In Maria Solrun’s second feature, Adam, Magnús Mariuson plays a young adult who must contend with coming-of-age pains and joys while also facing a devastatingly tough decision about his death bed-ridden mother.
Magnús joins us on Close-up Culture for a lively chat about working with director Maria Solrun (who also happens to be his mother), playing someone with an hearing impairment, why he loves acting and much more.
Q: Adam is a handsome, Tinder-using young adult with hearing difficulties. Can you tell more about Adam and what interested you about the character?
A: Adam is a characterisation of certain traits I found in myself. As there was no script, when we started shooting I got to develop the character with Maria and we started with the problem: “how do I assist a sick person who wants to die?”
He’s also an accumulation of experiences that I and my friends have been dealing with. You know, coming of age stuff. Sudden responsibilities or the lack thereof. So the interest came from a deeply personal place with myself being the same age as Adam. I could relate to him easily and I got to explore and imagine situations that I might end up in – or not. It was great!
Also, the audial impairment is not really an issue as he is just a normal ‘dude’, who happens to not hear that well.
Q: How did you prepare for the role, particularly playing someone with hearing difficulties?
A: I tapped into my mother’s childhood experiences as she grew up with hearing impaired people on Iceland. There was an epidemic in the 1960’s where many children were born with that disability.
It gave me an emotional approach, but I also needed to discover the physicality. I befriended people from The Centre For The Hearing Impaired in Berlin and used their resources – plus the friendships I made – to really get a feeling for the kind of communication they had. I dare say that I had to relearn how to communicate in a sense.
I also blocked my ears for a while too during my research and through out the shooting period to intensify these sensations. That ultimately resulted in having an infection in both ear canals, but worth it (laughs).
Then I started lip reading and people would always think I was looking at their teeth. They would say: “Is there something between my teeth?” That was entertaining until it actually stuck for a couple of months and after we had done shooting. I was still reading lips and making people uncomfortable (laughs).
Q: Adam has the responsibility of looking after his mother, who has suffered brain damage from years of alcohol abuse. Can you talk about the position Adam finds himself in and his relationship with his mother?
A: They had a very symbiotic relationship. She was a single mother and most male figures he saw through out his life were her lovers. Suddenly, she’s permanently gone. It takes a while for him to grasp this, as he’s only had to fend for himself now and then.
This time though he gets burdened with the heaviest thing a parent could ask for of their child. He’s in pain and isolated. He feels guilty for not being able to fulfil his mother’s wish and doesn’t know whom to talk to. Not because of his impairment, but because from his point of view no one can help him.
Maria and I do talk a lot about initiation rituals and I regard this as one. He has to make choices and truly take matters into his own hands. Kill her off. Well, rather detach himself.
Q: What was it like to work with Floriane Daniel?
A: Floriane is not only my colleague but also a neighbour and family friend! It was fantastic. She’s a brilliant actress and taught me a lot and she made it easy to make her my mother. I love her to bits.
Q: Maria Solrun also happens to be your mother. Tell us about your working relationship and how it might differ from your experience working with other directors?
A: (laughs) Good lord, where to start? Of course, we had to re-negotiate our relationship before shooting. I had to do it to protect myself and she, I guess, had to do it too for the film’s sake and to solemnly be able to direct me, the actor.
We worked it out and it was brilliant. Maybe because of our personal relationship before the professional one, we’re able to work more intensely. That being said, I was thrown back into reality when Adam was getting intimate with Vanessa, played by the very talented Eszter Tompa. Maria just said: “Magnus, you know what to do. I’ll be outside.”
Q: You both recently formed Big Key Film with plans to develop and produce new feature film projects. What can you reveal about that?
A: We have a couple of projects lined up not only between Maria and me, but also MAGNEA (Haraldur Thrastarson’s and Liina Magnea’s band) and Joanna Piechotta, our DOP, are part of our artist collective.
It has always been a family business and our family is growing.
Q: I believe you recently graduated acting school. What do you love about the art form?
A: I turned to acting as a gateway for channelling my surplus vigour. Theatre has always been part of my life and so has film. My dad happens to be a producer.
Believe it or not but that actually turned me away from a career in this particular industry. But my energy didn’t really resonate with my high school curriculum and then
I found out I could be pardoned from attending lessons if I attended the volunteer theatre projects. Oh dear. That started the: “theatre as much as possible!” period in my life, just so I could get out of class (laughs).
Acting went quite quickly from passion to obsession and then the only thing that actually made sense in my life. It is wonderful to be in a position where I can chose to live in imagined worlds. It is stomach wrenching, to be quite frank, how messed up the real world is. I live a very privileged life and most of the time I get to do things I love with people I love. At the same time, people are dying of famine and war.
Q: Who do you look up to in the industry?
A: I look up to artists who go beyond their art and are also spreading awareness on problems we have in politics, society and our lovely planet earth. But also people who don’t take themselves too serious – Emma Watson, Matt Damon, Werner Herzog, Donald Glover and many more. They are not only doing a service to themselves but also society.
Q: Are there any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
A: Yes! We are working with Pandora Films on Man in the Storeroom, which will be filmed in Berlin. It is the story of an addict struggling to become clean hiding in a closet. Oh dear, I need to work on that pitch (laughs)!
Additionally, we are working on another film for which we were granted, by the German Ministry of Culture, a script grant. That will be fun.