Tag Archives: TV4

Agent secrets

When a series of bombings and cyber attacks hit Stockholm, the Swedish Secret Service, SÄPO, struggles to find the organisation responsible. Meanwhile, having just returned home after years of Navy SEAL training, Carl Hamilton rejoins SÄPO’s elite black-ops division while also being identified as a possible suspect.

Swedish 10-part drama Agent Hamilton follows the eponymous spy and agent Kristin Ek as they discover there are darker forces at work, with an organisation taking advantage of fake news, xenophobia and terrorism in order to turn a profit. As loyalties are put to the test, Hamilton is forced to choose what future is best for his country.

In this DQTV interview, star Jakob Oftebro, who plays Hamilton, and director Erik Leijonborg reveal how Jan Gillou’s literary agent was given a modern update for the series, which introduces viewers to the character by following him on his first mission.

Oftebro talks about how the series shows both the professional and personal aspects of his character, while Leijonborg discusses the filming techniques he used to play with the drama’s visual style.

Agent Hamilton is produced by Dramacorp Pampas Studios and Kärnfilm in coproduction with TV4, C-More, Beta Film and ZDF, in association with ZDF Enterprises.

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Russian realism

Swedish producer Piodor Gustafsson reveals his approach to book adaptations and explains why thriller Moscow Noir presents a new side of Russia.

While recent television dramas such as McMafia and The Americans have shone the spotlight on Russia on both sides of the Cold War, with stories full of international mystery and intrigue, one series aims to present a fresh perspective of the country.

Set at the turn of the 21st century, Moscow Noir sees ambitious young Swedish investment banker Tom Blixen take a bet on a risky deal that goes horribly wrong, locking him into a battle with millionaires, politicians, oligarchs and their private armies. The fallout sees his life put on the line while ghosts from his past – secrets he has been trying to ignore – return to haunt him.

The eight-part series is based on The Conductor from Saint Petersburg, the first of a trilogy of thrillers by Swedish writers Camilla Grebe and Paul Leander-Engström.

The fact the story is based in part on Leander-Engström’s own experiences working in finance in Russia was what particularly intrigued Swedish producer Piodor Gustafsson about the source material. His company, Black Spark Film & TV, has a reputation for book-to-screen adaptations, having also been behind Sthlm Rekviem (Sthlm Requiem) and All jag inte minns (Everything I Don’t Remember).

Piodor Gustafsson

“I read a lot. Producers don’t usually create our own ideas; we could, but sometimes it’s much easier to get people interested if it’s not the producer’s idea. If I want to work with a really good writer, it’s easier if there is something that already exists than if I come with my own 20 pages and say, ‘Look, I have a great idea. Can you make it fantastic?’” Gustafsson tells DQ.

“It’s a bigger hurdle than having a book that’s sold and is really popular. It’s the same thing with financiers [of TV drama] – it’s easier to pitch to them. So I read all the time and I have several books I really want to make [into TV shows]. Sometimes the rights are already taken; sometimes they are free. In the case of Moscow Noir, I read the book after a recommendation from Caroline Palmstierna [the founder of Swedish prodco Shoot for the Moon].

“She arranged a meeting one of the authors, Paul, and he said had already optioned it to a company in England. But they had a very short option period. So Paul promised to call them and see if they were prepared to let them go – and they were, so then I got the rights.”

Gustafsson gleaned more information from about the story from Leander-Engström, while his own circumstances also fuelled his interest in the thriller. “I have a summer house on Gotland, a big island in the middle of the Baltic Sea and as close to the old USSR as you get from Sweden, which is now Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. You realise how close it is and yet we know nothing about real Russians,” he says.

“So by reading the book, it was the first time I read about Russians who were bad guys but still had a good side. It felt like [the authors] really understood these characters. Of course, Paul lived there for 10 years and speaks fluent Russian. I also have a law degree and I worked in a bank, so I understand that side of society as well. It intrigued me.”

Created and written by Aleksi Bardy, Mia Ylonen and Max Barron, the show stars Adam Pålsson (Before We Die) as Tom, with Carolina Gruszka (Kod genetyczny) and Linda Zilliacus (Thicker Than Water) also among the cast. Filming took place in Russia and Lithuania, while the series plays out in the Russian, Swedish and English languages.

Authors Camilla Grebe and Paul Leander-Engström (photo: Åsa Liffner)

Sweden’s C More and TV4 came on board as broadcasters alongside Poland’s NC+, though efforts to find a Russian partner were unsuccessful. “We filmed a little bit in Russia. We tried to get a coproduction with Russia and it was put to their biggest channels, but they were hesitant about whether it would be a good thing for them to be involved and, in the end, they decided against it,” Gustafsson recalls.

“The book is set in 2003, which is after Vladimir Putin came into power [as president], while we placed it in 1999 because that was when the shift between [predecessor] Boris Yeltsin and Putin happened.

“We filmed the rest in Lithuania. A lot of Lithuanian actors are fluent in Russian and they work a lot in Russia, so we could quite easily cast all the characters we wanted and cast them locally. We had some other nationalities, but most were Lithuanians and they were really great actors.”

Gustafsson believes the 2018 series, which StudioCanal has sold to broadcasters including Canal+ in France, stands out because its central character is not a typical action hero. “Adam is a great actor but he looks very young and is not your normal action character. That makes it challenging when you introduce him, because he’s not a typical hero, but it’s also a strength further on because the weakness he presents is what we all feel and it’s easy to identify with him,” he explains. “A lot of people could actually connect with him even though they’re not interested in banking.

Moscow noir stars Adam Pålsson as Tom, who is described as ‘not your typical hero’

The producer adds: “One of our aims was to create characters that felt true to Russia in 1999 and to move away from stereotypes. Russians we’ve shown it to feel the characters are very close to how people really were. Paul, who created these characters inspired by real people, really felt we came very close.

“We screened the first two episodes of the series in a cinema and Paul brought some of his old banking colleagues from that time. Funnily enough, they could pinpoint some of the characters that were Paul’s inspiration. Michael Håfström, the director, collaborated closely with the Russian-speaking actors to find a tone that was true.

Black Spark is now in post-production on two feature films. One is called Tigers, written and directed by Ronnie Sandahl, and the other is Icelandic film Lamb, from Valdimar Jóhannsson, which is coproduced with Go to Sheep from Iceland and Madant from Poland.

Continuing his passion for adapting novels, Gustafsson is also developing a TV series with Belgium’s Lunanimé and Nordisk Film in Denmark, based on The Swimmer by Joachim Zander, and is working on Mons Kallentoft’s Se Mig Falla (See Me Falling).

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Explosive Agent

DQ lands in Stockholm to find a city-centre park taken over by filming for spy action thriller Agent Hamilton. The cast and creative team reveal their screen ambitions for Jan Guillou’s iconic literary character.

It’s lunchtime in Kungsträdgården, a tree-lined park in central Stockholm that is surrounded by outdoor cafés and lies in the shadow of the city’s opera house, close to the water that flows between the many islands that make up the Swedish capital.

On this bright summer’s day in August, it’s hard to see where the crowds of onlookers end and the extras filming 10-part Swedish action thriller Agent Hamilton begin. But once the cameras are rolling, it quickly becomes clear.

In a scene from the opening episode, Swedish interior minister Sissela Lindgren (played by Anna Sise) is giving a speech during the annual May Day protests when word spreads of a bomb going off a few blocks away. Urged to leave immediately, she stands by as her assistant races towards the politician’s car. It’s then that a second bomb detonates in the vehicle, leaving several dead and countless bystanders injured.

On set beside a large stage, dozens of extras are standing in their first positions, some holding bags and others grasping bright red balloons, their faces stiff with anticipation. Then when a crew member using a loudspeaker calls ‘Action,’ they all hurtle off in different directions, replicating the chaos and panic that spreads after a terrorist atrocity.

