Mia Goth: ‘I love the people of Northern Ireland. They really know how to have fun’

Actor on her time in the North, her new film Infinity Pool and how she went from auditioning for fairy cartoon roles to becoming a horror film star

To this point, interviewers and profile writers have largely avoided nominative determinism when discussing Mia Goth. Quite right too. She has proved to be a versatile actor. We have no reason to mention the weird appropriateness of her surname. And it is her real name (or part of it). Mia Gypsy Mello da Silva Goth, of Brazilian, Canadian and US descent, was born in London a little less than 30 years ago. She was good as Harriet Smith in the recent version of Jane Austen’s Emma. She had a decent role in Wallander.

But, let us be frank, Goth is best known for a series of chilling performances in horror films such as Marrowbone, Suspiria, X, Pearl and coming your way next week, Brandon Cronenberg’s inventive, revolting, subversive Infinity Pool. She has been in films by established auteurs, but even they – Claire Denis’s High Life and Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac – have tended towards the macabre. So, yes, “Goth” does seem eerily appropriate.

She comes across as a nice woman. I meet her along with Alexander Skarsgård, her co-star in Infinity Pool as, safely wrapped in warm coats, they brave Prussian cyclones at the Berlin Film Festival. Who decided the ghoulish was going to be her natural milieu?

“I don’t know. What I can say is that I definitely am… urm…”


“Deeply disturbed,” Skarsgård suggests with a dry Swedish laugh.

“Yeah, exactly. And I’m able to work through those issues. No, no… But I think when I am on set I don’t really have any limits. There’s nothing that I won’t do to improve the scene. And I really do give it everything I have. I enjoy that process. I enjoy that way of working.”

There is much evidence of that dedication in Infinity Pool. In Cronenberg’s film, they are among the visitors to a luxury resort in a fictional maritime nation where tensions abound between underprivileged citizens and a violently oppressive regime. Skarsgård’s character, a pretentious novelist, slides out of the protective carapace when he runs over a local man and gets caught up in fascist bureaucracy. Goth, playing another of the guests, begins as his illicit lover before becoming a keening tormentor. It is hardly possible to give any worthwhile precis of the careering plot, but tender souls need be aware that – would you expect anything else from the son of David Cronenberg? – Infinity Pool takes in explicit sex, violent abuse, squelchy evisceration and adults being led around on dogs’ leads. The film received raves at the recent Sundance Film Festival. It also triggered some appalled dropping of pince-nez.

“I thought more people would walk out,” Skarsgård says. “I was shocked more didn’t. I’d seen an early cut of the film, but just on my computer. So that late-night screening at Sundance was the first time I watched the movie on a big screen with the full sound. And in a room full of drunk people. It was an absolutely amazing experience. It really was.”

It sounds as if the US distributors got caught up in an old-fashioned row with arbitrators of morality. Cronenberg had to cut a few frames to get the film down from a financially ruinous NC-17 certificate to a less terrifying R rating. Such stories do no harm to such a film’s box-office potential. “The movie THEY didn’t want you to see!” And so on.

“Well, the cut that Brandon had to do to get it to be an R rating was incredibly minor,” Goth says. “We’re talking a second here, half of a second there. If you were to watch the NC-17 version and then the R-rated version they are really practically the same thing. Unless you’re Brandon, who is so closely involved with the entire making of the movie, you probably really wouldn’t notice a difference. I think there is a way for you to navigate that situation and negotiate so that the final product isn’t compromised.”

Nymphomaniac was my first movie. And that became my entire blueprint for everything I did moving forward

—  Mia Goth

US interviewers are sometimes unduly surprised to hear Goth speak in a sing-songy English timbre, very different to the throaty American tone she uses in X and Pearl. There are perhaps hints of a complicated upbringing in her voice. When she was a small child, her mum moved her back to her family in Brazil. A spell in Canada followed before they eventually settled in southeast London where she attended school from the age of 12. It was only a few years later that a photographer spotted her and she started modelling. Her break in film came at 16 when Lars von Trier cast her in his characteristically controversial Nymphomaniac.

