While writing up my extensive synopsis of Blade Runner 2049, I became captivated by the fascinating actor who played the File Clerk at Wallace Corporation’s records hall. Seizing destiny by the keyboard, I sent Tómas Lemarquis a missive and could not believe my good fortune when he agreed to do an interview for our series WTF Did He Say? Now, let my good fortune be yours as I share his thoughts on Blade Runner 2049, Snowpiercer, X-Men: Apocalypse, Denis Villeneuve, Ryan Gosling, shamanism and WTF!?…
There I was in Iceland, sitting naked in a natural hot springs, sipping brennivín, listening to Björk, watching geysers spew and volcanoes erupt under the aurora borealis, when suddenly this incredible man sat down at my side. He glanced over at me with eyes that were bluer than Icelandic icebergs and a smile that could melt one. There’s only one man alive with a distinctive charm as natural as Iceland itself: Tómas Lemarquis, artist, shaman and international film star. I took another gulp of ‘black death‘ and, when that didn’t kill me, I decided to test Tómas’s generosity.
Tómas Lemarquis: [Modestly] It happens, yeah. I have a rather striking look; it helps, also.
Saint Pauly: Does being recognised feel as good as you look?
Saint Pauly: With a French father and Icelandic mother, I imagine you’ve spent a lot of time here.
Tómas: I grew up in Iceland my first 20 years. It’s beautiful. You’re very connected with nature. You see the sea, the mountains here. The elements are very present.
Saint Pauly: Do you live here now?
Tómas: I’m a nomad, so I don’t have any fixed place. I lived in Paris a long time ago. The last 10 years I was in Berlin. And now, for one and a half years I’m just wherever. Here and there, between LA and Reykjavik mostly.
Saint Pauly: What does one do for fun in Reykjavik, other than try to spell the name correctly?
Tómas: The nightlife here is quite active. Compared to the size of the city it’s very alive. My fun is, I go to a swimming pool every day. They have beautiful swimming pools here. There’s a lot of warm, natural hot water.
Saint Pauly: That’s a welcome surprise, I thought the warm water was from all these people drinking in the pool. Still, speaking of surprises, everyone knows how much of a talented actor you are, but what’s something about you people learn only after they’ve got to know you?
Tómas: I’m deeply into shamanic practices, like I’ve been studying shamanism and working with healing practices.
Saint Pauly: Like brennivín?
Tómas: Not psychotropics, nothing like that. I learned from a Peruvian tradition. It uses journeying and breaths and things like this. I give healings, also.
Saint Pauly: Is there a link between shamanism and acting?
Tómas: Well, first of all, acting for me is channelling a lot, which is very connected to shamanism when you go into a trance state you channel in some energies. Acting is also the transformation that takes place when you become someone else.
Saint Pauly: How did you get into acting?
Tómas: My father was an acute cinema lover, my grandfather in France, as well. He would take me on his back, ever since I was a few months old, to the cinema. Then we would have a super 8 mm projector and films with the old silent film actors: Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton. And that’s actually where my real love for cinema began. They were my heroes.
Saint Pauly: I understand that. Many of my friends are silent, or at least I want them to be.
Tómas: Then I started to see James Bond, and I wanted to be James Bond.
Saint Pauly: I can see you as James Bond! [He laughs] You’re young, you’re handsome. It would work!
Tómas: Yeah, I would be more interested in the baddies, though.
Saint Pauly: Ooh, you’re certainly talking to the right bloke for that.
Nói albinói / Nói the Albino
Tómas: Me and the director [Dagur Kári] were together in high school, and so he knew about me, had seen me playing theatre. But when I was 19, almost 20, I went to Paris to study acting which was a very painful experience for me.
Saint Pauly: So much in Paris is! Like taking the metro, going to a café, breathing…
Tómas: I was not so ready for the competition. Coming from Iceland, [Paris] is a big city and I went straight into third year instead of first because I had some experience before, in Iceland. That was very bad in the end because everyone was ready for competition and I was just not. So, I came out of that school and I thought, “I’m never going to act again, ever.” And went back to Iceland, went to art school, but then destiny kicked in.
Saint Pauly: Like Icelandic alcohol. Cheers!
Tómas: Destiny kicked in and I did that film, Nói the Albino, which became very popular and won all these awards and I went around the world with it. It gave me hope again in acting so I moved back to France and got an agent there. But then it took a long time because I had to prove again that I could speak other languages and that I was not, you know–people thought Nói the Albino was almost a documentary [N.B. it’s the story of a young Icelandic man who, like Tómas, has alopecia totalis] and I was just this character.
Saint Pauly: I’m quite a character, so I understand the feeling.
