Tag Archives: Jeppe Gjervig Gram

Beyond Borgen

Writers Adam Price, Jeppe Gjervig Gram and actor Birgitte Hjort Sørensen made their names on Danish political drama Borgen. Michael Pickard finds out what they’ve been up to since and how the series shaped their careers.

When Borgen first aired in 2010, the idea that a television drama focusing on the complexities of Danish coalition politics might travel around the world must have seemed optimistic at best.

Even local pubcaster DR, which commissioned the show, wasn’t convinced it would have an international future. “The head of drama then, Ingolf Gabald, said from very early on, ‘Guys, don’t ever think this show will travel because it will not,’” remembers series creator Adam Price (pictured top centre with members of the Borgen cast). “It’s funny now. Of course, you can say in hindsight he missed that one because then it was sold to almost 100 countries.”

Gabold can be forgiven for his caution. But buoyed by the international success of Scandinavian exports such as Wallander, Forbrydelsen (The Killing), the Millennium film trilogy and Broen/Bron (The Bridge), Borgen was swept up in the wave of demand for series coming out of the region.

Price worked on DR series Herrens Veje (Ride Upon the Storm) starring Lars Mikkelsen

In the near-decade since Borgen made its debut, its stars – including Sidse Babett Knudsen (who played prime minister Birgitte Nyborg), Pilou Asbæk (her advisor Kasper Juul) and Birgitte Hjort Sørensen (journalist Katrine Fønsmark) – and those behind the camera have gone on to make series that have kept Danish drama in the global spotlight.

Price most recently wrapped on another DR series, Herrens Veje (Ride Upon the Storm), a two-season, 20-episode drama about a family of priests who each choose their own path to a meaningful life. It stars Lars Mikkelsen and is produced by Sam Productions, with StudioCanal distributing.

“I really wanted to try to understand religion,” Price says. “Religion is one of the most important and essential topics to choose when we’re talking big drama, and it’s a source of worry for so many people. It’s almost as if the debate about religion itself has become radicalised. It’s as if there’s no limit to what we are able to say to each other. I really wanted us to discuss and debate religion because, if we talk about religion, we might not kill each other.”

The writer says that although he is a fan of Nordic noir, he was keen to ensure Borgen’s successor didn’t follow the path of a “dark, gritty crime story, typically with dead people in forests and lonely, socially awkward police officers who have to solve the cases.” Instead, Price decided to explore a new genre, Nordic magical realism, with a story about spirituality and faith. “It’s incredibly important not to keep moving along the same alleyways. Even the Brits are now producing Nordic noir and have been for several years. It’s not a speciality of the Nordic countries anymore,” he says.

Ride Upon the Storm launched in the UK on streaming platform Walter Presents in January this year, the same month that Greyzone, which stars Borgen alumna Sørensen, also debuted on the Channel 4-backed service.

Few spotted Borgen, a drama centred in Danish politics, would have global appeal

The 10-part series, produced by Cosmo Films for TV2 and distributed by ITV Studios Global Entertainment, follows the events that lead up to a planned terror attack in Scandinavia, centring on brilliant drone engineer Victoria Rahbek (Sørensen), who is taken hostage.

Her captor is part of the terror cell planning the attack, with Victoria chosen so the group can acquire the components it needs from her company. Victoria must risk everything to steal the equipment while also working as a double agent for the police, who will do anything to prevent the attack.

“I could sense there was a high level of ambition from the people who created it,” the actor says of the show, which is written by Morten Dragster and Oskar Söderlund. “Greyzone is the term we have in Danish for ‘grey area’ – all the things that aren’t black and white, which is life. Often in fiction, there’s a given right or wrong because it reads well and you know who to root for, but in real life that’s hardly ever the case. So it really interested me that they wanted to dive into this complex world.

“It’s easy to write off terrorists as madmen or psychopaths. In our case, Victoria is forced to look behind the cold, brutal man she meets to try to understand how he became like this.”

At first, Greyzone appears to be a typical crime show or thriller, Sørensen says, before it reveals the internal psychological drama between Victoria and her captor, Iyad (Ardalan Esmaili). “It almost becomes like a play because we’re confined in this small space, her apartment. He intrudes into her world and then they have to live together in this odd way. All of the action takes place between them, at least in that part of the storyline.”