A small girl, her face covered in blood, sits next to her mother, who is lying motionless on the pavement. Other ‘victims’ lie in piles of shattered glass, their figures scattered around the smouldering remains of a black Volvo, its roof and bonnet ripped apart by the force of the blast.

Jakob Oftebro plays the lead in Agent Hamilton

As the panic continues, flashing lights from a number of arriving police cars appear in the distance. Then Jakob Oftebro, in character as Hamilton, slowly walks past the wreckage as the camera captures him surveying the devastation.

In all, more than 100 extras are involved in the set piece, with up to 200 in total filling this corner section of Kungsträdgården. In between takes, make-up artists are reapplying scars and wounds with tubes of fake blood.

Crew members are discussing whether one extra should continue to hold their balloon as they flee from the blast, while others are preparing to set an extra on fire as the camera pans around the still-burning car for a close-up on the minister cradling the body of her aide.

It’s a surreal and unsettling experience to be watching these events unfold, from the panic-stricken crowd’s screams (more will be added in post-production) to the sight of young children covered in blood and bodies lying motionless on the floor. As Oftebro tells DQ during a break in filming: “It’s horrifying, isn’t it?”

Agent Hamilton is based on Jan Guillou’s bestselling Carl Hamilton spy novels, which have become Sweden’s most iconic literary property since their debut in 1986. Though the books are set during the Cold War, the series brings the lead character into the present and plunges him in the middle of a “Cold War 2.0” between Russia and the US in the heart of Northern Europe.

Following a series of bombings and cyber attacks in Stockholm, the Swedish Secret Service, SÄPO, is struggling to find those responsible. Nobody knows Carl Hamilton has returned home and enlisted in SÄPO’s black-ops division following years of Navy SEAL training in the US, but after the attacks, he is identified as a possible suspect by agent Kristin Ek.

DQ visited the set during filming of a crucial explosion scene

As they enter a cat-and-mouse chase to uncover the truth behind the attacks, they find darker forces at work, testing Hamilton’s loyalties to his country and exposing an organisation that is exploiting fake news, xenophobia and terrorism to turn a profit.

Starring alongside Oftebro (Below the Surface) are former Wallander duo Nina Zanjani and Krister Henriksson as Kristin and SÄPO boss DG respectively, plus Rowena King (Criminal Minds) and Jörgen Thorsson.

Executive producer Patrick Nebout (Midnight Sun) secured the rights to the Hamilton novels in 2016 after Guillou gave his blessing to a modern adaptation. The author created the character based on his knowledge of Swedish and international intelligence agencies, having spent a year in prison for espionage after helping to expose a covert spy group.

It’s not the first time Hamilton has been adapted for the screen, with Stellan Skarsgård and Peter Haber among those to have previously portrayed the character, who has been described as Sweden’s James Bond. But despite the flattering comparison, given 007’s lasting success on the big screen, Nebout says Hamilton is more like Jason Bourne if he were in Homeland, referring to the book-to-screen spy made famous by Matt Damon and US premium cablenet Showtime’s long-running espionage series.

“He’s very streetwise. He’s young. It’s closer to Homeland than a typical James Bond story, but you have all the same elements,” Nebout says of Hamilton. “We have action, we have a very character-driven story and we are in different locations. We are in Sweden, Russia, Germany and the Middle East. That’s where the Jason Bourne and James Bond comparisons can be made.

“There’s also a very realistic French show called Le Bureau des Légendes. We’re somewhere in the middle. We’re not completely in the naturalistic environment of Le Bureau des Légendes and we’re not in the heightened ‘fantasy’ world of James Bond.”

Director Erik Leijonborg: ‘I’m like a vampire – I need to live off the characters’ emotions and make them come alive’

Inspired by movies from the 1970s including Three Days of the Condor and Marathon Man, Nebout says the aim from the outset was to create a very modern and ambitious Nordic spy thriller. Though as a result of setting the show in the present, little remains from the books except the main characters and the setup of Hamilton’s Navy SEAL training.

“The Hamilton movies were quite black and white in the sense that there were bad guys and good guys, but we wanted to be much more complex, especially now with the ‘Cold War’ situation. It’s a very blurry universe,” Nebout says. “The first season really brings something accurate and relevant to today’s world, in terms of how the corporate world can also have alliances with terrorists and how this mixes together.

“Then you have someone like Hamilton, who starts as someone very straightforward in his notions of good and bad but comes to understand he’s being used by people with a very different agenda. So it’s a journey of someone who starts off very idealistic in his views and starts peeling things back layer by layer until he understands that everything is not what he thought it was.”

Agent Hamilton is the latest Nordic drama to steer away from the popular noir detective shows that have become synonymous with the region. The series, produced by Dramacorp-Pampas Studios, also uses an authentic blend of languages depending on where the story moves, featuring Swedish, Russian and Arabic alongside English.

Behind the camera is conceptual director Erik Leijonborg, who has shown an ability to handle large-scale action on Netflix historical series The Last Kingdom and more intimate character drama with Tjockare än Vatten (Thicker Than Water).

“That’s such a lovely part of directing,” he says. “I can be with two extremely good actors doing a love scene and the next day I’m in Morocco shooting an action scene with special effects and stunts. The combination is so fun. The crucial part is telling a story but in different ways. If I have a big explosion in one of the major parks in Sweden, with a lot of tension and special effects, then we can have a scene afterwards where Hamilton’s just sitting on a bed.”

Nina Zanjani plays Kristin Ek

The director says a key part of the show is delving deep into the characters to ensure they drive the plot, not the other way around. “There’s more than solving the case and killing the enemy,” he says. “We also need to ask how to feel afterwards.

“I’m like a vampire – I need to live off the characters’ emotions and make them come alive. It’s fun and stimulating to film because it’s very modern, dramatic and emotional. We can have those heroic moments but I’m still totally grounded in realistic filmmaking. That’s the only thing I know; I don’t know anything else, so here I am challenged to do some more dramatic scenes. I call my shooting style ‘dramatic realism.’ It’s still very realistic but very dramatic.”

Leijonborg, who shares directing duties with Lisa Farzaneh and Per Hanefjord, also sat in on the writers room with head scribe Petter S Rosenlund (The Saboteurs), who was a fan of Guillou’s novels. Rosenlund says the biggest challenge in adapting them was coming to terms with the social and political changes in the 30-plus years since they were first published.

“It’s based on the conflict between the military and police in Guillou’s books – we have this conflict between the secret police and secret military agents,” says Rosenlund.

“When it comes to who is who and who’s dealing with what, then we have this conflict. So Kristin understands something is happening on the military side and that Hamilton belongs to this super-secret department, which is created by DG.”

Zanjani’s Kristin, a mother who must juggle the demands of her job with parenthood, is key to grounding the series. “She’s the one who tries to answer the question, ‘How does a Swedish agent fit into society?’ She will be the one trying to uncover Hamilton’s existence and put it into daylight,” the actor says of her character.

Krister Henriksson as SÄPO boss DG

“The Swedish secret police can’t allow people to do some of the things he’s involved with. She’s the very skilled and smart police officer who starts to investigate some of the strange things that have been happening after the attack on Stockholm, so she tries to find who is behind it. [She and Hamilton] do the same thing, so they’re crossing each other.”

Zanjani hadn’t read any of the Hamilton books before accepting the role, which was created for the series. In any case, she believes “it’s better not to know [what happens in the books] because it makes you more free to find your character and make it your own,” she says. “But we all feel free in that sense. It’s the first time we’re doing it [in a contemporary setting], even though it existed before. It’s such a modern story so it makes us newly born.”

Meanwhile, Henriksson says he defined DG through the character’s relationship with Hamilton, whom he describes as being like the son DG never had. “That is a big problem. It makes relations very complicated – it’s love, it’s hate, it’s respect,” he notes.