Tómas: In the indie world, I mean, it got a certain status and I was travelling with it and all these red carpets and I was like, ‘Ok, now it’s going to be the easy road from here on.’ But it wasn’t. It wasn’t so much happening, so I had to start again from scratch in Europe. But that taste at least gave me the hope and gave me the stamina to endure all these years, and not just give up when I had to walk against the wind.
Tómas: It was amazing. John Bong Ho is a genius.
Tómas: Except It’s John Bong Ho, Bong being his main name. [He goes by] ‘director Bong’ on set.
Saint Pauly: I would too.
Tómas: It’s just like his vision is so strong. When he comes, he knows exactly what he wants. It’s very special to see him work. Like he will not even shoot a general.
Saint Pauly: Which is good if you’re a general…
Tómas: [showing incredible patience with my sense of humour] When you shoot a scene normally you shoot a general [shot] and go into closeup. He would go straight to what he wanted because he knew exactly how he would edit it. Then there was an editor working alongside him who would edit at the speed of light while he was shooting. He would start to put it up and watch it like a musician making like a symphony.
Saint Pauly: How long was your ride on the Snowpiercer?
Tómas: Oh, I don’t know, I had maybe, like, nine days of shooting, altogether. It was such a beautiful set, also. This train, how they built it in the Czech Republic…
Saint Pauly: And what about the other passengers? Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer…
Tómas: …John Hurt. It was a fantastic cast. It was great to be surrounded by these great actors. I became friends with Tilda and her boyfriend Sandro [N.B. Sandro Kopp]. She’s just an incredible human being and her boyfriend is a very talented painter. I’ve done modelling for him.
Saint Pauly: How is being besties with Tilda different—or similar—to X-Men Apocalypse. Are you still friends with Jennifer Lawrence?
Tómas: Uh, no. I mean, it was very nice on set and everything. But it was only two days shooting for me, it was very different. You just come in and out. But it was a great experience. I love that character [N.B. Caliban], I had a lot of fun with it.
Blade Runner 2049
Saint Pauly: I would have had fun with him! But enough of my party mouth. How did you get involved with Blade Runner 2049?
Tómas: It’s a funny story because Blade Runner 1 is one of my favourite films. So, as soon as I heard about Blade Runner, I was super excited about it and I wanted to be part of it. I have a few agents in different countries and I asked them all if they could get me in the film and they tried and they said “No, no, there’s nothing for you there.”
Saint Pauly: Sounds like me trying to get into a club!
Tómas: I wasn’t ready to take ‘no’ for an answer, and I have a friend—an actor—who lives in Budapest and he knew the on-set casting director (they’re casting directors who are normally casting smaller parts). I made a sound tape with them and they managed to get the tape to Denis Villeneuve and, through the back door I managed to squeeze myself in.
Saint Pauly: [I’m asking you to acknowledge how well I let this joke pass…]
Tómas: It was a particularly sweet victory because I really didn’t give up and I pushed it to make it happen.
Saint Pauly: … But what about Denis Villeneuve? How does he compare to Director Bong?
Tómas: I mean, they were different, the world they were creating and all that, but they have a similar aura I would say, in accordance to the good atmosphere they create on the set. Because everyone wants to give their best to them. Blade Runner was a huge set and extremely stressful for him, but he still managed to keep himself in a state of real kindness and openness and make you feel good. Because as soon as the stress goes into the creative process, it can be so destructive, it starts to bleed all over everyone… If the one in command is keeping calm and giving the good vibes then everyone is in that state and it’s not like a big panic going on. Because you know that every minute costs so much money and there’s pressure anyway there and so it’s really helpful if you aren’t constantly reminded of that.
Saint Pauly: He sounds almost as wonderful as the File Clerk you play in the film. How much freedom did Denis give you in your interpretation?
Tómas: We were very much in a dialogue. We had a good talk through Skype first and he had something more dark in mind for the character, but then I started talking about my ideas about someone maybe more vulnerable and a bit traumatised by this blackout and he really liked that idea. I think it was a good choice in the end because the film is pretty bleak all the way through and this is like a point of lightness.
Saint Pauly: You’re definitely a point of lightness, Tómas! And so was the set, like the records room you take K to, and the reception desk where you two meet. Was all of that just you in front of a green screen?
Tómas: No, there was no green screen.
Saint Pauly: WTF!?
Tómas: The counter in the beginning was actually built, which is amazing for such a short scene. And for the other scene [inside of the records hall—see screen cap], it was like a super, super long set with everything built. They duplicated a little bit, in the computer, but there was no green screen. We were actually walking in the space, through all these shelves. I mean, you could only open the drawer that I used, all the others were fake, obviously, but still…
Saint Pauly: Was Ryan Gosling interested in your drawers?
