Tag Archives: Kim Cattrall

Pitch black

Swedish noir Modus is back for a second season, with a cast that now includes Kim Cattrall as the US president. DQ visits the Stockholm set to find out why this drama has global appeal.

TV drama doesn’t get any more glamorous than this. We are crouching in Stygian semi-darkness beside the monitor in a dingy corridor at the Swedish Defence Ministry in Stockholm. We can barely see our hands in front of our faces.

To add to the sense of doom and gloom, the windows are blacked out. Suddenly, with no warning, out of the gloaming come marching two very scary-looking, thickset heavies in smart suits wielding machine guns. They are clearly not here to sing Happy Birthday to anyone.

Unsurprisingly, this is the set of a Nordic noir offering – and this one is literally noir.

Melinda Kinnaman and Henrik Norlén return to lead the cast

Ever since the magnetic Danish crime story Forbrydelsen (The Killing) broke through internationally, winning a Bafta in the UK in 2011, and was immediately followed by the overseas success of series such as Borgen, The Bridge, Beck and the Swedish version of Wallander, Scandi dramas have been drawing huge and passionate audiences everywhere.

DQ is in Stockholm observing the filming of the newest such series to make waves globally. We are watching the white-knuckle denouement of the second season of Swedish drama Modus. Broadcast last year, the first season made a major impact around the world.

Its co-star Henrik Norlen, who has also appeared in such well-regarded Scandi dramas as Beck, Stockholm East, My Skinny Sister and Hotel, takes a break between scenes of this intense series to consider why Nordic noir has struck such an international chord.

“I think it’s because there is a lot going on behind these characters. They’re not just policeman or criminal profilers – they are also people. They have great depth.

“You get to go inside their head and see what they’re thinking. These dramas are also a bit darker than British or American series. It is a tradition in Nordic countries of telling stories that are dark, mystic and pagan.

“People from all over the world used to come up to me and say, ‘Oh, you’re from Scandinavia – that means Abba and Volvo.’ Now they come up to me and say, ‘Oh, you’re from Scandinavia – that means The Killing, The Bridge and Modus.’ Of course, Modus is better than all of them!”

In the second season of Modus the leading duo are an item

Tobias Åström, the line producer on Modus, chips in: “In the past at television trade fairs, the only thing people wanted to see at the Swedish stall was what meatballs we had. Now they come up and ask, ‘What programme can you give me?’”

The second season of Modus is an eight-part adaptation by the Emmy-winning Danish screenwriters Mai Brostrøm and Peter Thorsboe of Madam President, the novel by the bestselling Norwegian crime author (and former Minister of Justice) Anne Holt.

Holt’s work coheres with the sepulchral prevailing mood of Nordic Noir. As the British crime writer Val McDermid has observed, “Anne Holt is the latest crime writer to reveal how truly dark it gets in Scandinavia.”

In this gripping season, intuitive Swedish criminal profiler Inger Johanne Vik (played by Melinda Kinnaman, My Life as a Dog) and compassionate detective Chief Ingvar Nymann (Norlén), both returning from season one, are now an item.

But the pair, who made a big splash when they first appeared together in the widely acclaimed first season, have little time to enjoy their life together as they are immediately plunged into another life-or-death investigation. They have to scramble when the first ever female US President, Helen Tyler (Kim Cattrall, Sex & the City), is kidnapped during a state visit to Sweden.

As the US and Swedish authorities struggle to rescue the president and indulge in a bitter blame game, Inger is reluctantly forced to work closely with her former mentor, the Machiavellian FBI director Warren Schifford (Greg Wise, The Crown). When the details of their troubled shared past slowly start to emerge, Inger’s entire mental stability is put at risk.

Melinda Kinnaman returns as Swedish criminal profiler Inger Johanne Vik

A coproduction from SVoD platform C More, TV4 Sweden, Miso Film Sweden and FremantleMedia International, the second season of Modus makes for a compelling tale of revenge, recrimination and retribution. It is due to premiere on C More later this year before airing on TV4.

British actor Wise is delighted to be dipping his toe into Nordic noir for the first time with Modus. He says what distinguishes this kind of piece is its willingness to treat its audience with respect. “What I’ve really enjoyed about working on this drama is the time spent developing the story and the characters,” he says.

“Very often, programme makers rush through their storytelling because they don’t trust the audience to get it. Things have to happen very fast – cut, cut, cut. Those productions imagine that we are the MTV generation and have memories like goldfish.”

But, continues the actor, who has also had leading roles in such memorable British dramas as Sense and Sensibility, The Outcast, Cranford and Madame Bovary, “viewers of Scandi dramas are really given time to invest in their relationship with the characters. They are allowed a proper glimpse into another world. It’s like the slow food revolution” – only in television.