The actor says he was inspired to join the series as Hamilton is an “iconic figure” in Sweden, much like Wallander, the fellow literary character Henriksson played on screen in more than 30 feature-length episodes over eight years until 2013. “Not everyone in Sweden has read the books but they think they know who he is,” he adds. “That’s why I’m here.”

Despite working in multiple languages in places around the world, Nebout says discussions around Agent Hamilton have always focused on the story to ensure the series has both the depth of character and complexity of plot to satisfy audiences. “That should be the focus for all producers and series,” he says. “It’s really about the script, the characters and being able to relate to those characters. Even if you hate Hamilton, it’s also about relating to him on the macro level and micro level.”

The series will debut on Scandi streamer C More before airing in Sweden on TV4. Germany’s ZDF, in association with ZDF Enterprises, is a coproducer alongside distributor Beta Film, which has already placed the series with Norway’s TV2, Denmark’s DR and Finland’s MTV3.

Having secured a two-season commitment for the show upfront, Nebout says plans are already underway for the next stage of the story. Combining impressive scale and spectacle with complex, modern-day themes, Agent Hamilton looks set to breathe new life into Guillou’s character and create an iconic spy for a new generation.

Humanising Hamilton
Carl Hamilton has featured in more than a dozen literary outings and several screen adaptations. But much like Daniel Craig’s first outing as James Bond in 2006’s Casino Royale, this new series takes the eponymous spy right back to the beginning, following him on his first mission.

In Agent Hamilton, little remains of Jan Guillou’s Cold War-set novels except the leading character, with the series opening just as the spy returns home to Sweden after completing training in the US with the Navy SEALs.

“He’s an activist, politically active, military trained and very capable of doing different stuff, technologically, intellectually and physically,” actor Jakob Oftebro (right) says of his character. “So he’s definitely different. He’s not that into gadgets or expensive cars. The series asks how you can be a secret agent and how it works to be in the military in a country that has traditionally been neutral. It’s super interesting to try to get into that psyche and find the righteousness in being a secret agent in Sweden nowadays.”

Oftebro’s preparation involved talking with current and former military veterans, secret agents, Navy SEALs and bodyguards, as well as plenty of physical training. But the star’s primary focus has been on finding Hamilton’s humanity, aided by speaking to people about how this kind of job can affect your life and mental health.

“I’m trying to find the human in the character and being a special agent, not only seeing someone as super cool doing super-intelligent stuff,” he explains. “We’re starting this story days after he arrives back home, so I’m trying to imagine being born in Stockholm and then leaving to train at the Navy SEAL academy and then coming back to Stockholm to be a secret agent. It’s quite a difficult job. Stockholm is not the biggest city in the world – obviously you would know people, so how does it work? How do you infiltrate? And how do you work as a secret agent in the city where you were born and raised?

“I think a lot of people can relate to that, if you’ve studied abroad or lived abroad and then returned. It’s always strange. You will eventually meet the teenage version of yourself or the child or have old memories. But you have to break loose from that and think, ‘I’m a secret agent now.’ It’s also difficult in a country that is so pacifistic and against war.”

After an on-set injury earlier this year that put production on hold, Oftebro recovered to take his place in front of the camera, which he says has been a huge honour.

“I have a dramatic background so after doing a couple of the action scenes, it’s nice to have a scene where you can see that he’s a human being and not a machine,” he continues. “The most fun has been when Hamilton and Kristin [Nina Zanjani] finally sit down together and the conflict comes to the surface. Everybody’s just human. Otherwise, you’re a psychopath. What’s interesting is the question of whether Hamilton is a psychopath. I really enjoy the character. I love doing this.”

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Blind ambition

Swedish actor Julia Ragnarsson talks to DQ about financial thriller Fartblinda (Blinded), in which she plays a journalist tasked with investigating her married lover.

After appearing in one of the biggest films of the summer, Sweden-set horror Midsommar, Julia Ragnarsson is now leading the cast of eight-part drama Fartblinda. That the series is launching hot on the heels of director Ari Aster’s film reflects the way the two productions were filmed back-to-back, with Ragnarsson jumping from one to the other over an intense eight-month filming schedule.

In Fartblinda (known as Blinded internationally), she plays financial journalist Bea Farkas, who, in pursuit of her next scoop, detects irregularities in ST Bank’s trading department – a matter made more complicated by the fact she is having an affair with the bank’s CEO Peder Rooth (Matias Varela), a married man.

It’s in this ethical and moral malaise that much of the drama takes place, with Blinded placing financial thriller and relationship saga side by side. Ragnarsson’s Bea is a compelling character through which to follow the story, while her white blonde hair marks her out as an edgy, perhaps rebellious figure within the straight-laced newsroom.

The actor, best known for playing police trainee Olivia Rönning in Swedish drama Springfloden (Spring Tide), joined the Blinded cast just days before heading to Budapest, Hungary, to film Midsommar after she was invited to audition for the show. Filming for Blinded then began less than two weeks after Midsommar wrapped.

In Blinded, Julia Ragnarsson plays financial journalist Bea Farkas

“It was strange. I just jumped on a train and went into the audition room but I did not know what this was and hadn’t read the script. I didn’t know anything!” Ragnarsson admits of the audition process. “Matias was already cast and then the day afterwards, they said I’d got the part. It was an extremely quick process. Everything happened so fast, so I was a little nervous when we started filming. I was like, ‘Am I prepared enough for this?’ I don’t really remember a lot about the first couple of weeks, it’s just like, ‘Which country am I in? What am I doing? Why’s my hair white?’ It was very quick but extremely fun.”

Bea’s hair makes her stand out immediately, marking a stark change from Ragnarsson’s usual brunette look. To ensure continuity, a hairdresser visited the set every three weeks to ensure the actor’s natural roots didn’t begin to show through.

“It’s rare you do a big change like that. I’ve always had pretty long hair that’s a natural brown colour,” Ragnarsson says. “This was an opportunity to make a big change, but at one point my hair started falling out – it just melted. So it was interesting! But it helps a lot for a character to make a drastic change.

“I feel like in Swedish cinema and TV, you have to look like a very common or average person. We don’t do anything to stick out. They want it to be very plain, normal, low key, like it could be anyone. But in this case, they wanted to go the opposite way, which was refreshing and fun. Also, with my clothes and styling, it could be something different. There are so many shows being made, you want it to feel a bit different.”

Bea finds herself tasked with investigating her lover, bank boss Peder Rooth (Matias Varela)

The series has been adapted from economics journalist Carolina Neurath’s book of the same name, which is based on real events. However, Ragnarsson says she didn’t read the book before shooting in order to avoid that story clashing with the plot of the show. Instead, she worked alongside directors Jens Jonsson and Johan Lundin to build Bea’s character based on the scripts by Jesper Harrie, Maria Karlsson and Jonas Bonnier.

“I had the opportunity to try different things on set and was very free to try something new,” she says. “They’re extremely generous when it comes to that sort of thing. That’s what’s fun about what I do; even though it’s hectic, you have some time to play, which I think is very important.”

Produced by FLX (Quicksand, Bonusfamiljen) for Nordic streamer C More and Sweden’s TV4, Blinded also represents the first major investment in the region’s drama by distributor All3Media International. Ragnarsson believes the show has a fresh style that will make it stand out.

“It’s not a cop show, which it tends to be if you look at [other Swedish series such as] The Bridge and Wallander,” she notes. “Not a lot of people really know what is going on in the financial world. It’s very closed and secretive, even for journalists. You have to start digging to find out what’s going on.

Director Jens Jonsson (left) on set with Varela

“This is about a private, niche bank but we’re starting to see now there’s a lot of weird shit going on with bigger banks, and I think the setting is interesting. It’s about tons of money, good-looking people, greed and how far [people will] go for the sake of money, or how far you go not to get caught. It’s just as intriguing and exciting as a cop show when there’s a serial killer on the loose, but we’ve seen that many times before.”

