by Kate Richmond
photography by Lionel Deluy
It’s no surprise that a woman as intelligent, progressive, beautiful and, well, awesome, as Anita Briem hails from Iceland. Said nation may be a bit misunderstood (it is more green than Greenland, after all) but it gave us the Vikings, Björk, and volcanic baths, it’s one of the most egalitarian nations in the world and elected the world’s first female premier. Ms. Briem, eloquent in five languages, is a powerhouse of spirit and ideals, both ready for and worthy of the world’s attention. She rings me around 6pm EST, and our connection on the phone is a bit shoddy; she blames it on the “crap signal” in Beachwood, the gorgeous Los Angeles community; I blame it on Brooklyn’s auto-body-shop-ridden South Slope. “Oh Brooklyn!” she says delightedly. “I was just there the other day. My friend was playing a gig and, yes, I think that it was my first time in Brooklyn; it was fantastic!” What she means, of course, is that there’s no better way to experience Brooklyn for the first time other than watching her friend, a member of the notorious Wu Tang Clan, perform for a clamoring audience in some sweaty, wall-to-wall graffiti-covered venue. So the girl can get down with the Clan in my borough; she’s already miles ahead of the typical Hollywood talent.
Hollywood is certainly where she is destined to be. You may not know her name yet, but this year she’s to star in the 3-D adaptation of Jules Verne’s The Journey to The Center of the Earth 3-D with Brendan Fraser, and play King Henry’s allegedly “favorite” wife, sweet Lady Jane Seymour, in the hugely successful Showtime series, The Tudors. But for an actress on the brink, she offers very little gushing. It’s easy to see that Anita Briem is taking a grounded approach to her new life in the limelight. Does her Viking descent give way to any advantages? “Iceland has very, very strong women,” she says, “we are all very well educated and the concept [of a stay at home mom] doesn’t really exist. You don’t get handed anything on a silver platter; it’s up to you to apply your curiosity to your goals and really take what you want.”
Indeed it seems Anita knew what she wanted from a very young age. Her parents are both musicians; her father is arguably one of Europe’s most accomplished drummers, playing with the likes of Madonna, and her mother is a back-up vocalist and music therapist for disabled children. In short, she grew up backstage, on studio floors, and behind drum-kits, traveling all over the world from gig to gig. She lived the entertainer’s lifestyle from the moment she could walk and began acting in the National Theatre of Iceland at the early age of nine, eventually landing in the UK where she earned her degree from the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
We chat for a bit about the differences between her new sunny home in LA – where it is perpetually summer as she drives around in her convertible pinching herself to make sure it’s all real – opposed to her colder, more dynamically, seasoned homes of Iceland and London. She then starts in on something I can only describe as a passionate rant (which I gladly encourage) about the importance of global understanding, pursuing one’s dreams, and her adamant belief that everyone, no matter who they are or what they want to do, should move to a different country. She presses on animatedly explaining that, “you [come to] understand that there are so many different cultures and just because you are set and have been brought up a certain way [and are] unfamiliar to other ways of the world, it doesn’t necessarily mean that one way is the one that suits you best.”
I am totally agreeing with her and she’s winning my heart over a little bit, but I halt her and point out that not everyone is a movie star, rock star, or business guru able to explore the world on a successful career’s tab. She is lucky. She quickly acknowledges this, responding with genuine humility and awe as she expresses how extraordinary the traveling benefits of her acting career really are. In a quirky way, that rings true of that whole musician’s-daughter-vibe, she explains the thrill of meeting new people and experiencing new lifestyles. “You don’t have to go and live their life or join their rhythm, but you enjoy it, you listen to it, you tap your foot, and you just go, ha!, that’s a nice tune.” But since Iceland is where it all started for Anita, I begin to wonder about her attachment to the United States. Is she proud of her new home as she is able to look upon it with an international perspective? Does she feel the need to follow American politics? “I absolutely follow politics. I’ve been traveling around the world a little bit and I just feel it’s not as much a part of the daily life here as it is elsewhere.”
I suggest that detrimental consequences are sure to stem from this American apathy, that by keeping things safe and familiar we are sure to isolate ourselves as a nation and limit precious progress. She agrees in fewer words, stating that she believes being informed is one of the most important things that you can be. “If you are not informed then how can you really be a part of that [culture]?” she questions vehemently. “How do you know what you really want to say to people, politically or any other way?” Naturally, our conversation drifts from here towards the upcoming election. As a woman who seems as though she wouldn’t put up with much crap, I feel it fitting to ask Anita what she thinks of Hillary and the judgments placed upon the Senator for being too rigid, too static and, if you will, too masculine. “I admire her… People criticize her for being so harsh, but I completely disagree; I love to watch her, her stillness, her determination… I think she has great femininity.” But Hillary is criticized for crying, she is criticized for being strong; she is heartfelt, she is manipulating. Is it simply the strenuous double standard of today’s workingwoman at play here or is Hillary being held to a level from which other women are finally being released? Anita seems to think the latter. “As a woman you are more powerful if you are not trying to take on all the qualities of a man because I think it takes away from what makes women magical.”
She digs rock ‘n’ roll 70s style: you know, the good kind. Raised on Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Janis Joplin; loves Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Stevie Wonder. Her favorite way to hang is with an ice-cold beer and her guitar. I question whether there’s anything she can’t do and she laughs light-heartedly, considers for a moment, and responds, “I do Icelandic hand-to-hand combat, and I’m studying martial arts under a direct descendent of Bruce Lee’s. You know, I’m never happier than when I have a broadsword in my hand.” I tell her that I can’t actually picture her with a broadsword in her hand, but it seems a daunting and dangerously sexy image. I’m ticking off her accomplishments with admiration: fighting, acting, multi-lingual proficiency, self-performed stunts (she did almost everything for Journey), interest and passion for politics, the desire to find the very core of her happiness, dedication to her family, and a potential musical career if she ever feels like taking guitar and voice to the stage. She brushes my praise off and tells me that it’s all good, but it is important not to take herself too seriously; it’s important to have a lot of fun on the way. And of course, “when the going gets tough – do it Viking style.”