Big Bang - Scandinavian Traveler, Jan 2018
Award-winning movie The Square has transformed Claes Bang from a Danish theater actor into an international name. But while his fans campaign for him to be the next James Bond, Bang lives a quietly hygge life in Copenhagen. And he has another career you might not have heard about – yet.
Claes Bang is excited. He plugs his iPhone into the living room stereo and an upbeat song, reminiscent of the Pet Shop Boys, fills the apartment he shares with his wife Lis and her children in Frederiksberg, Copenhagen. He is perhaps a bit self-conscious, as he disappears into the kitchen to get more coffee while his husky voice comes out of the loud speakers, asking, “Who am I to think that I can change the world?”
“When I make music, I go under the alias ‘This Is Not America,’” he says upon re-entering the room. “I’ve taken the title off an old David Bowie song. It’s because DR (Denmark’s public broadcaster) once told me that they would never play a song by an actor. So, I tricked them.”
While changing the entire world might be a bit much to ask, Bang has definitely managed to change his own life over the past year. After appearing in the lead role of The Square, Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s movie which won the Palme d’Or in Cannes in 2017, Bang has become famous far beyond the borders of his home country of Denmark.
The hit movie, currently Sweden’s candidate for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, has brought lots of new opportunities for Bang. The song he’s playing on the stereo is one of them – he and Swedish art gallerist and musician Marina Schiptjenko, who also stars in the film, clicked during a break on the set and decided to record a song together.
“Marina and I started talking and noticed that we had the same taste in music. I sent her a demo and now we’ve released the song as a duet. I’m really happy with it,” gushes Bang, who founded his one-man band in Denmark back in 2008.
But perhaps even more importantly, casting agents and directors outside Scandinavia have also started to contact him.
“I’m getting much more interest from the UK and the US now. There’s a project that’s looking really good now, which I really, really want.”
It’s not James Bond though.
“No, that was a rumor! It’s a small independent film, a great role with great people.”
The Bond rumors started in Cannes, when film journalist Wendy Mitchell launched a campaign on Facebook called The Daily Bang, lobbying for him to win the Best Actor award. Soon afterwards, she came up with the hashtag #bangforbond. Bang laughs it off, saying he knows nothing about it.
“But I am in contact with Barbara Broccoli, who makes the Bond movies, about something else,” he adds.
The Bang family’s apartment in Copenhagen is a perfect picture of a relaxed, cozy Danish lifestyle, filled with art and literature and equipped with a large terrace for long dinners with friends. But these days Bang doesn’t get as many chances as he once did to lounge around here, listen to his vinyl collection or stroll around the nearby Søndermarken park with Lis. The international success of The Square takes him all over the world, and he’s keen to make the most of it.
“I’ve been at premieres in Iceland, Sweden, Canada and France and I’m traveling to LA soon. I try to do as much as I can. This film is getting a lot of attention, which is great. It’s like an exhibition window for me.”
Making the film wasn’t easy though. Östlund is known for his grueling method of filming the same scene over and over again in order to get the most genuine performance possible. Of 75 filming days, Bang was on set for 73.
“I was exhausted at the end, but I found it inspiring,” he says. “You’re on your toes all the time. And on the best days, you feel like you get to build something absolutely magical with the person you’re acting with and the team – it’s a bit like a drug. You want more and more.”
Watching the film and Bang’s convincing performance in it, it’s hard to imagine that he initially felt that he was completely wrong for the role of Christian, an ambitious museum director whose life starts to crumble when his mobile phone is stolen.
“I’m all too dependent on validation,” he says. “All I really want to hear is ‘Claes, you’re fantastic, we’ve got it.’ I realized that when I worked with Ruben, because he doesn’t give too much of that. I felt very insecure at the beginning, until I realized that he was the same way with the other actors, too.”
Today, he sees the film as the best thing he’s ever done. Not that he wasn’t happy with the first 20 years of his career, acting on theater stages all over Denmark and making television drama in Germany. He spent time there as a child due to his father’s job as a travel agent. He’s fluent in the language and has even dubbed himself in the German language version of The Square.
He found acting in high school thanks to his first passion – music. No one else in his family works in the film business.
“It happened at high school. I was in a band at the time, and someone suggested I play the leading role in a school musical. I thought, no way, I can’t act. But I tried it and it went really well,” he recalls.
After high school, Bang acted in improvisation theaters. But he didn’t dare apply to Denmark’s National School of Performing Arts until it was almost too late.
“When I was 23, someone told me that 25 was the age limit to get into the school. I thought OK, I have to try. Otherwise, I’ll regret it. I got quite far in the application process, but not all the way. The following year, I tried again. And a week before my 25th birthday, they called me and said that I’d been accepted.”
Bang hasn’t looked back since. At home he’s been called the “master of the monologue,” having
Photo: Andreas Houmann
performed in plays like Tim Crouch’s My Arm, and The Evil, based on Jan Guillou’s novel of the same name. He’s also a familiar face from TV dramas like Anna Pihl and The Bridge. The point of acting, for him, seems to be the creative satisfaction, although he’s not shy to admit that success is a welcome bonus.
“They go hand in hand. If The Square wasn’t so good, it would not have gotten the attention it’s getting, which in turn is opening other doors. But it’s satisfying to think that I’ve done everything I wanted to do creatively. I think every male actor in their 50s would have killed half their family to get this role,” he jokes.
And how does it feel to get an international breakthrough at 50?
“It feels fantastic! I’ve never had a dream about Hollywood. If I’d been able to define my dream, it would have been this – to make The Square. But of course, now I want to do more.”
What that “more” is, remains to be seen. Meanwhile, fans can catch Bang on the stage in Copenhagen or listen to his music. And perhaps they shouldn’t give up on the Bond campaign, either.
“‘Bang for Bond’ sounds great, of course. If they want me, they’ve got my number.”