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Feature film "Pleasure": "It's not the porn stars that are questionable, it's the system!"

An interview with director Ninja Thyberg and actress Sofia Kappel about their feature film “Pleasure”.

Berlin – “Pleasure”, the feature film debut of Ninja Thyberg, is already one of the films of the year. In it, the Gothenburg native gives an unembellished, but non-judgmental, inside view of the US porn industry. 19-year-old Linnéa (Sofia Kappel) has only one goal: she wants to be the next big porn star. To do this, she left her Swedish hometown and moved to Los Angeles., USA She received her first orders quickly, but the horizontal business was relentless. As “Bella Cherry,” she quickly realizes that the only way she’ll survive in this industry is to do whatever is asked of her, without exception. But how far will she really go?

Sofia Kappel, who, despite all her verve, also shows great vulnerability, is sometimes glamorous and sexy, sometimes unvarnished and downright brutally photographed in the independent production of real stars of the porn world like Chris Cock, Dana De Armond or The Hobbit similar “Godfather” Mark Spiegel surrounded. She does it brilliantly by never denouncing her character, who lies to her mother about her career in the USA and mercilessly outdoes her competitors. The newcomer received the award for “Best Actress” at the Art Film Festival. Ninja Thyberg also received numerous awards for “Pleasure” as a director, screenwriter (together with Peter Modestij) and producer and was nominated for “European Discovery” at the European Film Awards. The duo chatted with Marc Hairapetian during their visit to Berlin at the hotel nhow. We used first names in conversation; this is so common among Swedes.

Ninja, you already made a short film called Pleasure in 2013. So have you been thinking about making a film about the porn industry for a long time and what is it that fascinates you about this topic?

Ninja Thyberg: I don’t know if I would choose the word “fascinated” but I’ve been interested in the subject for 20 years. In this respect, “Pleasure” is actually a long-term project. I worked on it from different perspectives. After seeing porn for the first time that was purely aimed at satisfying the male urges and leaving the females out and about, I became a rampaging anti-porn activist at 16, of course without knowing anyone my age in that industry. Later I had a lot of contact with the feminist movement of former porn actresses. I also wrote an essay on the subject.

When I became a director, I realized that I also wanted to deal with it on film. For the short film, which doesn’t have the same characters and doesn’t have the same story, I had very little money available. I decided to delve deeper into this world that had actually repelled me before. That’s how I got access to real porn sets a year after the first “Pleasure” short, which wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. Before that, I had only seen documentaries and read books about it. But it was important to me to give a realistic view of the porn industry from the inside, because it seemed too cheap to me to only judge it from the outside. That’s why a second, much more complex film called “Pleasure” was created.

You used a lot of people from the porn business. Were they satisfied with your film in the end?

Ninja Thyberg: Not everyone was happy with it. But the men were more annoyed than the women, because with Sofia Kappel in the role of Linnea I approached the subject from a female point of view. Of course, everyone had read the script beforehand. I partly understand their irritation, because I wasn’t interested in what we show, but how we do it. It was different than what they had in mind. I not only celebrate their business, I also show the dark side and the sexual and psychological exploitation of the girls. For them, however, it is their profession, which they instinctively want to defend against any outside intruder.

In the new version of “Pleasure” Mark Spiegler also acts as himself. He looks like a friendly hobbit. It’s hard to believe that he is the most influential actress agent in the US porn industry. Was it difficult to get him on the project?

Ninja Thyberg: I met him very early. He trusted me surprisingly quickly, even though he wasn’t sure whether I would attack or defend his industry. Others, as already described, were not so aware of it, and perhaps got involved with vanity on “Pleasure”. From the start I told Mark Spiegler to play himself because I couldn’t find another actor to play him. Of course that flattered him.

Sofia, Pleasure is your first film as an actress. Did the real porn actors and actresses involved support you in finding roles?

Sofia Kappel: It was really the first time that I stood in front of the camera. I had no acting experience at all before. The real people from the porn area – as well as Ninja – have helped me immensely. In order to embody my character credibly, it was important to me to talk a lot with women from the area. They took my fear away. It’s just her job, so it’s totally normal for her to walk around the set naked all the time. They probably all saw me as a “little sister” and I am still grateful to them for their support. The guys behind the camera at the porn biz were helpful too. It’s her job to make the girls look good at work. They position you so that you always look advantageous in the “live action”. I wasn’t aware of that before. So I learned a lot from them in that respect. As in the “serious” film sector, there are still too few women working in the direction or camera department in the porn biz.

Regisseurin Ninja Thyberg (r.) und Schauspielerin Sofia Kappel (li.).

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Director Ninja Thyberg (right) and actress Sofia Kappel (left).

About the people:

Ninja Thyberg, born October 12, 1984 in Göteborg (Gothenburg, Västra Götalands län), received numerous awards for her feature film debut »Pleasure« as a director, screenwriter (together with Peter Modestij) and producer (including the 2021 Göteborg Film Festival prize for “Best Feature Film” and the “Blue Angel” at the Art Film Festival for “Best Film”) as well as nominations at the European Film Awards as “European Discovery” and at the Sundance Film Festival in the category “World Cinema – Dramatic”. The feminist and anti-porn activist had already caused a stir not only in Sweden with her short films “Pleasure” (2013) and “Hot Chicks” (2014).

Sofia Kappel, born April 27, 1998 in Ekerö, received the Blue Angel for Best Female Performance at the Art Film Festival for her debut role.

In general, Scandinavian countries are traditionally very open when it comes to porn consumption. Do you have the same critical view of this industry as your director?

Sofia Kappel: I don’t think in black and white categories. There is a wide spectrum within the porn industry. I met quite a few, actor or actress; they are very happy about their job. They go on set feeling safe from the pre-health checks and have loads of power, but there’s a very dark side to that too. I’m very critical, but more in the way that I find it odd how many boys, but also girls my age, consume porn to get turned on. It’s not the porn stars that are questionable, it’s the system!

Regisseurin Ninja Thyberg (r.) und Schauspielerin Sofia Kappel (li.).

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Director Ninja Thyberg (right) and actress Sofia Kappel (left) with FR author Marc Hairapetian (middle).

Ninja, how did you find sofia?

Ninja Thyberg: That wasn’t easy at all. To be honest, I have to admit that I didn’t really have a clear idea of what my protagonist should look like. Over a period of one and a half years there were auditions all over Sweden – even before Corona. I also sent out character descriptions all over the country and thought I would never find a suitable actress for Linnaeus until my acquaintances drew the attention of Sofia, who had actually never been in front of the camera. She is a natural and with her sensitivity, but at the same time tough nature, really perfect for the role. She was 19 when we met. We were shooting just months before the pandemic hit, and I knew Pleasure would change her life forever. Therefore, as an older friend, I feel responsible for her.

Sofia, some scenes are very hard, for example when the two men rape you for hours for a sadomasochistic flick, which you can see in excerpts and which you then tell your agent in turmoil, only to then fire him. Did you have to cross physical and mental pain limits here?

Sofia Kappel: I wouldn’t say the rape was the hardest scene we shot. It was all choreographed and staged to look more violent than it was. We always shot short takes. On the set were not only ninja and cinematographer Sophie Winqvist, but also Revika Anne Reustle, the actress who played Joy, who is one of my best friends. Everyone in the room was allowed to yell “Cut!” That’s why I felt safe and even enjoyed the challenging scene.

Pleasure” will be in cinemas nationwide from January 13, 2022.

(Interview: Marc Hairapetian)

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