Exclusive interview with Thelma stars Eili Harboe and Kaya Wilkins

Joachim Trier's THELMA is not a movie that is easily described. It's a love story, a supernatural thriller, a mystery, a drama about family. A thoroughly engaging experience, it is Norway's Oscar entry for Best Foreign Film, so you can expect to hear more about it quite soon.

It follows Thelma, a young woman (Eili Harboe) who leaves her family and home to attend university in Oslo. While there she quickly meets Anja (Kaya Wilkins), with whom she embarks on a passionate affair. But first love isn't the only thing Thelma experiences: she discovers she may just have special abilities that allow her to alter her environment, and maybe much more.

Much of the success of the film rides on the shoulders of its two leads: Eili Harboe gives a star-making performance as Thelma, while Kaya Wilkins lends excellent support as her girlfriend Anja. I recently spoke to the Norwegian actresses about their new film, collaborating with their director, sequel possibilities and more!

What was it that attracted you to Thelma to begin with?

Eili: I was fortunate enough to read the script before I was cast, so before the audition I had a good idea of who I thought Thelma was. I immediately fell in love with it and thought it was one of the best scripts I had every read. It was so exciting, I never knew what was going to happen on the next page. The character of Thelma is very complex, both emotionally and physically, and that's something that really attracted me to the project.

Kaya: I was back in Oslo during the holidays and I was asked to go audition for this film, the new Joachim Trier film. I had never really auditioned or acted before, but I was like, "It's Joachim Trier, so I would love to try." I tried for a few rounds and I got bigger and bigger chunks of the script, which got me more invested because I thought the script was so good. Then I got the whole script and I got to meet Eili, and that's when I was like, "Shit, I really want this part." Reading that script, it was kind of hard to not want to do it.

You had never auditioned for anything before? Was it a tough process for you?

Kaya: Yes and no. I just tried to use what I had. I guess I'm a sensitive person. [Laughs]

Eili: Immediately when Kaya came in, I was so drawn to her. I just thought she was so wonderful and genuine, and so natural and very honest. I had my fingers crossed the whole time that she would be the one to play Anja. Joachim asked me to tell him which girl I wanted to work with, and I was like, "Kaya, obviously, I think she's the one." And he said, "Yes, I think so too." We both had the same idea, and it was very important to me.

It sounds like he's very collaborative, is he like that on set as well?

Kaya: Definitely. Before we started shooting we had a lot of conversations about the characters, what values do the characters have, stuff like that. We were really prepared.

Eili: Joachim is always very open to suggestions. He comes up to us after every take and asks us how we felt that take went, if we have any ideas of how to move forward. And he's still very concrete in his feedback and his instructions. He has a very strong sense of what he wants, but he's still very open-minded to us being a part of that.

It's refreshing to see a film where most of the main characters are women. Was this important to you?

Eili: Yes, that was definitely something that was important to me. I think we have a responsibility as actors to make the industry progressive and actually portray female characters as something other than someone who suffers for the male, or not as complex as the male characters. I think we're heading in the right direction in general.

Eili, are you similar to Thelma in any way?

Eili: I'm from the west coast of Norway, and I moved to Oslo two years ago to study, so I think I have some similarities in that sense, that I moved to a big city and have a lot of insecurity about that. But other than that, I feel like she's very different from me. In my upbringing, my parents are very supportive of every choice I make. My father's a teacher and my mother's a doctor, they don't have that creative background, but they're still very invested in my career choice.

Was there one sequence in particular for either of you that was really memorable to shoot?

Kaya: I think the scene at the opera.

Eili: Likewise. The venue itself is so rich and so beautiful, I think you can be very inspired by the energy in that room, you get a very strong cinematic feeling, I think it really favors that scene.

Do you think there's a possibility for a sequel? It just seems like there's so much more to learn about the characters.

Eili: I would love to do a sequel.

Kaya: I would love for us to argue while doing dishes. [Laughs]

Is it something Joachim has talked about at all?

Eili: We've joked around about it, but maybe if he gets enough emails. [Laughs] This is your opportunity to effect his decision.

Extra Tidbit: THELMA is in limited theaters now and will expand in the coming weeks

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