The most interesting aspect of the show is the internal conflict troubling Bea, who wants to do her job but is also in a relationship with the person she must investigate. Flashbacks reveal the origins of the relationship between Bea and Peder, showing that their affair is not simply a short-lived fling and that they have feelings for each other – to the detriment of Peder’s wife, Sophie (Julia Dufvenius).

“So do I fuck him over and potentially reveal a huge scandal that will take my career to a whole other level, or am I going to stick with this person, even though I don’t really know if he’s lying to me or not?” Ragnarsson says. “She decides to find out if he’s lying. It’s a very thankful thing for a character to have that conflict. It’s a suspense thriller but it’s also a love story and a relationship drama. It’s not just about the bank and the newspaper and the war between them; it’s also a war between these two people who are in love and might end up hating each other.”

Filming was split between Riga, the Latvian capital, and Stockholm. But despite the rapid production process, Ragnarsson says walking the right line through the Bea’s morale maze was the most challenging aspect of filming the series.

The drama airs on C More and TV4

“I wanted the audience to understand how Bea makes this decision to start investigating and basically screw the person that she loves, and how her work and her profession are just as important as, or maybe more important than, this married man,” the actor adds. “So there are so many things that make it difficult. My challenge and my responsibility as an actor was to try to portray that.

“We’re going to see different sides to Peder, too, not just his flattery. It will be interesting to see what people think and if they’re rooting for us as a couple or they hate us both.”

Fartblinda launched with its first two episodes on C More earlier this month, before entering a weekly release schedule. TV4 will debut the drama on Monday.

“I hope this will be a nice mixture of a relationship drama together with this financial world, the investigation stuff and also the thriller elements,” Ragnarsson adds. “It gives the show some extra spice. It’s always fun to watch people in love.”

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Hometown girl

Swedish actor Ida Engvoll is on a roll, having appeared in hit series The Bridge, The Restaurant and Bonus Family. As UK streaming service Walter Presents premieres her crime thriller Rebecka Martinsson, the star talks about avoiding typecasting and working with mosquitos.

If you follow Swedish drama, there’s a fair chance you will have come across Ida Engvoll. The actor has steadily built her career on appearances in some of the country’s biggest series that, thanks to the global interest in Scandinavian fiction, mean she has been on screen around the world.

Roles in Beck, Arne Dahl and Fjällbackamorden (The Fjällbacka Murders) charted her early life on television before she took roles in pan-European crime drama The Team and the third season of Broen (The Bridge).

Engvoll has become much more recognisable, however, since starring in 2015 award-winning feature En man som heter Ove (A Man Called Ove). More recently, she has starred in TV4 crime thriller Rebecka Martinsson, period drama Vår tid är nu (The Restaurant) and comedy-drama Bonusfamiljen (Bonus Family), both of which have been renewed for third seasons by SVT.

It’s her versatility that makes her screen credits stand out, switching between genres with ease – a trend that isn’t entirely accidental.

“I always look for good parts and projects that are attractive but we have a lot of crime series in Sweden,” the actor explains. “It’s not easy to avoid doing crime series but it’s always about the character and the genre and the director as well. I try to not get stuck [in one show].

Ida Engvol plays the titular character in Rebecka Martinsson

“When you’re in a successful show, especially in Sweden because we’re such a small country, people can’t tell the difference between you and the characters so I always try to be in flow between things so people can’t judge me.”

Engvoll is speaking to DQ ahead of the UK launch of Rebecka Martinsson, which has been picked up by Channel 4-owned streaming service Walter Presents. The first episode will debut on More4 this Friday before the box-set becomes available online.

The eight-part series, produced by Yellow Bird and distributed by Banijay Rights, is based on the novels by Åsa Larsson, telling four stories each set over two episodes. The first instalment sees high-flying lawyer Martinsson (Engvoll) return to her hometown of Kiruna, in the northern most part of Sweden within the Arctic Circle, following news of her friend’s death. But when what appears to have been an accident turns out to be murder, she becomes embroiled in the investigation while also facing up to the terrible trauma that forced her to leave her childhood home behind.

“The script did stand out, especially after the first movie,” Engvolll says of the series, which first aired on Sweden’s TV4 in spring 2017. “After episode one and two, the adventure for her really starts. The ending of the first story opens her trauma and who she is and why she’s there and why she can’t go back to Stockholm. So after the first one, I was really intrigued by the character.”

The actor describes Martinsson as a character of many faces, but one who is very much grounded in reality.

The series gets its UK debut on All4 tomorrow

“For me, it was really important to make her true and not just a character,” she says of the lawyer who never seems at ease, unsure whether she belongs in the Stockholm metropolis or the isolated community in which she grew up. “It’s not easy to say she’s this or that. She’s very believable. She’s very alive. She’s not just one face, she’s really vulnerable and very tough in her own way, but she’s also very scared, even at the beginning when the series starts and she’s on top of her career and everything’s going her way. Inside she’s still scared and hasn’t found herself yet. She’s not your stereotypical crime character. You can’t pin her down. She’s complex.”

In the case that unfolds across the first two episodes, the murder victim is known to Martinsson, leading her to return home. She quickly forges a friendship with a local police officer, through which she ingratiates herself in solving the case. “But in the story she’s always on her own, she has her own way of doing things,” Ingvoll explains, describing this most flawed of criminal investigators. “She really makes some bad judgements, with her relationships and friendships and the way to do things right, she’s always doing things wrong and that’s a fun thing about her too. The drama is really in her personal life. It’s her personal life and her relationships that make you want to see more.”

Viewers may recognise Kiruna, the show’s Arctic setting, from 2016’s French-Swedish coproduction Midnight Sun, which saw a French cop head north to investigate the murder of a French politician. During the summer months, there is near 24-hour sunlight, a scenario of which that show took advantage to heighten its fish-out-of-water premise.

The midnight sun is also present in Rebecka Martinsson, though it serves simply as the background of the story rather than a driver of it. In any case, the environment proved no less challenging to film in.

The show sees Engvol’s character, a lawyer, become embroiled in a murder investigation

“There are many challenges working there – there’s no food and lots of mosquitos and you can’t really go everywhere by car,” Ingvoll says. “But it’s also very nice being there. That’s one of the reasons why I want to do a second season because I want to spend as much time there as possible. It kind of feels homely, even though I haven’t spent much time there. I really like it. Something happens to your body – it’s the midnight sun. Those long days never end and the sun never sets. I was really in love with the landscape.

“The mosquitos were the biggest challenge but the locals we had on the set were like, ‘Just let them eat you,’ because they’re immune to them now. After a while you get used to it.”

With the temperatures dropping to -17C, one scene called for Ingvoll to swim in a frozen lake. “That was some experience. I’m quite hardcore but that was really cold,” the actor admits. “Your body stops working and my Finnish colleague actor had to swim with his head down. We also shot underwater but that was in warmer water. I have done it before but the air was so cold, the acting was really tough.”

With all four Rebecka Martinsson novels adapted in the first season, the character would have to appear in some original stories should the series return for a second run. Until then, Ingvoll is keeping busy with turns in hit series The Restaurant and Bonus Family.

“For some reason I’ve been picking the projects that have become really successful,” the actor jokes. “They have been breaking viewing records in Sweden so that’s really good for me.”

Engvol’s other credits include such shows as A Man Called Ove

Ingvoll notes the irony, however, that she is most recognised for roles in which she plays ‘the wife’ or ‘the girlfriend,’ as in A Man Called Ove and Bonus Family, instead of more substantial parts such as in Rebecka Martinsson or The Restaurant, in which she says her character Ester will come to the fore in season two, airing later this year. “It’s really strange because I’m working on more interesting characters so it’s weird people recognise you from something that’s not your favourite moment.”

