For Vicky Krieps, portraying Elisabeth, Empress of Austria, in “Corsage” seemed almost inevitable. The actor had long been impressed by the unconventional ruler, had read her biography and seen Romy Schneider’s 1956 version “Sissi – The Young Empress” in her youth. After filming the 2015 Austrian film We Used to Be Cool with director Marie Kreutzer, Krieps suggested they team up again for a contemporary take on the 19th-century historical figure also known as Sisi. Krieps was interested in how the empress was forced into a certain image, as was Schneider after playing her.
“It has always interested me and amazed me that so many women in different generations seem to suffer from the same condition,” says Krieps. “Each generation has different beliefs, but it’s the same phenomenon: having to please in order to be loved. We present different role models of what a woman is. A woman is either the saint or the whore, either the mother or the mistress. We always feel like we have to prove to ourselves that we are all these women. So when we were working I really felt like that was something I wanted to talk about. To be able to channel or even release this energy.”
Initially, Kreutzer resisted the idea of a new film about Sisi, but when she and Krieps began searching through historical archives and reading books about the Empress, Kreutzer was just as convinced. Two years later, as Krieps wrapped up the media tour for 2017’s “Phantom Thread,” a script for “Corsage” arrived. Krieps’ rise to fame promoting Paul Thomas Anderson’s Oscar-nominated film made Sisi’s story seem even more relevant.
“I came back and was completely exhausted and a bit shocked because I wasn’t used to being so exposed,” Krieps recalls. “It doesn’t really exist in Europe. We don’t have that celebrity culture and how you’re suddenly seen by the public because you’re an actor. I felt that very much when I was in the USA for the first time. How it was almost like a pressure I had to fulfill now – to be the actress. When I came back and the script was in my mailbox, I started crying because I realized, ‘This is exactly what I just lived on a small scale.’ It was so interesting that this movie made so much sense to me now.”
It took Kreutzer several years to secure funding for the film, and then it was delayed due to the pandemic. Krieps finally arrived in Vienna in March 2021 and began preparations for the film, which was shot throughout the spring and summer. She read endlessly about the Empress, including letters and a diary from Sisi’s daughter. There was also intense physical preparation, including riding and fencing lessons, ice swimming practice, Hungarian lessons and of course wearing a corset so tight Krieps couldn’t eat it. The most important preparation came from a body language coach who helped Krieps figure out how Sisi would move.
“I had this whole construction for her, in which areas she lives and when,” Krieps notes her character. “When will she leave her heart? And when does she go out of her head? For me, I created it so that it almost doesn’t touch the ground. She’s almost floating. I wanted her to have something where you always feel like she’s there, but she might not be here already. So I did this walk, which became like a dance of walking, like she wasn’t really there.”
Krieps’ performance as Sisi, equal parts historically accurate and dramatic in the Christmas week-opening “Corsage,” marks the first time the actor has been completely unafraid in a film role. After “Phantom Thread,” Krieps admits to stepping back from the spotlight. She asked if she was too “vulnerable and too honest and weak for this game”. She then returned to Europe and made several films in France. Eventually she allowed Sisi to help her to have unwavering confidence in her work.
“It took time, but I feel like I understood that I can do it my way,” says Krieps. “I don’t have to play the game. I can be me I can still do press and I can still be an actress, but I will be and how I do it. I think this film helped me tremendously. It’s something I’ve done and it’s my interpretation of that rule and it’s my honest, artistic suggestion that people may or may not like, but that’s really me. Something went away. I am no longer afraid.”
On a larger level, Krieps is aware that “Corsage” unlocks something fundamental for female viewers. While it’s a story that can resonate with all viewers, her attitude towards Sisi is driven by a palpable sense of anger at how women have been treated – and how they continue to be treated. In this way, “Corsage” is both a modern story and a historical piece.
“I think that’s because, as a woman, there’s something that resonates that is very, very old and very up-to-date and very contemporary at the same time,” says Krieps. “I sometimes have the feeling that all women in front of me [are] in me. Sometimes I can feel how angry they are. Even generations of women who have lived things I haven’t lived, but sometimes I feel like we’re all connected to stories that happened before.”
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/awards/story/2022-12-19/vicky-krieps-cuts-loose-in-a-bold-move-for-women-with-corsage Vicky Krieps breaks the shackles that limit women in “Corsage.”