The Purinton Primer: Riding in Cars with Lars

After my exciting turn in the starring role of Hamlet this past weekend, I have taken the time to consider my acting career. Like everyone, I’ve had some major successes and a few flops. All in all, I’m happy with how I’ve done as an actor thus far, but I’ve come to the sad realization that I peaked when I was 11 years old.

Growing up in New York City, I was lucky enough to start acting professionally at a young age — and 11 was without a doubt my year of glory. I originated roles in two plays, including one off-Broadway where I got to wear this costume.

The play was called The Notebook. As you can probably tell from this picture, the play had nothing to do with the film of the same name.

Perhaps my biggest accomplishment when I was 11, however, the one for which I am best-known, was my role as Jason in the movie Dogville.  For those of you who haven’t heard of Dogville, and I’m guessing that’s most everyone, it’s a strange film. For one thing, it’s three hours long, every character in the movie is a terrible person and there are no walls. If you don’t know what that means … it means that there are no walls. The walls are instead chalk outlines on the floor.

It's like Our Town done by Quentin Tarantino.

It was also an amazing experience, mostly because of the people involved. The film stars Nicole Kidman, Paul Bettany, Patricia Clarkson, Stellan Skarsgaard, Lauren Bacall, James Caan and numerous others. I had two scenes with Kidman, including one where she spanks me. Yes, I’ve been spanked by Nicole Kidman. Yes, I’m one of only three people in the world who can say this.

I call her Nicki.

Perhaps the most interesting part of working on Dogville, though, was the chance to work with the film’s director and writer, Lars Von Trier. Von Trier is the definition of a controversial director, both in terms of the critical reactions to his films (which tend to be wildly positive or negative) and as a human being, such as when he got kicked out of the most recent Cannes film festival for remarks about sympathizing with Nazis.

I call him Mr. Von Trier, because to call him Larsy-poo might disrespect him and he scares me a little.

Although some might not like all of his films, it’s hard to dispute the fact that he’s a genius. He has invented his own style of film and is one of the most recognizable figures in European cinema.

He’s also completely out of his mind.

I discovered this before I was even cast in the film. You see, Von Trier is notoriously afraid of flying, and since he lives in Denmark, he has never been to the United States. My audition, therefore, was filmed and sent to him. After being put on tape once, I was called back and recorded again. At this point, Lars Von Trier reportedly began hopping up and down, yelling, “I must meet him!” He called my agent to arrange for me to fly to Copenhagen for an in person audition. When he didn’t hear back, he called again. And again. In all, he called 27 times. That number is because he forgot how time zones worked and was calling between the hours of 2:00 and 5:00 in the morning.

When he finally got ahold of my agent, they made travel arrangements and my mother and I flew out to Denmark for three days so I would miss as little school as possible. On our first full day there, we were given a tour of Lars’ studio, Zentropa Studios. The most striking thing about the film studio was the giant military tank right at the front of the studio, seemingly guarding the front door. When we asked Lars’ assistant, who was showing us around, why there was such an alarming vehicle outside, she replied, “Well, the other main Scandinavian film studio’s mascot is a polar bear. So, Lars said, ‘What would win in a fight? A tank or a polar bear?’”

Then I met Lars. He’s a quiet man who bows a lot and smells like peach schnapps. We had a nice conversation with him, and then he turned ominously to my mother and said, “I’m going to take him now.”

Lars meant that we were going to drive to a filming ground just a few minutes from the studio’s main building. Lars, a cameraman, an actress Lars had hired for the day and I went off towards the parking lot. Lars, predictably, doesn’t drive a normal car. He drives a Jeep that looks like a camouflage golf cart. As we approached the Larsmobile, Lars said, “Miles will drive.”

I laughed at his joke and said, “Okay,” but then I noticed that he was in the passenger seat, looking at me expectantly. I said, “I can’t drive. I’m 11.” He looked surprised and went to the driver’s seat.

As we pulled out of the parking lot, he said, “My three-year-old twins drive all the time. Not well, but they drive.”

The audition itself went well. He recorded me reading some scenes and doing some improvisation. After an hour and a half, he had had enough and we went to go back to the studio. We were driving along when out of nowhere, he swerved into an open field and said, “Now there is nothing for you to hit. You drive.” I slowly went to the driver’s seat, my tiny little legs barely reaching the pedals (Ed.: I can confirm that at this age, Miles was approximately two feet tall). I lurched the car a few times, but ultimately started driving around in circles. Wow, I thought, I can do this. I’ll drive around for a bit and maybe I’ll get the part.

And that’s when I drove the car into a ditch. The actress Lars had hired for the day was clutching her seat in terror. The cameraman, who had worked with Lars before, looked unfazed. Lars calmly said, “Okay. That is good,” and got out of the car.

Two months later, I went to Sweden for seven weeks in the middle of winter to film Dogville.

This picture is for all you skeptics out there.

And here’s me at the Dogville premiere in New York. Now I’m just bragging. And proving that it’s not just a fluke that I look kind of like Tweety Bird in each of these pictures.


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