“If you don’t get a prosthetic vagina, then you’re not cool enough,” deadpans 23-year-old actress Stacy Martin in her Anglo-French accent. Martin is referring, of course, to her role in Lars Von Trier’s upcoming Nymphomaniac, an exploration of a hypersexual woman named Joe. Told in flashbacks, the film follows Joe from her teenage sexual awakening to middle age. Martin plays Young Joe, with frequent Von Trier collaborator Charlotte Gainsbourg taking over when Joe reaches her 30s. While the film’s first installment isn’t out in the U.S. until March, there is a stir of excitement each time a new still is released. The film’s posters—which feature 12 actors including Uma Thurman, Stellan Skarsgård, Jamie Bell, Willem Dafoe, Sophie Kennedy Clark, and Christian Slater posing as if mid-orgasm—are already infamous.
Nymphomaniac is Martin’s first film. A former model, Martin was still enrolled in acting classes in London when she was cast as Young Joe. “I think it helped me because I wasn’t conscious of what you’re meant to do and audition politics,” she tells us. “It was very straightforward—a very normal audition process. I didn’t really know what an audition process was when I did the audition, but there was nothing weird or strange.” Since Nymphomaniac, Martin has completed a British film, Barking at Trees. This year, she’ll begin filming the Terrence Malick-produced The Clown in Georgia.
HOMETOWN: Paris, France. I know Paris is my hometown, but I would never say, “Oh, I’m going home back to Paris.” Because we kept moving when I was a child, my home was just where I was at that moment.
CURRENT LOCATION: London, England. It’s quite nice to stay in one place. I keep moving around anyway—I did this film in Germany and then I came to New York—so it’s nice to have a base. I’d like to move somewhere else to have a change in the next few years, but it’s not really something I’m focusing on at the moment.
FIRST AMBITION: I think I wanted to be a dog trainer or a ballerina. It always changes when you’re a kid because you think you can do a million things.
CURRENT AMBITION: I know what I want, but I’m still vulnerable. I’m still a human being, but I know what I want and that makes me stronger. I want to work until I’m old and wrinkled.
AN ITINERANT CHILDHOOD: I grew up in Paris and in Japan. My parents didn’t have any kind of glamorous jobs or anything—it just happened. We moved a lot and wanted to go to Tokyo, so we did it. They were never afraid to give up on the present and move on.
ACCENTS: People get quite confused. They’re like, “How can you be from Paris and speak so well in English?” I just cheat—I’m bilingual. I used to go to an international school, so my accent used to be much more Americanized that it actually is now. When I was in New York, I slipped back into the way I used to talk when I was a kid. I was like, “Oh! I feel like I’m 15 again.”
DREAMS: Do I dream in French or English? I have no idea. I keep thinking, “Okay, next time I dream I need to remember what language it’s in.” But I never remember. I remember one dream I was really angry and it was in French because I kept saying, “putain, putain.” It’s my favorite swear word. I used to use it all the time.
DAY JOBS: I was a model. Am I happy to be done with it? [laughs] Yeah, I am, actually. With anything that you don’t look at in terms of a career or as a long-term thing, it’s always nice to stop. It did give me amazing opportunities and I was able to live my own life from the age of 18. I didn’t depend on my parents. It paid for my [acting] training. It was great in that sense, but I’m happy to move on.
BECOMING YOUNG JOE: I met the Nymphomaniac casting director Des Hamilton and he was like, “What are you doing? Are you an actress?” So I explained to him that I was training at the time and he said, “I’m auditioning for this Lars von Trier movie with Charlotte Gainsbourg. It’s called Nymphomaniac and you get to have a porn double and a prosthetic vagina.” I thought, “Oh, okay. This is interesting,” but I didn’t really believe him. Then he did end up calling me in. Suddenly I was told that I was going to Copenhagen to meet Lars to do a test screening. In Copenhagen Lars showed me a box of prosthetic penises and prosthetic vaginas. I went, “Oh, okay. Well, that’s good. They exist.” [laughs]
MEETING YOUR PORN DOUBLE: I think they only used her for the vagina bit, but it’s quite surreal to me—anyone who works in the porn industry. To think that she was my porn double is quite funny and quite great at the same time. She was there to do everything that I didn’t want to do. She went by Cindy—I don’t know if it’s her real name, though. I didn’t really talk to her. It was kind of like, “Okay, we’re done with everything on set. See you later. I’m going to go and have a cup of tea.”
THOSE POSTERS: Did I keep it from my parents? No, I did the complete opposite, because obviously they are going to see it. There’s no way out. I told them from the start—sent them all the pictures. I was like, “This is going to come out, so just be warned.” They were really cool about it. Obviously were like, “Stacy, you couldn’t have done something a bit more discreet for your first film?” I was like, “Well, I couldn’t say no, could I?”
THE MAN HIMSELF: Lars is actually really, really cool. He doesn’t really talk that much. He lets you listen to your own devices and does a lot of improvisation with the text. He’s very free. He just knows when he has something—from the scenes, from the actors and what they bring—then he’s happy and he moves on.
DRAMA SCHOOL GRADUATE: I’ve finished the bulk of my training, but I’m still doing my classes. As an actor, I think it’s a bit like you’re an athlete or a musician: if you stop practicing then you dry up and you get really bad. It keeps me busy as well, which is good.
NYMPHOMANIAC: VOLUME ONE COMES OUT IN LIMITED RELEASE ON MARCH 21. VOLUME TWO WILL BE OUT IN APRIL IN THEATERS AND ON VOD.
For more of our 14 Faces of 2014, click here.