fit because the dresses had grease stains on them from the sausage. There’s a scene when Florian Teichtmeister comes in the room while I’m naked in the bed, and I think the dogs could feel something in his energy because they started defending me. They were standing there looking at him and growling as he moved towards me because they could feel the threat of something coming for me.
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Published 20 Dec 2022
Vicky Krieps gives an acting masterclass as the despondent Empress Elisabeth of Austria.
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