Harris Dickinson Navigates The Triangle Of Sadness [Interview]
Jan 30, 2023
“It’s only downhill, for me isn’t?” That was Harris Dickinson’s cheeky response when asked about what it was like to star in a Palme d’Or winning film so early in his career. That film, Ruben Östlund’s “Triangle of Sadness,” has been something of a lightning rod since its Cannes premiere and, frankly, is likely another stepping stone for the increasingly in-demand British actor.
READ MORE: Cannes 2022: “Triangle of Sadness” wins the Palme d’Or [Full Winners List]
Östlund’s dark political satire finds Dickinson playing Carl, a male model whose career is quickly fading in the ultra-competitive fashion world. His girlfriend Yaya (the late Charlbi Dean) is also a model but still walking major fashion shows and decidedly better at using her looks as an influencer on social media. Thanks to her Instagram skills, the pair find themselves on a free trip on a gorgeous luxury yacht. Unfortunately, the boat is filled with out-of-touch wealthy travelers including a timely Russian oligarch (Zlatko Burić) and a passionately socialist captain who can barely put up with his passenger list (Woody Harrelson). When a storm hits, everyone on board finds their social standing flipped upside down, including our handsome hero.
The film’s trailer has already received a lot of attention for revealing a massive seasickness scene which, frankly, might have been better served as a surprise for first-time viewers. Dickinson’s character is more of an observer during those moments, but still experienced the rocky set that was something like an amusement park ride.
“We were in the studio in Sweden, and they built a boat that moved on these big things,” Harrison recalls. “And each day, we’d come in, and they’d give us seasickness sweets in the morning, or tablets. And they’d say, ‘Take those if you want to have a good day.’ And we’re like, ‘Oh God. What’s this?’ But yeah, it was funny. It was funny doing all of that. Yeah, we were potentially going to be throwing up as well, Charlbi and I, but Ruben spared us.”
During the course of our interview, Dickinson, who is currently on screen in “See How They Run” (a comedy he shot after “Triangle”) and will soon star in Sean Durkin‘s wrestling drama “The Iron Claw,” spoke about Östlund’s reputation for multiple takes in a scene, those long Cannes standing ovations, working with Charlbi and much more.
The Playlist: There was a horrible tragedy with one of your co-stars passing away unexpectedly last month. And I know you did not expect to have to speak about a tragedy during your press tour, but what do you remember the most about filming with Charlie? And what memories will you take from shooting with her?
Harris Dickinson: Oh yeah, it’s weird talking about this film, doing press for this film without Charlbi. I think I’m just really grateful to have worked with her and to have worked so closely with such a wonderful artist and wonderful person. She was a real light to everyone around her on set, and yeah, man, taken too soon and just tragic. But I’m glad that people are going to get to see her work.
Well, let’s talk about the film itself. When I spoke to Ruben he mentioned that Charlbi went through a number of auditions to land the role. Was it a long process in your case as well?
I had one with Ruben in London, and then I had one with a few other actresses that were potentially Yayas. And then I had one audition with a potential Nelson [Jean-Christophe Folly], the pirate. So, I guess four.
When you got the script, what about the project appealed to you?
Well, I loved the dynamic between the characters. I loved the conversations, I loved the writing. I loved Ruben’s work previously. I think there were many conversations within the film that my character was having that were interesting and provocative. And it was just material that I’d never really been involved in before. So for me, it was like, “Yeah, I’m into this.”
Was there anything that Ruben told you about Carl that wasn’t necessarily in the screenplay that you remember? Was there anything that he wanted you to focus on?
No, it was the opposite. I was really set on trying to find this person. I always approach it from, “Who is this character? Let me try and build this person.” And there was a lot of that going on. But also, Ruben doesn’t want to get caught up in the facts and figures of the past. We spoke about Carl, and we spoke about who he is and where he’s come from, and where he stands in this current time when we meet him. But that was it. And then when we moved on, it was always about that exact day that we were working and the exact moment where we were discovering bits of him. And there were times when I’d say, “Oh man, I don’t know. If I do this, or if Carl will do this.” And he was like, “Well, let’s push it there. Let’s let him go there.” And then it becomes something out of your control, where you are just doing things that are out of any sort of character description.” So he gave me so much, but also nothing too descriptive if that makes sense.
Do you think Carl likes his life? Do you think he likes doing what he does?
No, I don’t think so. I think he’s quite resentful of where he’s ended up. He was at a point previous, where he was getting good money for a big campaign, and he was like heat of the moment, and then he’s back to auditioning. He’s not happy where he is. His girlfriend’s doing really well, she’s walking a big show. In the original script, my character was losing his hair, and he was getting pushed aside a little bit. So yeah, I don’t think he was happy where he was.
Ruben is known for doing a ton of takes. Do you remember what was the longest number of takes you did for a scene? And was that tough on you, or did you enjoy it?