Tómas: He was really generous and nice to be around. It was funny because I was expecting our encounter to be like, “Oh hi, it’s very nice to meet you, [Ryan]. It’s such an honour to work with you,” or something down that line, but then, when we met, he’s like, “Oh yeah! I know you! I’ve seen Nói the Albino. It’s an honour to work with you!” So, it was exactly the world turned around from what I was expecting.
Touch Me Not
Saint Pauly: I’m surprised that you’re surprised. It seems everyone knows how great you are but you! If someone’s been under a rock and doesn’t know yet, which films of yours would you suggest they watch?
Tómas: I like Blade Runner, but the two films I have leads in–Nói the Albino and now Touch Me Not–are probably like the two films I would suggest.
Saint Pauly: Touch Me Not sounds like my last date.
Tómas: That’s the one who just won the Berlin Bear [N.B. the very prestigious German version of the Oscars]. It was like a total underdog but we won the prize. Which is extraordinary because it’s a very unconventional film.
Saint Pauly: How did you get involved with that project?
Tómas: Actually, I have a psychic friend in Iceland, a girl who predicted it. She said, “Oh, you’re going to be shooting a film in Bucharest,” and, one month later Adina [Adina Pintilie, the director of Touch Me Not], contacted me and I got involved in the film. At the beginning it was not that obvious because it was low budget and it was risky. All the film was improvised, so it was pretty scary to go into it. You had to have a lot of guts to jump into the abyss. So, at the same time that was a very challenging and extraordinary experience.
Saint Pauly: Like this interview! But the booze is really kicking in. Quick, before the brennivín takes me, what kind of impression do you want our talk to leave with your fans when I tell them about our conversation?
Tómas: [Laughs] That’s not to me to say what people should think! I just hope I won’t leave too bad of an impression.
Saint Pauly: You seem like the kind of guy who doesn’t leave a lot of bad impressions!
Tómas: Sometimes! Depending on the roles… I was just finishing the shooting of Waiting for Anya, which was a really interesting project. I was with Anjelica Houston, Jean Reno, Noah Schnapp from Stranger Things and Thomas Kretschmann, but there was also a scene were there were amateur actors from the village and I was in the role of a German Nazi soldier in the Second World War. To make the scene real, the tension had to be there. You can’t just be like going around, smiling, being nice, especially when you work with amateur actors. So, I had to keep this sense of being in the character and approaching them in the character. And some of them approached me afterwards, when I met them in the bar and they said, “Oh, you’re like this!? We hated you!” So, sometimes you want to work with that to, like, create a certain discomfort in the context of a scene.
Saint Pauly: That’s pretty WTF, but I bet you have an even better WTF story…
Tómas: Probably one of the most challenging situations I’ve found myself in, as an actor, is in a film I like, and the director [Juan Carlos Medina, the same bloke who directed The Limehouse Golem] is my good friend, and the situation was not his fault at all…
Saint Pauly: Famous first words…
Tómas: It’s a film called Painless, a Spanish-French production, shot in Spain, and my character is called ‘Berkano’. At the end of the film, I’m supposed to be like 80 years old or more, and I had this whole latex costume like upper body and head and the people who did the Labyrinth of Pan, the best in the world were doing this so it was really well done. It took, like, eight hours to put it on me and then we didn’t have that much time to shoot because makeup took so long. Then we had to start over again the next day, doing the same thing and I was like, “Do you think it’s OK to sleep in the costume?” It’s like “I don’t know. No one’s ever done it. We don’t know if it’s a good idea for the skin or anything.” And I was like “Fuck it, let’s do that.” The next day there was a scene with a very big fire. I was a bit too close to the fire and, suddenly, I was sweating like crazy and the sweat couldn’t get out! It was stuck in the costume and it started boiling a bit! And I got like burned! Some marks were staying for months. Yeah, it was a bit of a challenging situation, but it was all good and makes a good story today. Luckily, it didn’t go any further. So that’s a What The Fuck!
A What the Fuck, indeed. Sadly, the conversation went on for much longer and he shared with me many secrets of the universe but I was too drunk to remember any of it. All that remains of that earth quaking conversation is what I’ve recounted here, and I think we’re all lucky for that because the next thing I knew I was taped to a seat in a low-cost flight back to the continent.
[Disclaimer: Of course you know that none of this actually took place. I’ve never been to Iceland (although this interview has made me want to visit!), never sat naked in a natural spring (in Iceland), never drunk anything called ‘black death’ (yet) and, saddest of all, never met Tómas Lemarquis face to face. Our entire interview was done over Skype for nearly forty minutes and each minute was more pleasant than the last. Tómas was a gracious, witty, and intelligent interviewee and my gratitude for his openness and candour has no bounds. Please be sure to check out his IMDb page and his Instagram feed, where you can let him know yourselves how much you appreciated our interview and admire his work in general.]
Way Too Fun Photos
Here are some leftover shots from Tómas’s photo albums..