Crime series remain a staple of television in Sweden, across Europe and around the world. It means producers and broadcasters are continually trying to find ways to invigorate the genre and keep up with the demand, particularly in Scandinavia where the Nordic noir boom has seen global audiences drawn to its gripping plots and dark and moody landscapes.

That many series coming out of the region are backed by European funding presents a problem for Ingvoll. “We could never produce the amount of series that we do without the financial support from Germany or other European countries, but with that money also comes demands,” she notes. “The Germans want 90-minute films and this country wants 10 one-hour-episode seasons. There are so many layers, even when you haven’t really written the dialogue yet, the setting has already a shaped so it’s quite hard. There’s less room for the genius of writing or storytelling.

“If someone would let us do our own thing 100%, it would let us raise the bar even higher. Money talks, even down to the lines of the script. Bonus Family and The Restaurant, it’s SVT so they’re the richest channel [in Sweden]. The more money you can buy yourself freedom from, the better the quality because the idea will get stronger.”

Ingvoll first became aware of the Nordic noir trend when she starred in 2015’s The Team, cast alongside Lars Mikkelsen, Jasmin Great and Veerle Baetens in the story of a team of police officers brought together across Europe to solve a series of cross-border murders.

“I realised on that show that we had a genre [in Scandinavia] that was so specific. My co-stars from Germany and Belgium were asking, ‘How do you do this genre?’ We were like, we don’t do the genre, it’s just a show. That’s when I realised we had created a style, a way of doing things.

“It’s not really a conscious decision,” the actor adds. “We’re not really aware that we created a strong style of what a Scandi noir is. I think we were the last to find out what a Scandi noir was.”

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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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Flipping the script

A doctor and a teacher approaching retirement decide to secure their futures by robbing a bank in Swedish comedy drama Enkelstöten. Executive producer Pontus Edgren tells DQ about the decision to swap men for women in the lead roles.

When it comes to adaptations, there are a few techniques you might expect to see when a novel is being prepared for the screen. The story will be tightened or expanded to suit the number of episodes and, consequently, new characters might be added, or existing ones omitted altogether.

In the case of forthcoming Swedish series Enkelstöten (A Simple Heist), however, two women take the lead in roles that were originally written as men. Based on a book by Tomas Arvidsson, it follows a teacher and a doctor who decide to rob a bank.

It was first translated to the screen in a 1980 miniseries, which faithfully adapted the story. But in a new six-part series airing this autumn on TV4, those lead roles have been switched and aged up, as two women in their 60s decide to carry out the heist.

Pontus Edgren

The plot centres on Jenny Bengtsson and Cecilia Svensson, who enjoy a middle-class life in the Swedish town of Kalmar. But with retirement approaching and their bank accounts somewhat lacking, they decide to rob a bank in Stockholm.

The series follows the duo as they weigh up the pros and cons of the bank job, eventually deciding to go through with it, and goes on to detail the heist itself and the aftermath.

But as changing the lead characters might suggest, A Simple Heist isn’t exactly a traditional adaptation.

“We’ve taken basic core elements of the story but to a great extent we have created a new story,” executive producer Pontus Edgren says. “It’s still about a teacher and a doctor who feel that life has been unfair to them. One has gone through a divorce and doesn’t get much out of it economically, and the other has invested her money very badly and her husband doesn’t know that the money with which they were supposed to buy a house in France has virtually gone. They also have big demands on them, from parents and students to patients and their bosses, so they’re squeezed from many different positions.

“All that is similar to the basic story, but there’s a new element in our first episode where the doctor has a patient who’s a criminal and she tells him he’s going to die soon from cancer, so he confides in her that he was going to commit a bank robbery in Stockholm – and says she should do it. Of course, she says she can’t do it because she’s a 58-year-old doctor, but he says that’s exactly why she should do it – because she’s never going to get caught. That’s how it starts.”

It’s a story that is personal to Edgren, MD and co-founder of producer FLX, as Arvidsson is a family friend. The exec is also a native of the town in south-east Sweden where the story plays out.

From the outset three years ago, when FLX picked up rights for the series, women were at its heart. TV4 immediately liked the premise, and placed a commission a year later. The series had its world premiere at Série Series earlier in 2017.

A Simple Heist centres on a pair of 60-somethings who decide to rob a Stockholm bank

“For this specific series, we really wanted to build the story first, to really set something up that had a good driving force forward and with the twists and turns viewers would find exciting and suspenseful to watch,” Edgren explains. “Then we added a layer of comedy in the script and in the direction too. The original story, about two people with an academic background who become criminals, is set up for comedy and the actors were very carefully picked because they have a great track record of doing great comedy but they are also great actors. They’re not comedians, they’re just actors who can handle comedy.”

However, the actors who came to fill the leading roles, Lotta Tele (Jenny) and Sissela Kyle (Cecilia), weren’t originally in line for the show. “In the very beginning, when we first started looking at having female leads, we looked at them being around 40, but we couldn’t find exactly the right dynamic between the two so we moved up the age and changed the premise a bit to explain why they decided to commit this crime. Then we found them quite quickly.

“We knew Sissela and Lotta very well. Sissela, particularly, has done a lot of comedy and has proven herself to be a great comedic actor. Lotta has more recently gone into that genre and is perfect for this. They’re quite different characters.

“The part Lotte plays is more careful and reluctant; she’s not the one who’s driving this. She’s very hesitant and against the idea in the first episode, whereas Sissela’s character is the driving force. She’s the doctor who gets the idea from her patient. They’ve known each other since they were kids and Sissela is the one with the energy and the drive. It was perfect for what they’re good at. It’s a very good dynamic between the two.”

The show stars Lotta Tele as Jenny and Sissela Kyle as Cecilia

The limited budgets available in Sweden mean productions are largely filmed in and around Stockholm. But for A Simple Heist, the production team was keen to film as much as possible on location in Kalmar, a five-hour drive from the capital.

“When you produce drama or comedy in Sweden, too often you have to stay around Stockholm because you don’t have the finances to leave the area,” says Edgren, who notes that external shooting on location was combined with interior shots in Stockholm. “So that was a challenge to us because we wanted to stay true to the story. This small town is also an important element of the story. People know each other and what they’re up to; people gossip and talk and you’re never really alone. It’s much more difficult to hide things from others and that’s an important part of the story, so that’s why it takes place in a small town.”

As Nordic noir continues to evolve, A Simple Heist stands out as another example of how the region is pushing beyond the gritty, grisly crime dramas that viewers around the world have come to know and love. FremantleMedia International is selling the six-parter globally.

“With lots of brutal murders, trafficking and paedophiles [in Nordic noir], the international audience might get a horrific view of how we’re actually coping here [in Scandinavia],” Edgren says, “so I think, from a very general standpoint, if we can show ourselves and show the world that we can also make lighter series with hope and joy, that’s what motivates us. The combination of comedy and suspense is great if you can manage it.”

All six episodes of the show have now been delivered to TV4, ahead of its launch later this autumn. This is unlikely to be the last time viewers will meet Jenny and Cecilia, however. “TV4 believes very strongly in this series and has commissioned development for season two,” Edgren adds. “We’re going to start writing after the summer. We’re hopeful there will be opportunities for them to commit crimes again!”

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DQ uncovers the hidden story of Farang

Red Arrow International is at Mipcom 2016 distributing action-packed Swedish thriller Farang. Producer Anna Wallmark Avelin and co-ordinator Frida Wallman reveal the hidden story behind the series.

Set in Thailand, Farang is a landmark new series about love, betrayal and the complicated ties that bind a father with his daughter.

Anna Wallmark Avelin
Anna Wallmark Avelin

The show features a stellar cast including Ola Rapace (Skyfall, Section Zero, Wallander, Together), Louise Nyvall (Girls Lost) and Yayaying Rhatha Phongam (Only God Forgives).

