Going underground

Going underground

Michael Pickard
By Michael Pickard
November 15, 2016

One on oneThe Director’s ChairThe Writers Room

Norway’s NRK is blending medical drama with thriller in Valkyrien, which sees a doctor fighting to save his dying wife beneath the streets of Oslo. DQ catches up with writer/director Erik Richter Strand.

As plot lines go, it certainly catches your attention. “It’s about a doctor trying to find a cure for his dying wife – while everyone thinks she’s dead,” says Erik Richter Strand of Norwegian drama Valkyrien.

The eight-part drama, due to air on NRK in early 2017, focuses on Ravn (Sven Nordin), a respected physician who is desperately trying to save the life of his wife Vilma (Pia Halvorsen). But when the hospital ends her treatment, he continues working at a secret underground facility, aided by corrupt civil defence man Leif (Pål Sverre Hagen), who is also a doomsday prepper and a former patient of Ravn.

Writer/director Strand (pictured instructing actors above) says the show – produced by Tordenfilm and distributed by About Premium Content – combines a medical drama that, at its heart, is about life and death, with thriller elements to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. It has already been picked up by UK VoD service Walter Presents and will have its world premiere at C21’s International Drama Summit later this month.

Valkyrien stars Sven Nordin as Ravn
Valkyrien stars Sven Nordin as Ravn

Central to the story is its main location, from which the show also takes its name. “The name comes from an abandoned metro station in Oslo – Valkyrien Square station,” explains Strand. “It was shut down in 1985 – you won’t know it’s there unless you know about it. That station became the setting for our series. The main character has a dark secret he needs to protect and there’s something unsettling about the setting being underground, right under your feet.

“Once you get the idea of doing it that way, it really lifts everything. Everything is heightened and falls into place at the same time. It has this great name and a feeling of secrets and suspense. We shot inside the station but once you go through the doors [to Ravn’s chambers], the interior was filmed in a studio. We worked hard to keep the illusion of everything happening underground. We also shot in real locations around Oslo – we got access to places and locations people won’t have visited. It’s not ‘postcard’ Oslo! Putting it all together to create a seamless universe was something we spent a long time on.”

Shooting took place over 110 days from August 2015 to April this year, with Strand directing every episode. However, he was often jumping back and forth between the writers room as the early footage revealed how the characters were developing on screen.

Valkyrien
‘We shot in real locations around Oslo – we got access to places and locations people won’t have visited’ – Strand

“I love it because you can write about things you’re already shooting and you can adapt,” he says. “I also feel it’s the best way to get the most out of time and budget constraints. It gives us room to place resources where we need them most. But it’s a delicate balance between enjoying that creative freedom and feeding the production office and crew members, who want to have a shooting schedule.”

“I do continue to write throughout shooting but it’s good for everybody to have major decisions made long before you start shooting. It’s all about time. Writing and directing are two full-time jobs, so doing them together is something you want to line up as parallel as possible, but it’s also very fulfilling.”

Though the basic premise of the show – a doctor secretly treating his wife – was set up before he joined the series, Strand’s vision was supported by writers Thomas Seeberg Torjussen, Bjørn Ekeberg and Kathrine Valen Zeiner, who each supported the ‘voice’ of the show.

“I hope viewers will be intrigued,” Strand adds. “It doesn’t just stroke viewers in the direction of their fur. It sometimes goes the opposite way. We’re challenging the viewers with Leif and his desire to live outside the system, but with Ravn and his wife it’s also a contemporary love story.”

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