In Another Round, Thomas Vinterberg Gives an Ode to Drunken Vitality
The director of Denmark’s 2021 Oscar hopeful on walking a fine line with his latest film, and completing it after a personal tragedy.
Danish director Thomas Vinterberg’s newest film, Another Round, explores the grand romance of getting shit-faced. But it’s not a simple film, neither in its jubilation nor its melancholy. A peculiar energy animates the director’s 11th feature, written with Tobias Lindholm, allowing the story to resist both pedantry and aloofness. Beloved by Danish audiences both young and older, the film has scored a Golden Globe nomination for best foreign language film as well as a spot on the Oscar short list for best international feature. If selected, this will be Vinterberg’s second Oscar nomination, after The Hunt.
Starring Vinterberg’s frequent collaborators Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, and Lars Ranthe, as well as Danish writer and actor Magnus Millang, Another Round focuses on a group of educators who have reached turning points in their respective midlife crises. Rather than buying classic cars, having affairs, or going to therapy, they’ve decided to run an experiment: They’ll maintain a functional level of drunkenness each day during work, stopping in the evening, and record their findings. What happens is, of course, inevitably uncontrolled.
For the director, casting his friends in the film was always a given. But he had no way to foresee how he’d come to rely not only on their skill, but also on their brotherhood. A few days into production, Vinterberg tragically lost his daughter Ida in a car accident. She had originally been set to costar as Mikkelsen’s daughter in the film, and several of her classmates appear as students. The film, literally and—you’ll be able to tell when watching—spiritually, is dedicated to her.
Vanity Fair spoke to Vinterberg over Zoom about the sources of his inspiration, the difference between Europe’s film industry and Hollywood, and how the cast brought about the indescribable energy that courses through each scene.
Vanity Fair: When you’re depicting a controversial issue like the central premise of Another Round, how do you approach it from the right angle—one that engages with the issue on an earnest level?
Thomas Vinterberg: Well, it’s about what angle, what perspective you embark on this journey with. As a writer, as an author, from my side, I consider this an investigation. I’m driven by curiosity, and I’m not trying to tell anyone anything. I’m just trying to figure out things, together with the audience. And I’m deliberately trying to be inconclusive.
I would say we are because it’s the writer, Tobias Lindholm, and myself in a collaboration. We insisted on not concluding anything. I don’t know how much people should drink, or not drink. I don’t know how people should live their lives. I’m just looking into these people’s lives, and seeing if I can learn something.
It’s pretty easy to make comparisons between Another Round and John Cassavetes’s Husbands—and you’ve called Cassavetes an American filmmaker you admire. To me, the most Cassavetes part of your film is that rather than trying to impose a pedantic vision—“this is how someone should face the consequences of their actions”—Another Round asks how people can be driving forces in their own lives.
Right. Well, the film for us had to be about more than drinking, of course. And it had to be about inspiration, and had to be about life. It had to be a life-affirming film. And the film is, in many perspectives, about putting yourself at risk. Avoiding your safe zone and the repetitiousness of life, and putting yourself on thin ice, where you have to be awake, and you have to look at the world, and where there’s a great deal of self. You lose your self-awareness when you are in the element of risk. And that’s inspiring. You open up, basically. And that’s what they try to do.
Filmmaking is very collaborative, but you’re also someone whose films are unmistakably yours. What are the challenges of making these kinds of films? What aspects of making them may be easier for someone who isn’t working in Hollywood?
Well, our system here in Europe is so different from the Hollywood system, in the sense that it’s driven by state funding. And for that reason, it’s considered an art form, meaning that I can come over…you’ve seen The Hunt, okay? I called my agent and I said, “I want to make this an American TV series.” And he said, “Forget about it.” That was before I made the movie. “You’re not going to raise a nickel for this. A guy being innocently accused for this kind of topic [sexually abusing a child], how will you convince a banker to do this?”
