In conversation with artist Eirik Sæther on his debut film role in Norwegian dark comedy Sick of Myself

I’m waiting to speak to Eirik and as our zoom calls starts, he’s making sure the camera is taking in an object behind him. It is a sculpture of what looks like a big cat.

Eirik: Hold on, let me just get this tiger in the image. I am an artist and I work with sculptures, so I wanted to share this work, try some subliminal messaging.

In his role in Norway’s new dark comedy, Sick of Myself, he plays an artist who steals chairs from other galleries and creates art exhibitions where he then sells them.

Eirik: You could say I was typecast in my role – but I also work with paintings and direct short films too!

Photo Credit: Christina Leithe Hansen / http://www.christinaleithe.com

Sick of Myself is a debut feature film from director Kristoffer Borgli, as well as Eirik’s debut acting feature, with only a couple of TV roles behind him. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May this year and Bianca O’Neill from Time Out rated the film 5 stars out of 5, describing it as “a perfectly executed black comedy accompanied by humorously vicious counter-culture commentary that cannot be overlooked.”

Eirik: When I was first approached by Kristoffer [Borgli, the director of the film] I had never gone to an audition before, but being an artist helped me because if I was rejected I could just say, ‘okay back to the studio’ so there was really nothing to lose.

The story centres around a narcissistic young couple, Signe and Thomas. Signe becomes increasingly overshadowed by her boyfriend’s recent rise to fame as an artist, so she hatches a vicious plan to attract attention from her boyfriend and Oslo’s cultural elite.

Eirik didn’t have to go back to the studio so soon this time as he won the role of Thomas, alongside Kristine Kujath Thorp who plays his partner Signe.

Eirik: He [Thomas] is a bit of antagonist, and the pair of them are super narcissistic and self-absorbed, so there forms this competition between them to get the most attention. When my career peaks, my girlfriend’s reaction to it isn’t so great and things kind of escalate from there.

Kristine Kujath Thorp is a name that is certainly attracting a lot of attention – we first saw her in indie dramedy Ninjababy before then battling the elements in disaster flick The Burning Sea, she will next be seen in The Great Silence, but before that here in Sick of Myself she puts in a performance which is without doubt next level.

Kristine Kujath Thorp as Signe in Sick of Myself

Eirik: She is just so talented, and so experienced, then there was me arriving like a shivering leaf. I was so afraid of the whole thing so she did a good job carrying me.

We did some research to come up with ideas on Signe and Thomas’ relationship, trying to find out why it became so bad. So we did some fictional dates where we acted out their relationship – things like celebrating their anniversaries. Through that we found a common ground.

It turns out that Eirik has some performance act background, doing such things as ‘in real life’ theatre for example – the kind of stuff that makes the public a little uncomfortable. He decided to test it our whilst they were on one of this fictional dates.

Eirik: So I started playing up with some kind of act but Kristine wasn’t ready for it and told me to behave.

This was a great way for them to get to know their boundaries – though as the film progresses it is really Signe who begins to break those boundaries. When she reads about the side effects of a Russian drug in an online article, she decides to test them out – with horrifying physical consequences.

Eirik: It was something I have never experienced before, and getting used to this way that Signe suddenly looked was interesting. She is definitely more attractive without all of that make-up!

For those that have seen the film that rumbles of comparing The Worst Person in the World – but let us just rectify that no one is trying to compare the two films by any means – yes they are both filmed in Oslo and certainly the streets and characters feel like they might have walked off a Joachim Trier film, but it is the title itself that people are declaring belongs to Kristine Thorp Kujath’s character – Signe. Is she the worst person in the world? Given her actions she does a damn good job of that accolade.

One thing that is interesting with Sick of Myself is how the film feels at times like a dark comedy, but then switches up the drama, and even verges on horror at times. It is certainly a journey that takes you for an uncomfortable yet viciously humorous ride.

Eirik: I think that Kristoffer [the director] finds a lot of comedy in exaggerating normal things, and then taking them to the extremes. There are some scenes I found totally disgusting but I still found myself laughing – there is some body horror comedy there I guess.

Beside the body horror element there is also that trick that the Scandinavians are so good at – creating the most awkward of social situations. We have seen Ruben Ostlund do this with his movies, most recently with Triangle of Sadness (which would make a wonderful double movie bill paired with Sick of Myself).

Eirik: Krisoffer is an expert in being cringey in real life as well – hanging out with him in a restaurant for example is a very intense situation and also extremely funny. To make people cringe in such a way that they are almost cowering from the screen – that is a special technique to have.

With Eirik over to promote the film at London International Film Festival, we turn our attention to any other films he is interested in seeing there.

Eirik: I am going to try and catch White Noise but other than that I hope to go to the British Museum.

Sick of Myself will get a UK release by Modern Films in March 2023

Interview by Alex Minnis