Borgen co-writer Jeppe Gjervig Gram

After her breakout role in Borgen, Sørensen landed parts in British dramas Marple and Midsomer Murders, starred in feature Pitch Perfect 2 and also appeared in HBO series Game of Thrones and Vinyl. What she enjoys about acting, she explains, is the opportunity to dive into different worlds, genres and characters, particularly when this gives her the chance to learn something new.

“I had a lot of great adventures abroad. The thing about working overseas is the budgets are usually bigger, so the toys are usually bigger – I would never get to do something like Game of Thrones in Denmark because we couldn’t afford it,” she continues. “It’s been so adventurous, but also, because it is a much bigger pond, I naturally become a smaller fish. I haven’t said I’ll never work abroad again, but there were a lot of days where I just sat on my own and I missed my family, so I made a conscious choice to move back home and be here and work here, and I’m really happy.

“Because Denmark is such a small country, it’s so familiar so it’s a very safe and comfortable way of working. Sometimes the sense of hierarchy is so strong in the UK and US, you feel like you’re just doing a job, whereas I feel more like part of the process in Denmark.”

One of Price’s Borgen co-writers, Jeppe Gjervig Gram, followed up the political drama with a series of his own creation, Bedrag (Follow the Money). The show, again for DR, explored the world of financial crime over three seasons, the last of which aired earlier this year and focused specifically on money laundering.

“After doing the second season, I felt we had spent so much time in expensive boardrooms and with CEOs that we’d told most of the stories I wanted to tell in that arena,” Gram says. “Piv Bernth, then head of DR drama [and Gabold’s successor], was very open to us pursuing a completely new direction. I came up with the idea of doing something about the laundering of drug money, which has always fascinated me as I live in a neighbourhood where there’s a lot of gang activity. I absolutely still love the first two seasons, but feeling completely free to change as much as we needed was a great starting point for fresh storytelling. DR is a place where they care a lot about the writer’s vision. They allowed us to do that even though it’s quite a big risk for the broadcaster.”

That kind of freedom is rare in television, particularly from a free-to-air public broadcaster. Gram admits it was both refreshing and daunting, but with Follow the Money’s third run earning rave reviews, “DR’s wonderful gamble in the form of maximum trust in the writer luckily paid off, and the freedom of creativity has been a true pleasure,” he says.

“I’m very proud of the third season and the way we’ve done it, especially where we have been brave and taken risks and chances because that’s really what makes interesting series at the moment. There are so many series being made right now and it’s the ones that take risks that stand out. Of course, some won’t work, but that’s part of taking risks.”

Greyzone stars Borgen actress Birgitte Hjort Sørensen

Price remembers being afforded the same freedom when he, Gram and Tobias Lindholm were writing Borgen. Of course, at that time, there were no expectations placed on them, either in Denmark or internationally. “We had a great cast, we had a reasonably good budget and all the freedom in the world, which was amazing,” he says. “We could just write the show we really wanted to write. We could basically lean back and try to make the best show, in Danish terms, we could possibly make. That very local nerve in the show made it very global. That freedom meant so much to us.”

Borgen’s success has also launched many careers, he adds. “All of a sudden – and this was the case with Ride Upon the Storm – we could finance a Danish show with money from several European broadcasters because we were known names for them and they really wanted the next shows.

“Birgitte, Pilou (Game of Thrones) and Sidse (Westworld) have also had amazing international careers that began with the Borgen years. The freedom and lack of expectation at the time we were doing it was tremendously important.”

On Borgen, “it was the fact we always had so much fun,” Gram says. “We never argued. We could disagree on something but we would always look for something even better because we trusted each other’s instincts. That’s something I remember well. It was very playful and ambitious in the way we were searching for ideas.”

Sørensen was only two years out of drama school when she landed her part in Borgen, which she credits with making her a household name in Denmark and thus providing her ticket to working abroad.

“I’m immensely proud of it, I loved doing it. I feel like I got an extra education, not just working with cameras, which you don’t really learn in drama school, but also it was an introduction for me to take an interest in politics and the world, so I feel like I grew up on that show. It’s very dear to me.”

DR’s Bedrag (Follow the Money) explores the world of financial crime

Price is now heading into production on his next series, Ragnarok, a six-part drama for Netflix. The Norwegian-language show unfolds in the fictional small town of Edda in the middle of the Norwegian countryside and is described as a modern-day coming-of-age drama rooted in Norse mythology.

“It is a story about climate change,” Price explains of the high-school set series. “We’re asking the question, ‘Is the world coming to an end?’ I have done politics, I have done religion – now we are coming to the end of the world.”