And then he said, “But make the movie, and make it great. And then some people will want you to make the series,” which is exactly what happened. So in our part of the world, we’re appreciated for this. We are very lucky. And yet still we’ve always been dreaming about going to Hollywood, which then represents a challenge, because when going to Hollywood, do you then lose yourself? Do you lose your thing? Does that make sense?
That makes complete sense. I can see Hollywood wanting to make an American version of Another Round. Have you thought about that, especially now since the film is an awards contender?
Yeah. It’s boiling, it’s boiling. There are people, there’s been requests. But it’s very early days, and I’m curious about what people want to do with it.
You can take this many places. Before I turned this into a movie, it was a play, but that was before I found the story. I just knew I wanted to make something about alcohol. And I wrote a play for four women actually, which is now playing here and there, but less successfully, because I hadn’t found the story yet. And then it became this movie, and I wondered what it could lead to. I’m curious about that. The movie has a very interesting balance between sarcasm and sincerity. And it’ll have to be people who understand that.
The film has a lot of younger characters as well. It was as moving to me to see these young people try to get through school as it was to watch these older people try to get through life.
Oh, but that’s the whole purpose. I mean, it’s set at a school because we wanted you to feel like that. And we wanted to place a mirror between two generations. Being my age, yearning for the weightlessness of being 16 and slightly drunk and in love at springtime. This is sort of a defining point in your life. And the youngsters who are so fearful about the future, that it’s such a burden for them. My wife is smarter than I am. She’s a priest. You see her priest [robe] hanging [in the background]?
Oh, wow, yes.
In Denmark, you can have female priests. She tells me what the movie’s about, actually. And it’s quite interesting when we talk about young people, because if you look at a young person’s life, they’re being graded all the time. They have to appear on social media 40 times a day. When you write an article for Vanity Fair, it’ll tell you how many clicks you got and how long people stayed on those clicks. When I walk around, this [Vinterberg holds up his smartphone] will measure how many steps I take. And one of my daughter’s friends, when she got depressed, she expressed how depressed she was by telling me that she’d only measured 10 steps that day. So everything is measured and controlled.
And my wife, she said there’s no room for the uncontrollable, such as being inspired, such as getting an idea. And I said, “What’s so special about getting an idea?” She said, “Well, it’s something you get. It’s not something you buy or measure or prepare. You get it from somewhere.” And another example she gave me was falling in love. You fall and you lose control and you meet something bigger. So if this movie is anything, it’s a fight for the uncontrollable, for letting go. And one of the reasons it might land pretty well right now is because it talks to a very confined, problematic world where people have to stay home and behave rationally. Not only are we in a very measured society, but we also on top of that are isolated. And there’s, I guess, sort of need for dancing in the streets and embracing each other and whatever they do, those crazy Danes.
Thomas Bo Larsen’s character, Tommy, might present a counterpoint—he seems to embody the cascading effects of risk for somebody who doesn’t have the support of a family around them. Tommy really depends on the kids he coaches, which is touching. And that turns out to be his legacy.
They’re all lonely and lost in the beginning of the movie. Trains have left the stations, and they’re just living everyday life in a kind of routine way. And I guess he is the one who’s been doing that for the longest time and he’s the one most lost. And he’s also the one having a slight alcohol problem already in the beginning, I think. You see that there’s white wine on his desk, and he’s drinking even before the dinner. And I see sort of a lost marriage somewhere 10 years before this has happened.
And yeah, I guess you’re right. He doesn’t have those elements of security that hold life together. And that’s probably maybe why he’s lost at the end. You see, this movie is written for these specific actors. And Thomas, who plays Tommy, is an anonymous alcoholic. So he’s in many ways the antithesis of the movie. He’s such a lively, inspirational, fantastic, happy-go-lucky kind of guy, and he doesn’t touch a drop of alcohol. And I guess this guy that I wrote here was who he would have been if he hadn’t stopped.