Former criminal Rickard (Rapace) has vanished. Fleeing Sweden and the old friends he has testified against, he abandons his name, his life and his family to start over in Thailand. Ten years later and still with a price on his head, Rickard knows that a return home would be a death sentence. And so he ekes out his existence as a small-time crook in the back alleys of Phuket. Life’s tough and dirty, but at least it won’t kill him. That’s the idea, anyway.

When his 15-year-old daughter Thyra comes looking for him, Rickard’s self-imposed exile in this gritty paradise is soon under threat. His attempts to push her away only drive her deeper into the dark underworld that Rickard knows only too well. After a momentary lapse in judgement, Rickard’s cover is blown and both he and his daughter find themselves in very real danger. Their only chance of survival is to strike back at those who are coming for them.

Frida Wallman
Frida Wallman

This story arc wasn’t always the path for Farang’s main character. Rickard was originally a policeman. He planned to start a new life in a Thai paradise, but throughout the development of the show, new angles began to develop and new people came along. So it all changed and he switched sides: from a cop to a criminal in the dark underbelly of paradise.

We found the most rewarding and yet challenging thing about the creative process in producing Farang was trying to keep a consistent voice and holding on to the uniqueness of the series through all of the different eyes and brains who have worked on the project over the years.

Another major change was that the eight-part series, produced by Warner Bros for CMore Entertainment and TV4 Sweden, shifted genre over the development period.

What initially started out as a light drama became a thrilling, edgy drama. Originally the show was about a policeman in paradise solving a minor criminal case, with tourists somehow involved in each episode, and with some added rom-com glitter.

Farang stars Ola Rapace
Farang stars Ola Rapace

We then felt we wanted to add a strong emotional theme to the series. We didn’t want the audience to know what was going to happen next – who would fool them, who would fall in love and who would be sacrificed.

So when this project and the scripts finally landed, it wasn’t so light anymore. We also needed time to tell the story in all its scope, so the thriller journey began and all of a sudden there was only one case left to solve over the whole season. We also found that it was far more exciting and complex if Rickard was a criminal with a hidden identity, on the other side of the law.

We then came to the visuals and the environment. The initial plan was to shoot the series on the sunny beaches of Thailand but, based on the above journey, we felt we had to move behind the postcard-worthy vistas. The new take on the story required something more.

Rapace alongside Louise Nyvall, who plays his teenage daughter

We wanted to make a Scandi noir set in an exotic place to suit the story, but also to make it resonate with the themes, so all the reccies began to take place around corners, behind the glitzy hotels, away from the big streets. That’s how we built the universe of Farang.

The word ‘farang’ is used by Thais for people of European descent in Thailand, and usually denotes a foreigner. It sums up the feeling of unease and outsider-dom that pervades the series and Rickard’s psyche.

In terms of filming in Thailand, one small challenge was putting a very Scandinavian cast in a tropical location!

Ola Rapace’s character Rickard has been living in Thailand for 10 years and is consequently used to the warm climate. Rickard is comfortable walking around in jeans – even when the temperature reaches 45 degrees. Imagine the sweat on him after shooting 10 hours a day in jeans and boots for months in this heat! He lost one kilo a week.

Our lead actress, Louise Nyvall, who plays Rickard’s 15-year-old daughter Thyra, had similar difficulties. She arrives in Thailand in the first episode and then she has to stay pale throughout the whole series – a struggle when shooting for three months in sunny Thailand without getting any sunburn or a tan!

Ultimately we are hugely proud of the show and the journey it has taken to be what it is today. We hope viewers will be drawn into the world behind the glamour of a beach paradise, and delight in seeing a Scandi noir set among the palm trees.

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True crime tops TV trends

Sarah Paulson, Cuba Gooding Jr and John Travolta in American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson
Sarah Paulson, Cuba Gooding Jr and John Travolta in American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson

There’s a new trend in US TV and it’s called true crime. Cutting across the drama and documentary genres, it’s a category of shows that seeks to shine a light on the workings of the US justice system (usually by giving examples of its failings and weaknesses).

The most high-profile examples to date are Fox’s sophisticated drama series American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson and Netflix’s documentary series Making a Murderer. But more are on the way.

This week, for example, it was revealed that CBS is developing its own true-crime unscripted series, centring on the 1996 murder of six-year-old beauty pageant star JonBenet Ramsey. Also coming up soon is Guilt, a drama series greenlit by Freeform (previously known as ABC Family).

Guilt, which debuts on June 13, is about a young American woman in London who becomes the prime suspect in the savage murder of her roommate. Loosely based on the famous Amanda Knox case, success for this show would undoubtedly keep the true crime bandwagon rolling.

Freeform has actually been making a lot of trade headlines this week as a result of its Upfronts. One of its most interesting announcements is that it is making a local version of Misfits, the UK drama that aired on E4 from 2009 to 2013. Created by Howard Overman, the show focuses on a group of young offenders who develop superpowers after being exposed to an electrical storm. The new series comes from executive producers Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, who previously developed Gossip Girl.

The original UK version of Misfits, which aired on E4
The original UK version of Misfits, which aired on E4

Other dramas coming through on Freeform include The Deep, Hunted and Lore, a sci-fi drama about the lone survivor of an ancient race of paranormal beings who is abducted and forced to put his extraordinary abilities to work for the government.

For 2017 there is Beyond, a one-hour drama about a young man who wakes up from a coma after 12 years and discovers new abilities that propel him into the middle of a dangerous conspiracy. Also of note, given the current trend towards series with a transgender theme, is New People. Executive produced by Joel Silver and writer/director Don Roos, in association with Lionsgate, this drama-comedy focuses on a middle class family who adopted identical twin boys at birth. One is all boy, one grew up trans.

Another trend gathering pace is that of dramas that explore the nefarious world of high finance. Recent examples that deal with this subject head-on or tangentially include Showtime series Billions, Sky/Canal+ show The Last Panthers and DR’s Follow the Money. Now, Zodiak Rights and Arise Pictures have joined forces on The Cleaners, a 10-part series about international money laundering.

Described as Casino Royale meets Wall Street, the drama revolves around CIA operatives working with illegal money launderers in the Middle East to achieve regime change. Coproduction partners already on board include Spain’s Arcadia Motion Pictures and the UK’s Propulsion Pictures. “This new drama could not be more topical after the recent leak of the Panama papers, highlighting how and where heads of state hide their money around the world,” said Caroline Torrance, head of scripted at Zodiak Rights.

Grimm has been given a sixth season
Grimm has been given a sixth season

In May last year, we looked at the success of NBC’s supernatural crime drama Grimm and the reasons it had been renewed for a fifth season. This week, NBC announced a sixth season of the show. NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke said of the team behind the show: “They have created a whole new world of creatures and have a truly devoted fan base. We can’t wait to see what comes next.”

Season five of Grimm finished in April, with its ratings actually on an upward trajectory. The 4.5 million viewers it attracted to the 16th and final episode was the highest of the entire series. The show is also very strong in time-shifting, almost doubling its audience in terms of Live+7-day ratings.

Elsewhere, CBS has renewed NCIS: Los Angeles for an eighth season, while Fox has awarded renewals to two of its new dramas, Rosewood and Lucifer. Both have performed above Fox’s scripted average for the season without really setting the schedule on fire. Nevertheless, Fox Entertainment president David Madden said: “We knew we had something special with Lucifer, from the engaging performances of Tom Ellis, Lauren German and the rest of the cast, to Len Wiseman’s visually stunning look of the show.”

As for Rosewood, Madden said creator Todd Harthan “has put a fresh, playful spin on the procedural format, infusing it with wit and warmth, while Morris Chestnut, Jaina Lee Ortiz and the show’s supporting cast have turned in fantastic performances. We look forward to standout sophomore seasons from both series.”

Lucifer has also been renewed
Lucifer has also been renewed

Outside the US, Nordic broadcaster C More Entertainment, which owns networks including TV4 Sweden, has started production on a thriller about a bank robber who moves to Thailand to start a new life. Called Farang, the series was created by Malin Lagerlöf and Stefan Thunberg, and will premiere on C More in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland next year before later airing on TV4.

