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'I'm lucky: the right things have always come my way'

Starring opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in fashion drama Phantom Thread propelled Vicky Krieps into the A-list. But as Tom Ellen finds out, the actress is very much her own woman who when she found herself unexpectedly pregnant decided to keep the baby because it was an interesting adventure


Working mother: Vicky Krieps wears couture

Working mother: Vicky Krieps wears couture

Vicky in a scene with Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread

Vicky in a scene with Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread

Vicky attending a screening of 'Phantom Thread' at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London

Vicky attending a screening of 'Phantom Thread' at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London

Getty Images for Universal


Working mother: Vicky Krieps wears couture

In the preposterously plush breakfast room at the Ritz Paris, Vicky Krieps is describing what it's like to work with Daniel Day-Lewis. Actually, no, 'describing' is the wrong word. She's basically acting it out. "People around him are always whispering," she says, her voice dropping to a quivering murmur. "Before you see him, that's all you hear: footsteps, and then, 'He's coming, he's coming…'"

Her eyes dart manically around the restaurant, as if the triple Oscar-winner might leap out suddenly from behind the pain au raisins. Krieps continues: "He stays in character always and between takes he retreats to his green room. I found this difficult. All I got was a screen of whispers and footsteps and closed doors. I was thinking, 'I cannot make a movie like this.'"

For Day-Lewis, of course, every movie is made like this - the actor is famous for his rigorous method approach. On the film in question - Paul Thomas Anderson's Fifties fashion drama Phantom Thread, up for six awards at tomorrow's Oscars, including best actor for Day-Lewis - he took his role as finicky couturier Reynolds Woodcock typically seriously, learning to stitch an entire Balenciaga dress from scratch and remaining 'Reynolds' at all times.

Having met Day-Lewis just once briefly in the flesh, Krieps - playing a waitress, Alma, who marries Reynolds - then had to wait until their first take together to meet him again (Day-Lewis insisted on it) and quickly found the lack of interaction and "screen of whispers" too much to bear.

So, she did the unthinkable. She broke through the screen. "One day, between takes, I left my green room, and said: 'I want to see Reynolds.'"

She laughs as she remembers it. "The first crew member said, 'Oh, no, you can't.' But I kept walking. And then I walked past a few others who said, 'No, really, you can't do this'. But I'd had it up to here. Finally, I got to the door of his green room and knocked. I didn't know what would happen. Would I be screamed at?"

Happily, no. "He opened the door and said, 'Alma!' We had tea together and a lovely conversation about music and Virginia Woolf. From then on, it became a regular thing; we would meet between takes, in character, and just talk."

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This story, I'm soon to learn, is as good a summation of Krieps's personality as you're likely to find.

The 34-year-old woman who stormed through a barrage of whispers to disturb the planet's most esteemed thespian was displaying the same steely determination as the little girl who vowed to become an actor despite hailing from "s***** Hesperange" in Luxembourg.

Not to mention the 26-year-old who became unexpectedly pregnant and decided to have the baby because "it was a new adventure".

But we'll get to all that. For now, Krieps needs coffee. It's 9am in Paris and she's exhausted, having spent all of yesterday in junket interviews for Phantom Thread.

She sits among the Ritz's sharp-suited clientele in a zip-up hoodie and tracksuit bottoms, fresh-faced and make-up free.

Her English is perfect and she speaks slowly and deliberately in a glassy, Mittel-European accent that calls to mind The Velvet Underground's Nico.

Krieps had spent the best part of a decade as a jobbing indie film actor in Berlin when she was cast as Alma, Paul Thomas Anderson having spotted her in 2014 German comedy The Chambermaid Lynn. At the time, her highest profile role was a small part in Joe Wright's 2011 thriller, Hanna.

Then suddenly, there she was: preparing to go head-to-head with a three-time Oscar winner in a film that hinged entirely on the chemistry between them.

"It could have completely failed!" she exclaims.

"In German, if a situation is tense, you say unter strom - under electricity.

"This is how I always felt, like I was standing under electricity. I had to empty my brain of all ideas about Daniel Day-Lewis and Hollywood. It was almost like meditation. I suppose it worked in the end."

Among other things, Phantom Thread is a love letter to couture. Fittingly, Krieps is wearing couture for our shoot.