But it is something he learned on Borgen that Price keeps with him long after that show ended, and will prove particularly useful now he is working on a series that will roll out simultaneously in more than 190 countries worldwide.

“You have to write a story that means something to you,” he says. “You cannot have all kinds of thoughts about how someone will react to it in South America. You cannot let thoughts like that disturb you too much, because you will end up confused in your choices. You have to focus on your story. If I believe it and feel it and make other people feel it, then it stands a chance of working internationally as well.”


Let the Danes begin

Four new dramas hailing from Denmark were showcased during Berlinale’s Drama Series Days event in February. DQ rounds up the selection.

Når støvet har lagt sig (When the Dust Settles, pictured)
A terrorist attack at a Copenhagen restaurant is dramatised in terrifyingly vivid fashion in the latest drama from pubcaster DR, created by Dicte’s Ida Maria Rydén and Dorte W Høgh. Yet rather than dwell on the incident itself, the 10-part limited series is a character-driven piece that focuses on a group of people both before and after the attack and examines how their lives are interwoven. It is produced by Stinna Lassen (The Team) and DR Drama and is being sold internationally by DR Sales. When the Dust Settles is slated to air locally in January 2020.

Sygeplejeskolen (The New Nurses)
Following the success of the first season last autumn, The New Nurses is returning for a second six-part run, continuing the 1950s-set story about the first intake of male nurses in post-war Denmark. It is produced by SF Studios and Senia Dremstrup for TV 2, with REinvent Studios distributing.

Den Som Dræber – Fanget af Mørket (Darkness – Those Who Kill)
A reboot of 2011’s Those Who Kill, this eight-part serialised crime thriller asks not whodunnit but ‘whydunnit’ when a profiler is called in to help save two kidnapped girls from a murderer. Commissioned by Nordic streaming service Viaplay, it is produced by Miso Film and written by Ina Bruhn. Fremantle is handing worldwide sales.

The Rebels from No 69
Based on the true story of radicalised white youths who started riots when they were evicted from a shared house in Copenhagen, The Rebels from No 69 is described as a coming-of-age series that follows 20-year-old Camilla, who leaves her parents’ home under the pretence of living with her older brother but ends up moving into the house. When the council sells the property to a church, its inhabitants barricade themselves inside, leading the army to storm the premises. Currently in pre-production, it is produced by Made in Copenhagen for TV2 and distributed by REinvent Studios

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Money maker

Bedrag (Follow the Money) III is the next chapter of the acclaimed TV series from prolific Danish broadcaster DR, set in the world of organised crime and money laundering. Creator and showrunner Jeppe Gjervig Gram (Borgen) explains how this new season, due to air this month, attempted to stay ahead of the headlines.

Over the past two seasons of Bedrag (Follow the Money), we have been chasing crooked CEOs in the corridors of power and lavish executive offices. Ever since the first season, however, I’ve dreamt of exploring a different world of financial crinminality: the money of organised crime.

Jeppe Gjervig Gram

Drug trafficking is a major global industry; a market that doesn’t go away, no matter how many laws the politicians pass or how hard the police crack down on pushers. As long as there are buyers, there’s money to be made. And since the market is illegal, all the money goes straight into the pockets of drug lords – criminal heavyweights who run a business where violence and murder are an everyday part of the equation.

Cannabis accounts for a huge part of the industry. Danish drug lords alone are estimated to generate yearly profits of more than a billion kroner (US$151.6m) from the drug. This lucrative market could not exist without widespread money laundering; without it, criminals would be unable to spend their dizzying profits. To this end, they are aided and abetted by an army of morally suspect accountants, attorneys, bankers, foreign-exchange companies and nominees who launder the money – from miserably paid Eastern European straw men right up to the heavyweights of the financial world.

The inspiration for the third season of Follow the Money came from the huge money-laundering scandal surrounding one of the world’s largest banks, HSBC, when it was discovered that the bank had failed to prevent the systematic laundering of billions of dollars of Mexican and Colombian drug cartel funds – and escaped with a fine that was essentially peanuts. But when we started meticulously exploring the Danish money-laundering cases back home, we realised the Danish banks had to be playing a far greater role than the public was aware of.

A little less than a year later, the news hit: the number-one Danish bank was being exposed as complicit in international money laundering – and we felt we were very much on the right track.