I know that you lost your daughter while filming, and that informed the energy on the set.
I lost my daughter four days into shooting this, and we stopped shooting. And nothing has been the same since, obviously. And she had close relations with the cast; they knew her because they’ve known me for so many years. The film is shot at her school, in her classroom; it’s sort of her life depicted onscreen. And the only reason we could continue was because she loved the project so much that I had some conversations with her in my head after she died, and my impression was that she would hate if this was stopped because of her.
And then the only way we could continue, which was very, very difficult—I needed help from my friends. Someone took over shooting for some time. But the only way we could do this was making this movie for her, and by doing so, the ambition of making a life-affirming film became a circumstance. We have to elevate this from being just a film about four fat bellies teaching some students to drink; it has to be about life, and about youth, and about losing that youth. And it had to be life-affirming, because I, at that point, felt very strongly that you only get that one chance.
The strange thing is that nothing changed really in the script, nothing sort of groundbreaking. But looking back at this, I think it left us very unguarded, and there was so much caring. Those four guys and the whole film crew dropped everything they had in their hands, and carried me and the project through. And that sense of care may be on the screen, that sense of love, basically. And also, they tried really, really hard to make me laugh, which actually succeeded occasionally—but which of course was a difficult challenge. So in one way, we didn’t change much, and in the other way, the film became a completely different, naked thing, inseparable from my daughter.
It must be strange to go through an award junket for something that is so personal.
It was very contrastful. Very much like the end scene of the movie. I felt that end scene was very—I’m normally calling it a beautiful catastrophe. And I realized watching it the other day that it’s pretty much how our lives look. There’s a constant row of celebration, and yet still, she died. But I have to say, it makes sense because I feel that every award this movie is being given is honoring her memory. So there’s a great satisfaction. It doesn’t feel wrong or weird; it feels like it’s for her.
I’m sure you’re asked about it in almost every interview. I know that with grief, sometimes it feels good to be asked because people aren’t tiptoeing around you. But how do you feel in general about having to talk about it?
I feel that that’s actually difficult. If I ignored it, I would feel very strange, because it’s so part of that movie and because that’s so much her; she enjoyed being talked about. And on the other hand, I’m fighting desperately against making this a story. I don’t think she deserves that. So I’m sort of caught in that. But if I talk to people who have a decent approach to it, I’ve decided to visit it. Yeah. But you know, there’s a lot of interviews, and I just don’t want to make it a story.
But it feels relevant too. With this film, I had a sense that we were going to maybe go through some sort of journey with these characters where they try something and it fails. I didn’t expect the feeling of experimentation, that there’s some alchemy happening—that you as a viewer can’t describe to someone else what you just saw. That they have to see it.
Right. But you know, there’s this thing about them being old friends, and being really, really great actors, and enjoying each other’s company. In reality, they were unstoppable. And all of them super-, super-fine-tuned instruments. And what I asked them was really difficult, and it had to be someone at their finest place in their career where they really needed the experience and being great actors, yet still sparked, because I’m asking them to defend very subtle emotional journeys—and yet still do slapstick and yet still be drunk at very specific levels. And yet still, boom, boom, boom. There’s quite a lot of things on their to-do list in this movie.
All products featured on Vanity Fair are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
— Evan Rachel Wood and Other Women Make Allegations of Abuse Against Marilyn Manson— The Bachelor Has a Bachelor Problem— Gina Carano Strikes Back After Star Wars Implosion— Buffy the Vampire Slayer Star Charisma Carpenter Speaks Out About Joss Whedon— First Look at Jared Leto’s Eerie Joker in Zack Snyder’s Justice League— Oscars 2021: The Best Bets for Best Picture— For the latest awards-season news, sign up to receive text message updates from the Little Gold Men podcast hosts— From the Archive: Mia Farrow’s Story
— Not a subscriber? Join Vanity Fair to receive full access to VF.com and the complete online archive now.