We did a scene, the elevator scene, where we argue about the bill. We did that, we spent a whole day on that. And I remember that being a lot of takes. I remember that being maybe 40 takes or something. And we went to lunch. And in the morning, we did Charlbi’s coverage. And so I was there, shouting and going through that whole thing. And then in the afternoon after lunch, we came back, and we went out again with my coverage. So that was intense, man. And I was just absolutely spent after that. I was done after that.
And that must have been, I’m assuming, towards the beginning of the shoot, right?
Yeah, that was.
Were you like, “Oh no, what have I gotten into?”
Well, I liked it. I’d never been a part of something where it was so consuming. I liked it. I was craving it. Sometimes in film, it’s too, I don’t want to say easy, but it’s too … You do three takes, and it’s all very, “That was all right.” And then you move on, and then you sit down for half an hour. And they set up, and then you come back, and you do another two takes. And then they do a shot of your hand, and then you go and sit down for half an hour. And it’s just like, it can be boring sometimes. And with Ruben, it was never boring. It was never boring because it was always so challenging, and I’d much rather be challenged than bored.
You’ve appeared in films such as “The Kingsman” where there were some comedic bits, but this really is the first film, correct me if I’m wrong, you made that was at least a partial comedy. Did you feel like you were making a comedy?
Yes, I think so. Not to sound obnoxious, but there were certain scenes we just knew were funny.
Well yeah, because we just got the sense. On the day, we found them funny. Do you know what I mean?
I don’t mean my performance, “Oh, I know I’m funny,” but I mean, I just knew that the scene and its sort of observation or its details were funny. We all found something in certain scenes, and Ruben used to laugh behind the monitor. He used to chuckle on certain takes. At first, you think, “Why is he laughing? He shouldn’t laugh during a take.” But then you think, “Actually, there’s something quite … ” And I think he did it on purpose. There’s something quite encouraging about when you are with friends, and you are on a roll, and you’re telling a funny story, and they’re laughing, you carry on. It gives you energy. It probably makes you funnier because you realized that. You realize it’s work, or whatever it is. And that energy, you get the energy. And you get it, and it works. And he realizes that. So yeah, there were moments where we definitely felt like it was a comedy.
It’s been teased in the trailer, so I’m not really giving anything away for people who haven’t seen the film, but some of the characters have a problem with a sudden bout of seasickness. And I know you’re only in a bit of that sequence but can you talk about shooting it? Was it nauseating? Was it funny?
Well, when we filmed that, we were in the studio in Sweden, and they built a boat that moved on these big things. And each day, we’d come in, and they’d give us seasickness sweets in the morning, or tablets. And they’d say, “Take those if you want to have a good day.” And we’re like, “Oh God. What’s this?” But yeah, it was funny. It was funny doing all of that. Yeah, we were potentially going to be throwing up as well, Charlbi and I, but Ruben spared us.
This sounds like a stupid question, but was it fun to be on a set that keeps going back and forth? Or were you like, “O.K., let’s stop this ride for a little bit. That’s enough.”?
No, that wasn’t fun. It was a bit nauseating. Yeah. [Laughs.]
On to another subject then. What was Cannes like for you? And how do you feel now about starring in a Palme d’Or-winning film so early in your career?
No, it’s only downhill for me, isn’t it? [Laughs]
I doubt that.
Oh man, it’s cool. I’m so happy to be in this film. I’m so happy to share this achievement with everyone when we were at that screening and we were getting that applause. And it’s an absurd thing. It’s just a surreal moment when you’re standing up and everyone’s applauding like that for an unnatural amount of time. It’s like one minute, two minutes, three minutes, four-minute, and you’re like, “What do I do here?” But I said to myself, “I’m really going to absorb this, and I’m really going to try and take this in because I worked really hard.” Everyone worked really hard. And to see Ruben and his whole team awarded that was like, f**k, man, it was just so nice and so well deserved. For anyone that doesn’t think Ruben deserved that, if you saw the effort and the time that he and his crew put into each day at work, it’s insanely impressive for anyone in any career, in any industry.
Ruben mentioned that he had sent the cast links to the film so you knew what it was and were prepared before you saw it. Can you talk about the differences in seeing it by yourself and then with an audience for the first time? Could you separate criticizing your own performance from the film itself?
No, I definitely separated. I watched it on my own and got that out the way, got the sort of self-scrutiny out of the way, and then I was able to enjoy it. Cannes, I was nervous, and it was fun, and the audience..there was a lot happening. There were a lot of different reactions and cheers and shouts and screams and gags and all of that. And then we watched it at TIFF recently, and that was similarly just as entertaining and wild, even more so maybe than Cannes. So, that was nice. I really enjoyed it. There are not many films I’ve been involved in that I can sit there and enjoy it like that. And this is one of them because I don’t feel there’s pressure on me to hold this film or whatever. It’s not my film, it’s an ensemble. So yeah, you just watch it and enjoy it and go on the wild ride that is “Triangle of Sadness.”
“Triangle of Sadness” opens in limited release on Friday.
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