Von Trier has, shall we say, a complicated reputation. He was famously thrown out of Cannes in 2011 after misguided remarks at a press conference. “I understand Hitler,” he said. “He did some wrong things, absolutely, but I can see him sitting there in his bunker at the end ... I sympathise with him, yes, a little bit.” Not everybody has enjoyed working on his sets. But Goth can scarcely contain her enthusiasm for the Danish oddball.

“Nymphomaniac was my first movie. And that became my entire blueprint for everything I did moving forward,” she says. “Usually you’re in a situation and you take a couple of years off to reflect on the fact and realise how special it was. But that situation wasn’t lost on me at all. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life – working with Lars – and the way he approaches his work. It’s how I’ve been aspiring to work ever since. I owe Lars everything. I worship him. I think the world of him. He is such a singular talent. That was the biggest blessing of my life.”

Would she be sitting here today without him? Would she have stuck to acting if she hadn’t had that early break?

“Oh, I was auditioning for everything else. I was auditioning for playing little fairies in cartoons,” she says. “Then I got Nymphomaniac as my first project. And I acquired a taste for that kind of film. For that sort of material. For that kind of director. It really was intoxicating and addictive. And it’s what I’ve been aspiring to work with ever since.”

So it sounds as if von Trier was, at least, responsible for edging her in a certain direction. More or less the next thing she did was Stephen Fingleton’s Northern Irish post-apocalyptic thriller The Survivalist from 2015. Goth was hugely striking – in an unsettling role – opposite Martin McCann and Olwen Fouéré. You already had a sense of a uniquely uncanny sensibility. She has a gaze that appears to hide multitudes. That voice was already swinging through evasive emotions.

“I love Northern Ireland!” she says, remembering that shoot. “I love the people. I love the country, the environment. I love working there. But really it’s the people more than anything. They know how to have fun. They’re hard-working and… well, they really know how to have fun. Ha, ha!”

She has been a presence ever since. The Goth cult kicked up another gear with the release of X in 2022 and the more recent arrival of Pearl, a prequel to that slasher. Hanging around the set of a pornographic film in Texas, X got unusually strong reviews for a film in its genre. Pearl, which Goth co-wrote, went down even better with audiences and critics.

Infinity Pool will do much to further bolster Goth’s reputation. Cronenberg makes a virtue of her inimitable voice as she turns into a gun-toting, perverse nightmare for Skarsgård’s character. The words “members of the bus!” will, for reasons spoilers prohibit us further explaining, forever be etched on the brains of Infinity Pool survivors.

The film looks to be surfing a wave of cinematic outrage at the super-rich and their playthings. Like Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness, Mark Mylod’s The Menu and Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, Infinity Pool sends a gaggle of spoilt jerks to a glossy resort and then proceeds to gut them mercilessly. Where did that suddenly come from?

“Yeah, you can definitely see a wave of these types of movies coming out recently,” Goth says. “But I do believe Infinity Pool stands alone in what it’s created and what it’s exploring.”

It didn’t look as if it was easy to make. But those impressions can be deceptive.

“We were shooting in the middle of the night with snow falling,” she says. “Things like that were probably more challenging than anything else. But the actual process of making the movie was really nice. There was a good rhythm to what was going on. It was challenging in the right ways, but nothing that was insurmountable.”

Amid all the rising popularity, Goth managed to hook up with Shia LaBeouf – her co-star in Nymphomaniac – break up, get back together again and, just last year, have a baby. A third film in the X universe is coming our way. There is probably nobody buzzier in contemporary Hollywood. I trust she will keep pushing the boundaries.

“It’s exhilarating to kind of let go in that way,” she says. “Because it’s really not something I do in my day-to-day. So I’m able to work through that and explore all of that on set. I love playing really vibrant, colourful characters that are going through particular and peculiar things. I couldn’t say why they cast me. I just know that when I work I try to give it my all.”

Infinity Pool is released on March 24th.