Then followed a string of police cases against foreign-exchange agencies. Accusations of money laundering were raised against another major Danish bank. And confrontations between armed gangs over drug territories erupted in a central Copenhagen district. The past six months’ writing has been a race against real-life events.

Follow the Money’s third season was inspired by a real-life money-laundering scandal

The new season of Follow the Money is both a continuation and something entirely new. We invite viewers into a whole new world, following the cannabis money trail through the city and out of the country. This means a more vibrant urban scene and fewer glamorous executive offices; more raw, urban districts and fewer well-to-do suburbs. The different environment sparked new energy – a vitality that we chose to incorporate in the visual style and narrative flow. If you want to follow street money, you have to follow the beat of the street.

As we embarked on our journey into this new world, we also realised we would have to be brave and let go of some of our beloved main characters, Mads (played by Thomas Bo Larsen) and Claudia (Natalie Madueño), simply because we felt their stories had reached their proper ending.

However, there were two other characters I felt we were far from done with: Nicky (Esben Smed) and Alf (Thomas Hwan). On the contrary, the third season is very much shaped by a strong desire to pit the two men against each other. The story about what happened to Nicky after he turned his back on his family, what happened to Alf after he was shot, and what happens when the friendless gangster and the insomniac policeman find themselves on a collision course in the midst of urban gang warfare.

In this next season, the two men are joined by a new female protagonist whose part has been a sheer delight to write. Conscientious and upstanding bank assistant Anna feels neglected both at work and at home but discovers a whole new side of herself when she starts money laundering for some of the city’s leading gangsters.

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On the up down under

Stateless marks Cate Blanchett's directorial debut
Stateless marks Cate Blanchett’s directorial debut
Dozens of Aussie screenwriters will be dusting off their computer keyboards following the news that Screen Australia has greenlit A$640,000 (US$474,241) of development funding for 23 films and television series.

The project that has caught the attention of the international media is Stateless, which will be directed by Oscar-winning actor Cate Blanchett. Described by Screen Australia as Blanchett’s “first venture into high-end TV,” it tells the true story of Cornelia Rau, a young German-Australian who escaped a frightening cult, only to be trapped in a bizarre labyrinth of psychiatric and legal systems.

NBCUniversal-owned production company Matchbox Pictures will produce Stateless, which is based on a screenplay written by Elise McCredie. McCredie has a long and varied track record as an actress, but her first big hit as a writer was Nowhere Boys, a teen series that was also produced by Matchbox.

First airing on ABC3 in 2013, the show was successful enough to secure a renewal and to be adapted as a feature film (Book of Shadows). Sold internationally by NBCUniversal, it has also aired in the UK and Canada.

The other projects backed by Screen Australia include works from Bryan Brown and Rachel Ward, Richard Roxburgh, Marieke Hardy, Jan Chapman, Stephan Elliott and Bondi Hipsters’ Nicholas Boshier. However, the only other high-end television drama to secure Screen Australia funding this month is Trust – a drama based on a journalist’s mission to expose a shadowy movement cloaked in conspiracy theories and deception.

Trust’s writing team consists of Sarah Lambert, Blake Ayshford and Kris Mrksa. Lambert’s standout credit to date is Love Child, a critical and ratings success for Channel 9 and Playmaker in 2014.

Sarah Lambert is part of a team of writers on Trust
Sarah Lambert is part of a team of writers on Trust

Ayshford has written episodes for a number of shows including The Beautiful Lie, Nowhere Boys, Devil’s Playground, The Code and Crownies, while Mrksa’s credits include Underbelly, The Slap and Glitch.

The latter is a six-parter that started airing on ABC1 this month. Pursuing a familiar theme, it focuses on a policeman who is called to his local cemetery in the middle of the night after six people have inexplicably risen from the dead in perfect health.

Nerida Moore, senior development executive at Screen Australia, said: “The titles we’ve announced reflect a really exciting slate of projects and associated talent. They’re very individual in approach and each will have its own unique creative journey ahead. The recent changes to our Story Development Guidelines reflect our appreciation for the individual creative process and the ongoing need for flexibility in the ways we offer support. We look forward to seeing more innovation and imagination as these projects flourish.”

Elsewhere, Endemol Shine Studios has acquired the English-language reversion rights to Follow the Money, a new thriller from Danmarks Radio (DR) that is set in the world of economic crime. The deal follows an earlier adaptation success for DR’s The Killing (aka Forbrydelsen) and comes despite the fact that Follow the Money doesn’t air in Denmark until January 2016.