Bo Thörnwall, director of programmes at C More, said: “Announcing new local content is always a pleasure, since our strong Swedish offer makes us unique in the market.” Josefine Tengblad, head of drama at TV4 and C More, added that the show “will be a gut-wrenching thriller – a drama about the emotional, fragile connection between a father and the daughter he abandoned.”

The show is part of a concerted drive by C More/TV4 into the drama business. Other titles on their slate include Gåsmamman, a thriller that was doing the rounds at MipTV last week, Beck and upcoming crime drama Missing.

In other international news, UK indie Mam Tor Productions has joined with Escapade Media on the upcoming Australian drama series Art of Killing. The six-part psychological thriller is adapted from the novel A Dark Place to Die by Ed Chatterton. The scriptwriters include Paul Duane, Rob Cawley and Sarah Smith. Commenting on the partnership, Escapade Media MD Natalie Lawley said: “In the growing world of international coproductions, it’s imperative to have a producer who can drive the project to distinction, especially in face of the strong competition. Tally’s work is proof of this and she is a perfect fit for this project.”

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AMC feels Terror as Soderbergh goes west

Steven Soderbergh
Steven Soderbergh

US cable channel AMC is making headlines again this week by commissioning a 10-part anthology series based on a 2007 novel by Dan Simmons called The Terror.

Set in 1847, The Terror unfolds as a Royal Naval expedition searching for the Northwest Passage is attacked by a mysterious predator that stalks their ships and crew. The show continues the recent fascination with thrillers set against a backdrop of snow and ice (Fargo, Fortitude, Trapped and Liam Neeson movie The Grey, to name a few).

The Terror is being exec produced by Ridley Scott and will be adapted for the screen by David Kajganich, whose recent credits include the movie The Bigger Splash. Kajganich will also be a co-showrunner with Soo Hugh.

Joel Stillerman, president of original programming and development for AMC and SundanceTV, said: “Originality is still something that gets our attention every day, and the very unique mixing of historical non-fiction with a gripping and imaginative science-fiction overlay in Dan’s novel is something we hadn’t seen before. That, combined with an exceptional team behind the project, made this something we really wanted to bring to air on AMC.”

Meanwhile, Netflix has ordered an original western series from director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Frank. Called Godless, it is set in a 19th century New Mexico mining town.

As yet there are no more details. However, the news is generating a lot of excitement because of the Soderbergh/Frank link-up. The last time they worked together was on the acclaimed movie Out of Sight. Since then, Soderbergh has shifted much of his energy in the direction of TV with shows such as The Knick, while Frank has been screenwriting movies including Minority Report, The Wolverine and Marley & Me.

Fuller House has already been given a second run on Netflix
Fuller House, a revival of Full House, has already been given a second run on Netflix

Netflix has also renewed its revival of US family sitcom Full House for a second season. The reboot, titled Fuller House, follows a pregnant and recently widowed woman who is living with her younger sister, best friend and teenage daughter. They all help to raise her two boys and prepare for the birth of the new baby. The original Full House aired on US network ABC from 1987 to 1995.

Elsewhere, projects now getting kickstarted out of the UK include Tina and Bobby, a three-part drama from ITV that will celebrate the life of England football legend Bobby Moore and his wife. The project writer is Lauren Klee, who has a strong track record on shows like EastEnders, Waterloo Road and Holby City.

Meanwhile, Colin Callender’s indie prodco Playground has picked up the rights to Guardian journalist Patrick Kingsley’s book The New Odyssey – The Story of Europe’s Refugee Crisis. It plans to make a TV series based on the book, which charts Kingsley’s journey to 17 countries where he met hundreds of refugees making their way across deserts, seas and mountains in a bid to reach Europe.

Discussing the decision to acquire the book, Sophie Gardiner, creative director of Playground’s UK office, said: “The New Odyssey is an epic piece of journalism that provides an intimate account of the people caught up in one of the biggest humanitarian crises since the Second World War. We believe this can be TV at its best – powerful, emotional and compelling storytelling that explores the complexities and human dimensions of the biggest story of our time.”

Playground Entertainment is making a TV version of The New Odyssey
Playground Entertainment is making a TV version of The New Odyssey

One of the most eye-catching stories to have come out of the US TV business in recent weeks was the news that Channing Dungey, executive VP of drama at Disney-owned network ABC, was being promoted to entertainment president, replacing incumbent Paul Lee. The story came as a surprise and got people wondering about how it might affect decisions over cancellations and renewals.

Well, Dungey hasn’t wasted any time making her mark, giving early renewals to a huge swathe of ABC shows this week. Among these are dramas like Quantico, Grey’s Anatomy, How To Get Away With Murder, Once Upon a Time and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. On the comedy front, Fresh off the Boat, The Goldbergs, Modern Family, Black-ish and The Middle got the nod.

Dungey’s renewals are interesting for a few reasons. First, because it looks like she is playing safe in season one. Rather than rip up the schedule, she has decided to play the percentages and give herself time to settle in. Second, because she has renewed the shows much earlier than Lee had a habit of doing. This is her way of quickly distinguishing herself from her predecessor.

Finally, Dungey’s list of renewals is also notable because of what she has not yet committed to. Long-running procedural Castle (nearly at the end of season eight), for example, has not yet been given the OK. Dungey has also delayed decisions on four other scripted series, Nashville, The Muppets, Marvel’s Agent Carter and Galavant.

Castle stands a reasonable chance of being renewed if star Nathan Fillion is prepared to sign up for a new season. However, the other series are harder to call.

Galavant's chances of renewal on ABC look shaky
Galavant’s chances of renewal on ABC look shaky

In January, Paul Lee said Nashville would probably be back for a fifth season. But the show has never really been a massive ratings hit, so it might not secure the same support from Dungey. In the case of The Muppets, a strong start has given way to sub-par ratings. But this is a Disney-owned property so ABC won’t necessarily want to give up on it just yet. Similarly, Agent Carter hasn’t been particularly strong in ratings terms but it does come from the Disney-Marvel stable of scripted shows.

Galavant, a musical comedy/fantasy series, is coming to the end of its second season and probably looks like the easiest of the five to say goodbye to. Ratings haven’t been especially strong and there’s no obvious Disney 360-degree reason to keep it alive. That said, it does have a top creator behind it in the shape of Dan Fogelman (Tangled, Cars). So that might be enough to persuade ABC to give the show another chance.

Finally, in Scandinavia, Swedish commercial broadcaster TV4 has ordered two 10-part seasons of a medical drama based on a Finnish format called Nurses, produced by Yellow Film & TV and distributed by Eccho Rights. Jan Blomgren, CEO of Swedish production company Bob Films, said: “The original version of Nurses is well written and produced. We believe the audience in Sweden will relate to real stories in a glossy drama series.”

This isn’t the first time a Finnish drama has been adapted for the other Nordic territories. It’s also just happened with DRG-distributed thriller Black Widows.

Although the Finns make dramas to a decent standard, tight budgets mean their shows often aren’t glossy enough to appeal to audiences in the other Nordic markets. In the case of Nurses, a third season is about to air on YLE in Finland. Eccho Rights, which licensed the format to Sweden, has also sold it into the UK. At the same time, it has licensed the first two Finnish seasons to ProSiebenSat.1. Eccho will also sell the Swedish version of the show internationally.

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Modus: Is the TV4 drama Nordic Noir’s next big hit?

DQ travels to Stockholm to speak to the cast and creatives behind Modus, a new thriller hoping to change the landscape of the Swedish crime genre.

It’s a sunny September day beside Ladugårdslandsviken, a boat-lined bay in the centre of Stockholm, as DQ arrives in the Swedish capital for the launch of Modus.