International audiences are also attracted by the strangeness of the universe conjured up by shows such as Modus. Cecilia Bornebusch, the show’s production designer, comments: “It’s more exciting as a viewer if you don’t really understand what’s going on and you have to read between the lines. It’s more enticing than your own language because it seems exotic.

“Also, I think in Scandinavia we are very good at portraying relationships. We have never had great problems with war, so we have had other things to write about, like relationship difficulties. That’s in our blood.”

Like all the best Scandi dramas, Modus depicts a heightened world. Åström, who has also worked on The Bridge and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, reflects: “As in fairytales, in Nordic noir you draw on things from the margins. Normal people are greyer than the characters in drama. So when you tell a story in a drama, you can make it more colourful than real life.”

But, he adds with a smile, “Of course, in reality Sweden is not that dangerous a place. It does not have a serial killer hiding in every bush. Have you ever been to Ystad, where Wallander is set? It’s so quiet in reality. If that drama were true, there would be no one left in that town!”

Modus also employs another of Scandinavia’s great resources: its pellucid natural light. Bornebusch observes: “The Nordic light is wonderful. The light in Southern Europe is earthier, whereas we are influenced by the snow and the winter. It’s always so dark here – that’s why we like bright colours.”

In addition, the drama makes tremendous use of its Swedish backdrops. Wise remarks: “One of the really appealing things about Modus is that it shows the world how beautiful Stockholm is. It’s a stunning city. But it’s also a place full of secret tunnels that people have forgotten about.”

The city’s duality mirrors a key theme in this season: the contrast between our private and public faces. Holt has written several more novels about Inger, and the production team are eager to make further series tracking this fascinating and complex character.

But, equally, they are well aware that the best way to maintain the audience’s interest is to keep Modus fresh.

“If we made another season,” Åström concludes, “we would want to make sure that we could add something to it. We wouldn’t want to just keep milking the same cow and producing the same milk.

“We would want to make a new flavour – like banana!”

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Cattrall bears Witness

The BBC’s Agatha Christie revival continues with two-part crime thriller The Witness for the Prosecution. Michael Pickard speaks to star Kim Cattrall about playing a murder victim and why she wants to give women a voice in television.

As far as Kim Cattrall is concerned, she had some unfinished business with Agatha Christie’s novel The Witness for the Prosecution (TWFTP).

Several years ago she had read for a role in a new Broadway production of the short story, only to learn that opening night would never arrive for that particular adaptation. But in a plot twist that might have come straight from the pages of one of Christie’s novels, the actor was last year invited to join the cast of new television drama based on the same novel.

“The script came in and it was drastically changed from the novel and the stage play that I knew, but I thought it was a terrific adaptation,” Cattrall recalls. “They said to me they’d like to offer me the role of Emily French and I thought it would be really fun to do it on film and play this character.

“I felt it was a real opportunity, especially as Agatha Christie has always written wonderful roles for women. The script was very different – it was very innovative but still had a lot of strength, with the female characters in particular. She definitely told very complex women’s stories and wrote those characters well.

“When I read the script, it was great and I could make this woman much more of a force than maybe she was originally in the story. By making her more involved in the suffragettes and more of a radical instead of just a stock character of an older woman pining and fawning over a younger man, we can tell a much more interesting story and create a much more interesting woman for her time.”

Set in 1920s London, TWFTP concerns the brutal murder of Cattrall’s glamorous and rich Emily French. All evidence points to Leonard Vole (Billy Howle), a young chancer to whom the heiress left her vast fortune and who ruthlessly took her life – at least according to Emily’s housekeeper Janet McIntyre (Monica Dolan).

Leonard, however, is adamant that his partner, chorus girl Romaine (Andrea Riseborough), can prove his innocence as solicitor John Mayhew (Toby Jones) and Sir Charles Carter KC (David Haig) defend him in court.

The two-parter, which airs in the UK on BBC1 this Christmas, is the second Christie story to be adapted by writer Sarah Phelps and produced by Mammoth Screen and Agatha Christie Productions, following And Then There Were None (ATTWN) last Christmas. It is directed by Julian Jarrold and produced by Colin Wratten, in association with A+E Networks and RLJ Entertainment’s Acorn Media, with Acorn TV streaming the thriller in the US.

The executive producers are Phelps, James Prichard, Hilary Strong, Karen Thrussell, Damien Timmer and Matthew Read.

Though she may play the murder victim at the heart of the story, Cattrall relished the opportunity to flesh out her character, who is frequently shown via flashbacks during the two-hour drama.

