DRIB: An interview with Amir Asgharnejad

How did you make the decision to re-enact what happened to you in Los Angeles and then turn it into a film?

I can’t say it was my choice. Kristoffer Borgli and I had been working together for a long time on a different project and when I went through this whole advertising ordeal Kristoffer wanted to turn it into a movie. I thought it was a really good idea.

You’re known in Norway for your viral videos where you get into fights. What is your reasoning behind these types of videos?

It’s a really banal answer but I want to be famous. I want to be part of things. But more than that, I’ve been doing performance work for a long time and I am always trying to find a new way to do something. We had a conversation at SXSW in Texas where one of the audience members called me a nihilist like it’s such a trendy thing to call someone. “You guys are nihilists!” I thought that was a stupid comment because while I do things that are crazy, like going up to people and fighting them, everything I have done was me partaking in something in a creative way. That is what you are supposed to do when you are doing performance art. I enjoy creating, and I want to put myself in situations where I can create. When something is created, it becomes something else. I want to be part of all this.

Has having the film screen at festivals and all the feedback changed how you view your viral content?

Not that much. I enjoyed the red carpet, I enjoyed talking to people. I was a part of something like how I was part of the advertising campaign. That said, I don’t really enjoy the art world. I don’t enjoy the entertainment industry. In a way, it takes itself too seriously. If anything, this whole experience has made me more anti-entertainment. When I’m doing stand-up comedy, my work is becoming absurdist anti-humour. In a world where everything has become content it’s hard to create. There are people uploading plates of food to Instagram, or a person is posting what they are doing, and people are on Snapchat entertaining their own circle of friends. They are creating art and putting it on social media. I really feel like if anything changed after the movie, it’s that I’ve become anti-content. However, I would still want to make it because I’ve been doing it for so long that I don’t see the need for anything entertaining or artistic.

In the film, you had to work alongside professional actors. What was that experience?

When it comes to acting, it’s something I’d like to do more of. That said, I liked the crew more than I did the actors. The actors took themselves too seriously. As a kid, I always wanted to be a movie star. I wanted to be the next Macaulay Culkin! But then you grow up. I liked the crew better.

As this film recreates something you went through, do you feel it was an accurate representation of events?

The story is accurate, though Kristoffer and I had some arguments about some of the content. But I had to understand that it was a movie, a piece of fiction in a way. It’s like Spinal Tap: turning something up to 11 or 12. Some of the scenes in the film are exaggerated, but it’s all true.

Did re-enacting this experience then change your opinion on what happened?

Not really. I had a moment of catharsis in a way. Doing the movie gave me a whole new feeling about the experience of the advertising campaign. It wasn’t traumatic but it was nice talking about it and working through what happened. When you’re an artist you have an ego going on and when you fail it’s nice, but then you have this normal person inside you who feels like a failure.

The one thing that was special about experiencing it all over again was how meta it got at times. For example, in the movie, we have an assistant who helps my character through the advertising campaign. On set for the movie, we had an assistant who came up to me and said he thought the girl who was playing the assistant was really cute. It was funny, it was the same level of meta going on in the movie. The two guys who do the fight scenes with us are just as ridiculous as the two guys the advertising managers brought in to do the campaign. It was a strange experience.

What was the hardest part of acting as yourself in a movie about you?

Knowing the lines! I would say the hardest part was the communication between Kristoffer and I. He would say that I wasn’t taking it seriously and was ruining his movie, but I wanted some sort of control about what was going on and it wasn’t getting through. It’s hard when you aren’t an actor to act professionally. I do think I was pretty professional, but at times it was hard when you didn’t want to do what you were being told to do.

Have you and Kristoffer worked through the communication problems now?

Yeah, I understand it now because Kristoffer wants to be a movie director and he has a very movie approach to my story. He wanted to make it more film-friendly. We had a difference of opinion there, but I understand it. There’s no grudge, we are good friends. And the film ended up really good’ I’m very happy with the result. I don’t know how it could’ve been better, but it could’ve been really bad. It could’ve been a shitty American blockbuster full of explosions and CGI.

That could be the remake!

Yes, that can be when Hollywood buys the rights! We’d need to have Vin Diesel and Robert Downey Jr. and Jesse Eisenberg can play me. I could actually see that happening.

In the world of Hollywood, a lot of personalities seem almost satirical. That could be said about Brett’s character as the advertising executive…

He was exaggerating. But I think Brett liked that. He could be a diva at times, much like the advertising guy I met in real life. There’s a lot of people like that you meet in this line of work, and I usually tend to hate that. He’s an exaggerated version of the advertising executive, but at the same time, he’s playing a person who exists. That’s what makes satire so successful. It’s the typical advertising guy who talks down to you, sees right through you, and is in it for himself. That’s what people recognised in Brett’s character.

I can see that satire works because now people are trying to satirise Donald Drumpf. We have Alec Baldwin trying to do an impersonation, but it’s not very good because Drumpf is a better satirised and characterised version of himself. He’s more Donald Drumpf than Alec Baldwin would ever be. Brett did it right, which was pretty cool. He did a good job.

What has the feedback on the film been like?

I tried to be around the audience as much as possible. I got a lot of good feedback and had many good conversations with people, who generally were quite nice. I had this one reviewer in Denmark who had given the movie a good review but had given me a bad review. He gave the movie 5/6 but said my character wasn’t very charismatic. Just for fun, I didn’t get pissed off, but I thought it would be funny if I reacted as if I was. I found the guys email and wrote to him an email saying I’d really enjoy it if he looked at me as charismatic and I sent him some videos and pictures where I think I’m rather charming. He said he enjoyed that and he might change the review! •

Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.