EIRIK SÆTHER: ACTOR AND ARTIST
INTERVIEWED BY SHIR ARIYA
PHOTOGRAPH BY LARS BOTTEN/D2
Norwegian artist Eirik Sæther plays the male lead as Thomas, a narcissistic artist, in Kristoffer
Borgli’s latest black comedy, “Sick of Myself” (2022). The film premiered at the Cannes Film
Festival and follows a couple in a constant battle for attention as they go to increasingly absurd
lengths to take the spotlight from each other. Sæther works within the mediums of painting,
sculpture and video. His art primarily engages with the tension between high and low culture
and often explores the shifting borders between illusion and reality.
This transcript is an abridged version of the original interview.
"I've always enjoyed walking the thin line between social suicide and doing something interesting—experimenting with the uncomfortable."
Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your background?
Eirik Sæther: I'm originally a visual artist and I've been working as an artist for ten years. In my
late career, I started making short movies and doing a lot of performance art where I acted out
socially unacceptable characters in a real environment. I also experimented with Instagram
stories where I would take on these very extreme, outward, narcissistic characters.
How did Kristoffer reach out to you about the role?
Eirik Sæther: We already knew each other but after I made the shorts, he followed my
Instagram stories. I guess he saw a connection between the stories and the short films I had
made. In one of them, I act as a narcissistic father controlling my son, and in the other, a
submissive son being controlled by my father.
Have you experienced something similar to the D2 Magazine photoshoot scene in real life?
Eirik Sæther: Yeah! The photoshoot scene is actually based on a real photoshoot I did for the
same magazine. I wore that same shirt, which I had designed myself and got bullied for it
because I looked so pretentious. I guess I have a pretentious side which I'm a little bit
embarrassed of. Kristoffer loves to drag that out and use it.
PHOTO CREDIT: OSLO PICTURES
PHOTO CREDIT: OSLO PICTURES
PHOTO CREDIT: MARKUS JOHANSEN/BITMAP
I noticed that the themes in your own artwork seem to coincide with the themes explored in the film, especially ones to do with the contention between illusion and reality. Is that a coincidence or do you both share common thematic interests?
Eirik Sæther: We do share similar interests in the way that we blur the borders between reality
and fiction and between self-representation and your own idea of yourself. After we went to
Cannes with the movie, I brought back a bunch of postcards and created paintings out of them. I
projected the postcards as my background, then I painted and blurred different objects on top of
it. It’s meant to represent this idea of Cannes being the ultimate spectacle of glamour. Then you
go there and you feel very little, like nothing.
So you felt a bit out of place at Cannes?
Eirik Sæther: I felt completely out of place. I just became an actor and have never been part of
the industry. For Kristoffer, it felt like a natural stepping stone. He told me he has always looked
to Cannes as the ultimate goal. But for me, I felt more like a tourist into another industry.
Throughout the film, Signe and Thomas go the extra mile to gain public attention. Have you ever done something so extreme to get attention?
Eirik Sæther: I've done a lot of very visible, stupid things which sometimes translates in a funny
way, but other times translates as super pretentious. I've always enjoyed walking the thin line
between social suicide and doing something interesting—experimenting with the uncomfortable.
So tell me about the shoot. What was the atmosphere like on set?
Eirik Sæther: It was an extremely good atmosphere. Everyone worked so hard to fulfill their
ideas within each of their departments. There was a lot of method acting going on as well, at
least from me. I was staying in character and acting out the asshole on set. Of course, it’s all fun
and games but it becomes intense as well.
There was one day on set for example, when we were shooting the scene where I brag about
stealing this bottle of wine. It was me and my best friend’s first day on set together so we were
trying to establish our relationship between takes. We were constantly throwing shit onto
Kristine’s character in order to figure out the dynamic between our characters. She, of course,
enjoys that as a professional actor but at the same time, we had to tone it down.
At the Q&A, you mentioned ‘The King of Comedy’ as a reference for the film. Were there any other films you had to study up for the role?
Eirik Sæther: There were so many. Most of them were film references for different scenes. I
can’t remember the title but there was a film linked to the scene where I walk into the furniture
shop and start throwing lamps at this security guard. That's a paraphrase of another film, which I
Is it ‘The Master’?
Eirik Sæther: Yeah! So you know the scene?
Yes, the scene where he lights someone and tries to take their photo.
Eirik Sæther: That’s the one. But for ‘The King of Comedy’, it’s more of a reference for Signe’s
character because it deals with her two layers of reality and fantasy playing out at the same
You mentioned that your favourite scene to shoot was the nut allergy scene because your co-actor went off script and actually tried to provoke you. How much of the film was improvised?
Eirik Sæther: There was very little improv. The film was written down to almost every word. It
was also a matter of economy because we were shooting in 35 millimetre. Sometimes, if we did
two takes following the script and had it completely covered, then there would be some improv
during the third take. But usually, Kristoffer would get very anxious if we started to improvise.
PHOTO CREDIT: OSLO PICTURES
Tell me about the dates you went on with your co-actor Kristine to prepare for the role. Whose idea was it?
Eirik Sæther: That was Kristine's working method. Due to Covid, we didn't do any auditions
together and I got the role without her having ever met me. She was quite annoyed that her
onscreen boyfriend was cast without her knowing, but we got along really well from the
beginning. Prior to the start of shooting, we went on these series of dates acting as our
characters. That was super fun because you’re put on the spot each time the other person
would ask a question—you have to come up with a life story from scratch.
I remember going into this performance during the date. There was someone talking in the
booth behind us about a famous Norwegian comedian called Thomas Giertsen who my
character would likely think is really bad. I looked at Kristine, stood up, and started mocking
them for liking Thomas Giertsen but in a way where I pretended that I totally agreed with them.
So through that, we found a way to bond the characters in their love for mocking other people in
order to make themselves feel stronger.
“I had this technique before shooting where I would take a chair, stand on it, and make up the most stupid, random speech to lower the bar and let all the extras know that I'm already a fool.”
Given that this is your first feature, how challenging did you find the process of preparing for the role?
Eirik Sæther: I found it easy to prepare for the scenes where my character is outwardly spoken.
It’s the ones where I have to contain my real emotions which I found the most difficult. I have
hundreds of videos on my phone from rehearsals with Kristoffer where I practise saying sorry for
something. It’s very funny because Kristoffer is just sitting there working on his script and I have
to come up behind his shoulder and say “Kristoffer, I wanna say something...”
After I got the role, I had a panic attack for the first time in my life. I had no idea how big the film
was going to be. Up until that point, everything I did onscreen was something I was completely
in control of. I could cut the footage wherever I wanted and I could even just scrap it if it didn't
go well. So the idea of having exactly three takes to make it and that's what it's going to be was
so frightening to me. I didn't even dare to tell Kristoffer but at the beginning of the research
phase, I had so much anxiety. Each time I read his name in an email, my heart would start
beating really fast.
I went to this psychiatrist for emergencies and I told him about my performance anxiety. He said
to me, “You’re afraid of making a fool out of yourself. So what you need to do is make a fool out
of yourself before the camera starts.” So I had this technique before shooting where I would
take a chair, stand on it, and make up the most stupid, random speech to lower the bar and let
all the extras know that I'm already a fool. That helped me a lot.
Are you working on anything else at the moment?
Eirik Sæther: I'm working as an artist every day, creating paintings, sculptures and videos, but
I'm doing auditions as well—trying to combine the two. In an ideal world, I would like to do both.