Flash back to Cannes, 2003, the press conference for Dogville. Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier leaned toward his superstar lead, Nicole Kidman, and put her on the spot before the international press. Despite the hardships she’d endured making Dogville, would she stay on for his projected trilogy? Trier nudged her. “Say, ‘Lars, I’m going to star in your three Grace films, no matter what it will cost me.’ ”
Under duress, Kidman replied, “Lars, you know there’s no doubt I will.”
Kidman dropped out months later, saying no to Manderlay, the second film. Trier replaced her with Bryce Dallas Howard, daughter of Ron Howard. At Cannes 2005, at the press conference for Manderlay, Howard required no urging to declare herself among the director’s devotees. “I would amputate my toes to work for Lars again,” she stated, “and that’s really not an exaggeration. As for filling Nicole’s shoes: to survive that [anxiety], I had to feel that she was only in the first part of the trilogy and I was in the second. I was enchanted by Dogville, watched it several times, but I didn’t try to do any mimicry.”
Howard takes over as earnest do-gooder Grace, who in 1933 Alabama tries to bring reform to a still-existing slave plantation. Actors Danny Glover, who plays the plantation’s most compliant, Uncle Remus–like slave, and France’s Isaach De Bankolé, who portrays the most militant and oppositional one, were also at the press conference. Both expressed their support for Trier, a white Dane who has never been to the USA, in his dealing with the plight of American blacks.
“When I read the script, I didn’t see it as full of stereotypes,” said De Bankolé, a French-African actor known for his performances in the films of Claire Denis. “Lars’s point was to leave stereotypes behind. France and many European countries were deeply involved in colonialism. When was the last time you saw a film about it? I was in Denis’s [1988 film] Chocolat. Since, hardly any Europeans have dealt with the subject.”
“For me to do this film,” said Glover, “was to go through the litany of what my ancestors did, this idea of democracy built on the backs of slaves. The conscription of black men as a labor force is not something Lars made up, it’s a reality. He had the courage to bring up these issues and to ask us to relive these issues.”
“There’s one thing that kills debate in any country, that’s political correctness,” Trier said, joining the discussion. “If you’re PC, you all agree. I’ve gotten a lot of advice about what to say and what not to say at this press conference. It’s never happened before. With PC, the ships wouldn’t move.