She says that the research she undertook for the film has given her a new respect for hand-crafted clothing in an increasingly pret-a-porter world. She spent time at an atelier at Central St Martins, where seamstresses from the V&A taught her to correctly draw and drape a frock, and she learned - most importantly - that "making a good dress is f****** hard".

"For me, couture is like 35mm film," she says. "It's so important we school ourselves to see real quality.

"In a couture garment, as in a 35mm film, you really feel the life of the people who made it. In high street fashion, it's different. There's no risk."

Krieps was born in Hesperange, just outside Luxembourg City, in 1983. Her father worked for the country's culture minister and managed a film distribution company. Her mother had studied art but was a homemaker while Krieps grew up.

She also has a younger brother and sister who are in animation and photography, respectively.

However, despite this liberal, artsy background, the idea of becoming an actor always seemed impossibly far-fetched.

"I used to think, actresses come from London, Paris, Berlin - not s***** Hesperange. But there was also this idea - coming from an intellectual, political family - that being an actress was shallow somehow. I thought maybe I should write or study law. I even had the idea to open a flower shop. But I was so fascinated with film, I couldn't stay away."

She moved to Berlin in her early 20s and was soon carving out a decent European indie CV - until, aged 26, she discovered she was pregnant.

"It was a surprise," she admits. "In my family, people become pregnant at 33 or something, not 26. I had not been with the father long at the time [they remained together for several years but have since split]. But I really thought, 'This is another adventure.' And as soon as people found out, they said, 'Well, I guess the acting's over.' And I was so determined I would not let this happen."

Her way of achieving this was simple: she didn't tell anyone. "I got cast in Hanna and I decided I would just not say that I was pregnant." She chuckles at the audacity of it. "It was only in the early stages [of the pregnancy], but, still, we were filming in Finland. It was not comfortable to be pregnant in minus 30 degrees."

That daughter who braved the Nordic chill with her is now seven, and she also has a son who's nearly three.

Although she is no longer with their father, they have what she describes as a "good partnership - you have to when you have kids". Right now, she lives in the Mitte district of Berlin with the children and her partner, Jonas Laux, who is also an actor.

When I ask about the difficulties in a relationship when one person is suddenly thrust into the spotlight, she answers with refreshing frankness. "It is difficult, and I've no idea how you deal with it, because I'm still in it. Tomorrow, I will go home, and then we'll see. But I remember, recently, we walked past a poster [for Phantom Thread] with my son, and he pointed at it and said, 'Mummy! Mummy!' And then suddenly, very seriously, he said, 'My mummy'.

"And that said it all to me. He understands what I'm doing, but at some point it's like, 'Please come home now. You're my mum'. That's the most important thing."

It may well be, but you get the sense that her little boy will be pointing at more posters as the years go by - Phantom Thread has proved Krieps is far too good to stay out of the limelight.

As our time together draws to a close, and she prepares to be whisked upstairs for our couture-themed shoot, the conversation veers everywhere from Day-Lewis's retirement ("It's sad, but I find it so brave of him not to live by others' expectations") to how the Oscars could trump the Globes and Baftas with a #MeToo statement ("I think everyone should go in tuxedos… No, pyjamas!").

However, any questions about future aspirations or non-acting pastimes are stoically swept aside. "Since this film came out," she laughs, "people are always saying, 'Oh, your life must be so different now.' And I tell them, 'Well, I have two children, so my life is still cooking, washing, buying groceries, reading stories, and then being very tired and lying in bed'."

She's insistent that she's yet to receive any new scripts ("people think I'm being secretive, but it's true"), but surely, I ask, she must have aims for the future - dream roles, dream collaborators? She shakes her head firmly. "I don't get too crazy about having goals, wanting to win Oscars, things like that.

"I suppose I'm lucky: the right things have always come my way and the wrong things never happened."

She finishes her coffee and smiles. "I'm still the same woman who said, 'I'll have a child, it's an adventure.' I'm still figuring out how I can make it all work."

Starring opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in fashion drama Phantom Thread propelled Vicky Krieps into the A-list. But as Tom Ellen finds out, the actress is very much her own woman who when she found herself unexpectedly pregnant decided to keep the baby because it was an interesting adventure

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