According to Denzel Washington, Charlotte Bruus Christensen is on the fast track to becoming a big star in Hollywood. And he knows what he is talking about. He hired the 39 year-old cinematographer to be behind the camera for his latest film, Fences, and he presented the 2016 Hamilton Behind the Camera Award to her in Los Angeles in November 2016.
Christensen started out working in her native country, Denmark, with Thomas Vinterberg on Submarino, The Hunt and the English-language film Far from the Madding Crowd. It was from the latter that Denzel Washington discovered her talent and decided to hire her for Fences. Christensen’s first studio film was Tate Taylor’s The Girl on the Train and following her work on Fences she recently finished shooting Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, Molly’s Game, in Toronto.
We spoke to her about working in the male-dominated field of cinematography.
How do you feel about being a woman in your job – which is traditionally mostly a man’s job?
I feel quite happy being a woman in a male dominated industry. I never think of it as a problem or a barrier in any way. I assume that people will consider this before they hire me and so it is all pretty simple in my head. If I get a job, it’s because people want what I can do and the female versus male question is not so interesting at that point.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a female cinematographer?
I have a hard time answering that since I don’t look at things that way. I don’t seek advantages in terms of being a woman and I do not seek to find disadvantages either. It would take away from my job and from what I love so much to think in those terms.
Did you ever feel discriminated against because of your sex?
The straightforward and very honest answer to that question is no. However, if I dig further, I am not completely sure. Perhaps some people would say that there have been incidents of discrimination, but I do not have the need to find out for sure whether a specific incident was meant as discrimination or just silly behavior, which I suppose could happen to anyone, male or female. Thinking about it, would take away my focus and I would loose control of what I am actually there to give. However, do I see it happen to other people on sets and it is easier to point out for some reason? I would always be up front in terms of saying my opinion.
Do you have more female colleagues now than before? Do you see a change in the amount of women who are interested in the job?
In the short period of time that I have been working professionally, I feel it is the same. I am in touch with a lot of women who love the cinematographer’s world. And I have always and will always keep helping and inspiring as much as I can to get women started out in the business.
You just worked on Aaron Sorkin’s “Molly’s Game” and Jessica Chastain mentioned that she felt safer having a woman behind the camera when she had to do a sex scene. What do you do to make the actors feel safe?
I always try to make any actor or actress feel comfortable during a sex scene. I seek to just simply respect each individual’s needs and wishes and give them the time to find their comfort zone – just as I would in any scene. I do sometimes have actresses commenting to me that it is nice to have a female looking through the camera – and I think this is for very obvious and natural reasons.
You also had a special relationship with Emily Blunt on your first studio film “Girl on the Train”. She described your collaboration as a dance. Do you think you had this special relationship because you are both women?
Yes – I had the pleasure to work with the wonderful Ms. Blunt. She is simply a super star. We did indeed establish a special relationship on Girl on the Train. I wouldn’t say that it was because we are women – in fact, not at all. It was the situation, the story, the way of approaching and shooting the scenes that brought us closer, and we happened to have the same understanding of the story and similar ideas on how to express this. Her ideas as an actress just matched the visual ideas we had and vice versa. I do think that the creative connection could have been working just as well if it had been a man. The fact that we have a lot of things in common on top of that like kids at the same age, busy girls and similar traveling lives just added to the conversations and our friendship.
You worked with Denzel Washington who is known for not wasting his time. How does one work with a man of his stature?
Denzel is a very passionate and experienced filmmaker. He is a very direct person, so I had to make sure that he would not step all over me while we were collaborating. His resume is extremely long and impressive – perhaps especially next to mine. Denzel Washington does not waste his time. He knows what he likes and how he wants it – perhaps therefore it felt uncomplicated once we had made the decision to sign on the project. He had made up his mind and he had thought it through, which created an amazing and strong foundation for our working relationship. But, still it is a balance. One has to live up to the expectations, and Mr. Washington has high expectations to himself as well as to others. I like that though, because so do I. You asked me: How does one work with a man of his stature? I believe it means to collaborate and to challenge. To bring ideas to the table. To listen and respect all that he obviously is, but at the same time keep on developing. He is a legend and you can feel it when you are around him. At the same time, I guess my mentality is very Danish and I aim to keep both feet on the ground. I am very respectful, but I first and foremost have a job to do.