The Witness for the Prosecution centres on the investigation in the murder of Cattrall’s character Emily French

“It was a fun challenge playing her,” she says of the widowed heiress. “I saw her as someone who was a bit of a rebel, who was always testing the ropes and also as quite lonely and incredibly bored. I see her as being quite restless. She meets this young man in this restaurant and he’s not the cock of the walk, he’s a vulnerable young man and he catches her eye. She invites him home and has this moment of offering him five pounds a week to be her companion. I felt for this woman who is reduced to paying for company and attention to make her feel young and vital and visible again.

“I was really happy that Julian allowed me to have fun playing this character as multi-dimensional rather than just the rich, older woman who’s preying on a young man. She’s so much more complicated than that and I wanted to bring that to Emily.”

Best known for playing man-eater Samantha Jones in HBO’s romantic comedy Sex and the City (and its subsequent film spin-offs), Cattrall says she left that role behind long ago by steering away from playing similar characters, instead choosing parts she finds challenging.

“So I feel in a very fortunate position to still be challenged and create different characters in different scenarios,” she continues. “Something to bring forward in any part I play more about what it is to be a woman my age. That’s what I’m exploring myself in real life and is the purpose of the things I say yes to.

“In some ways, Emily French is a character we’ve seen many times before. So I thought, ‘How can I infuse her with something that Sarah’s given me that I can create with Julian to make a character like Emily French more understandable, more detailed and more nuanced?’”

The supporting cast includes Andrea Riseborough

Furthermore, Cattrall explains that Phelps and Jarrold combined to ensure TWFTP is a pure ‘whodunnit,’ rather than revealing who the murderer is partway through the story, which means viewers can look forward an engrossing and immersive thrill ride.

“What I love as an audience member is when the story is ahead of me because then I participate more,” she says. “You don’t know who did it and they keep you on the edge of your seat and you feel for these characters because they’re being more complexly drawn, they’re more human instead of just being archetypes. What Sarah’s done in writing it is given them more humanity. You feel for them even though you feel they could have done it, which I think is an interesting way to tell any kind of thriller.”

Filming took place in the English city of Liverpool, which allowed the actor the chance to return to her place of birth – she was subsequently raised in British Columbia, Canada – and also celebrate her 60th birthday there during the shoot in August.

“I’m a combination of British and Canadian,” she explains. “My parents are both British and I’m now spending more and more time there. My immediate family is in Canada and I also have my show Sensitive Skin [HBO Canada], which shoots in Toronto, so I can go between both countries and work and feel very much at home in both of them.”

But what is it about Christie’s original work that continues to fascinate audiences and inspire new adaptations year after year?

Toby Jones as solicitor John Mayhew

“There’s a real need for whodunnit – they delve into characters, character flaws and everybody is fascinated by a murder and what drives it, whether it’s madness or jealousy,” Cattrall says. “They speak to people’s fascination with stepping over that line. They’re blood-curdling and scary – and when they’re done well, they’re very exciting.”

Prior to TWFTP, Cattrall has been seen on screen in two seasons of comedy Sensitive Skin, which tells the story of a woman (Cattrall) and her longtime husband who are trying to reinvigorate their lives as they struggle to come to terms with middle age.

“I really enjoy telling stories about women, especially at the point in their life where I find myself now,” the actor says. “I just think it’s uncharted territory. It would just be boring to do the same thing over and over again.

“The exciting thing is telling stories people haven’t heard before. I don’t see enough of that on television. I see rip-offs of shows I’ve seen before, and some of them are very well done, but what I’m looking for is stories and women who need a voice. We’ve had enough ‘super women’ or ‘wonder women,’ literally, and superheroes – they’re fun and there’s a place for them. That doesn’t mean what I want to produce doesn’t have comedy involved with it or irony or vulnerability for the characters. I’m trying to figure out this time in my life and I’m very much attracted to stories, whether in film, theatre or television, that are telling that story in a way I can relate to.”

Cattrall’s involvement in Sensitive Skin isn’t limited just to her on-screen role, however. She is also an executive producer – a role she describes as “fulfilling” as she looks to bring more original projects into production.

“The thing I really enjoyed about being an executive producer on Sensitive Skin, and the thing that was also most terrifying, was how much say I have, not just to the actors or directors but how I wanted to tell the story and with whom,” she admits. “That’s a really exciting place to be because you start with a blank canvas and then you choose the colours with your collaborators that you want to use, and I’d like to do more of that. That’s why working with writers is so important and exciting because everything is possible, especially at the beginning of the process.

“I would like to do more of that and really continue to tell stories and give a voice to women who I don’t think have been heard in the past.”

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