The original series was created by Jeppe Gjervig Gram, one of the three writers on Borgen, writing a total of 14 out of the 30 episodes. His partners on Borgen were Adam Price, who recently co-founded production company SAM, and Tobias Lindholm.

“This is yet another compelling series from DR, and we’re looking forward to developing it for the American audience in partnership with the very talented team at Anonymous Content,” said Charlie Corwin, co-chairman and co-CEO of Endemol Shine North America.

The Wire's David Simon is working on Show Me a Hero for HBO
The Wire’s David Simon is working on Show Me a Hero for HBO

Meanwhile, HBO has announced that its upcoming miniseries Show Me a Hero will debut on August 16. Starring Oscar Isaac, Catherine Keener, Alfred Molina, Winona Ryder, LaTanya Richardson-Jackson, Bob Balaban and Jim Belushi, the show is set in the 1980s and tells the story of a young mayor of a mid-sized American city who is faced with a federal court order that says he must build a small number of low-income housing units in the white neighbourhoods of his town. His attempt to do so tears the entire city apart, paralyses the municipal government and, ultimately, destroys the mayor and his political future.

Written by David Simon (The Wire, Treme), Show Me a Hero is based on a non-fiction book by Lisa Belkin that explores the issue of racial segregation in Yonkers, in the state of New York.

Simon said: “The story appeals to me not merely as political history, but because the question in Yonkers in 1987 was the same one that we face today. Are all of us – those with and those without, white, black or brown – are we all sharing some portion of the same national experience? Or is the American Dream something other than that?”

The director is Paul Haggis (Crash), who says: “Frankly, I have long desired to be a part of anything David Simon does. If he had asked me to direct a history of footwear, that’s what we would be discussing now. Luckily, it was a part of our history that intrigued me, largely because it isn’t history at all, but an exploration of issues that remain at the core of the American narrative.”

In last week’s Hit & Miss, we looked at some of the titles that have garnered a high number of Emmy nominations. Today, we are giving a shout out to the writers nominated.

In Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series, the contenders are Joshua Brand (The Americans), Gordon Smith (Better Call Saul), David Benioff and DB Weiss (Game of Thrones), Matthew Weiner and Semi Chellas (Mad Men) and Weiner alone (for Mad Men again).

Jane Anderson's work on Olive Kitteridge has earned her an Emmy nomination
Jane Anderson’s work on Olive Kitteridge has earned her an Emmy nomination

The sentimentalist vote would surely favour Weiner, to mark the end of Mad Men. But he will be hard pushed to see off Game of Thrones, which is nominated for the final episode of season five (Mother’s Mercy).

In Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie or Dramatic Special, the nominees include John Ridley (American Crime), Dee Rees, Christopher Cleveland, Bettina Glois and Horton Foote (Bessie), Stephen Merchant, Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg (Hello Ladies), Hugo Blick (The Honorable Woman), Jane Anderson (Olive Kitteridge) and Peter Straughan (Wolf Hall).

Despite the dearth of women in these two line-ups, Anderson has a good chance of winning. An industry veteran, she boasts credits ranging from The Wonder Years and How to Make an American Quilt to Mad Men.

She gave an interesting interview to HBO recently in which she discussed the challenges of adapting Olive Kitteridge from its source novel by Elizabeth Strout. “It took a long time for me to solve this as an adaptation,” she said. “Because HBO’s work is known for its edginess, we talked about how we make this very brilliant novel about older people in a small town in Maine sexy. What will make this different? What will give this edge?

“I tried an outline where we started backwards and we went back in time, and it didn’t work. Then I tried it starting with the suicide scene. It’s just three minutes of screen time that assure the audience that something really drastic is going to happen down the line. When you add stakes like that, everybody can just friggin’ relax and I can tell the story. I can just unwind it. You need that in television and you need that in a miniseries.”

Xena: Warrior Princess star Lucy Lawless has quashed speculation of a reboot
Xena: Warrior Princess star Lucy Lawless has quashed speculation of a reboot

At the other end of the spectrum with regard to female characterisation, actress Lucy Lawless has played down speculation that her iconic series Xena: Warrior Princess is undergoing a reboot at NBC. Sam Raimi was reported to be involved but Lawless later described it as a “rumour.”

She Tweeted: “Sorry, friends! News of a #Xena reboot is just a rumour. I’d love it to happen one day but it’s still in the wishful thinking stage.”

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