The eight-part series tells the story of a psychologist, Inger Johanne Vik, who becomes involved in the police hunt for the murderer of a female bishop. She later learns that her daughter witnessed another murder and that the two killings are connected as part of a spate of hate crimes, and unwittingly puts herself and her family in danger.

Based on Norwegian crime writer Anne Holt’s novel Pengemannen (Fear Not), it is the first series produced by Miso Film’s Swedish base, led by Sandra Harms, and airs on TV4. The show is distributed by FremantleMedia International.

TV4’s head of drama Josefine Tengblad, who was previously an executive producer for the commercial network before starting her new role in April, has been looking for the channel’s next big drama for four years and had many projects in development, but she says it was clear this was the right show to bring to air.

Melinda Kinnaman stars as Inger Johanne Vik
Melinda Kinnaman stars as Inger Johanne Vik

“This is eight episodes of one story. TV4 hasn’t done that in eight years,” Tengblad says. “It’s mostly been 90-minute dramas. Wallander and Beck have been huge brands for us and have been a great success. But I felt that we needed to step into this area. We have to do these series because that’s the future. We’re really ready for it now and the audience is ready.

“It’s harder as a commercial channel, of course. We have commercial breaks and people are more used to getting something a bit easier. It’s important to get the best team behind and in front of the camera and then to get something that has quality storytelling. It’s interesting to see how the audience will react because it’s so important. This will open doors for future projects.”

Judging by the ratings for the show’s debut this week, it’s a risk that could pay off. The first episode drew 1.22 million viewers to TV4 at 21.00, scoring a 36.4% audience share – making it TV4’s biggest drama launch in more than two years (Inkognito debuted to 1.28 million viewers in January 2013).

Producer Harms says of the show’s format: “It’s told from a different angle. Our main character is not a policewoman, she’s a profiler and psychologist. So we tell stories about people, not about the investigation. We decided to limit the number of scenes during the investigation as much as we could so we didn’t get the obvious police series that we’ve seen a lot in Swedish television.

“We really focused on the characters rather than the investigation. That’s also a challenge because in the first two episodes, the main character is still not involved so we have to push the story in different ways. From episode three, she gets into the investigation.”

Integral to the project are Danish writing duo Mai Brostrøm and Peter Thorsboe (Unit One, The Team), who embarked on their first ever adaptation with Modus.

Brostrøm says: “Josefine and Sandra called us and introduced us to the book. Sandra then came to Copenhagen and it was a perfect match between us.

Modus is TV4's biggest drama launch in more than two years
Modus is TV4’s biggest drama launch in more than two years

“We were afraid of doing an adaptation in the beginning – it’s a private room you enter between the novel writer and her readers. It’s a difficult place to be, so we talked about it a lot. But we were fascinated to get under the skin of another writer and develop it from there. We were also in a place where we thought it would be nice to do something different and have a new challenge. It was important that we had the right team, and the four of us were a perfect match from the beginning.”

Thorsboe says he and Brostrøm were interested in twisting the crime genre by creating a “whydunnit,” rather than a traditional ‘whodunnit.’ They then drafted an outline of the entire story. “That’s really important,” he says. “Then we split up and had big battles about who wrote the best scenes!”

Brostrøm, who is now writing season two of European crime drama The Team with Thorsboe, continues: “But we agree about the whole story and the storyline, and we discuss the scenes. When it comes to the writing, we have to sit alone. We’ve been working together for 15 years. In the beginning, we wrote on the same computer, line by line. But eventually we built up another way of working because when you’re together that many hours, you have to find freedom in your own writing.

“Sometimes you can kill it if you keep talking about it – you just have to write and see what comes up in the moment. That’s why we’ve balanced it that way, and it works very well for us.

“We spend so much time talking and outlining but when it comes to the writing, we split up. Afterwards we read what each other has been writing and we discuss it and we argue again!”

The pair often rewrote scenes as they found the characters developing through different drafts and meetings with Tengblad and Harms, but all four creatives worked closely with concept director Lisa Siwe and director Mani Maserrat throughout the process to bring their shared vision of the series to air.

The show is based on Anne Holt’s novel Pengemannen (Fear Not)
The show is based on Anne Holt’s novel Pengemannen (Fear Not)

Siwe (The Bridge), who directed the first four episodes, says she found the project interesting from the moment she read the script: “I liked the characters and the fact it was a character-based story. For me, it always starts with character. It also has a strong and complex woman as the main character and it was political. It had so many aspects – it was not only a crime story, it was also about family. This was something new. The characters and the families were as exciting as the crime story.”

Speaking about Modus’s tone, Siwe says she wanted it to have a sense of heightened reality – believable but not necessarily realistic. “I wanted it to feel like a feature, realistic in its emotions and full of contrast in the colours, from light and dark to the city and the forest and the story,” she explains.

“Together with the set designer and cinematographer, we wrote a bible for what we were going to make. In Sweden we often do very realistic dramas but I wanted this to be in a universe of its own. We had such a great team. There was so much love in this project, in front of the camera and behind. Everyone felt they were doing something important.”

For co-director Mani Maserrat, who took charge of episodes five to eight, the show was a chance to develop his skills behind the camera. “I usually work with handheld cameras so because Lisa started it, it was a great experience to be forced to use American cinematic filmmaking techniques, using a dolly and wide shots,” he says. “Now I will continue to explore. I feel like I’ve developed as a director.”

Discussions are now taking place to decide which of Holt’s novels – there are five in the Vik series – could be adapted next if a second season is greenlit. One thing’s for sure, though – crime is still the genre of choice for viewers in Scandinavia.

“Crime still works so well,” says Tengblad. “We try to push it and make new types of crime series. In this series, you leave the police station and it’s more about what’s happening to the characters. You feel the audience wants that, and that’s super exciting for us.”

Harms adds: “This is a really big investment and let’s hope it goes really well because we really want TV4 as a commissioner for quality drama. SVT is doing it too but we need one more.”

The fact that Modus isn’t your typical crime drama was a big draw for many members of the cast. Melinda Kinnaman (Ørnen), who plays Inger Johanne Vik, says she had previously avoided police stories. “When I heard about it, I thought it sounded like another Swedish crime series. But when I learnt more about the ambition of the show and how the scriptwriters wanted to make every character rich and complex, I wanted to do it,” she explains.

“These scriptwriters are so good at not saying too much. You don’t understand exactly what each character is. As in real life, we’re all full of contradictions and they really captured that. Sometimes Swedish TV is more simplified and you don’t have that, so it’s very special. TV can be really fast. Here it felt like everybody wanted it to be as good as possible. The most important thing was to ensure the show was really good quality, and I think we managed it.”

In the series, Kinnaman’s Vik partners with police officer Ingvar Nyman (Henrik Norlén) to find the murderer. While Norlén has played lots of policeman, he says Modus was very different from what he had done before.

“This was new for me,” he says. “I like to think he’s a policeman but he’s in a thriller. That’s the difference with this kind of role. I also liked that we were doing one book for eight episodes. Usually we do 90 minutes for one book. In this series you really get to know the families and then there’s a murder and you see how it affects them. It’s very unusual. And it’s a nice world of characters that they’ve built.

The story focuses on the hunt for the murderer of a female bishop
The story focuses on the hunt for the murderer of a female bishop

“When I watch series like The Wire, I like to get to know people. I’d like to see more of that in Sweden, not just one case per episode.”

Married actors Cecilia Nilsson (Morden) and Krister Henriksson (Wallander) reprise their personal relationship as the Bishop and her husband. Henriksson signed on having previously worked with Tengblad. “Josefine was the producer of the Wallander movies and I like to work with people who I like, who I have confidence in, and I have a great confidence in her,” he says. “When she became the head of TV4 drama, she asked me about this show and, without reading the script, I said I would do it because of her. I saw the first episode and I don’t regret it.

“It’s a new genre. Wallander and Beck were more or less three hours with all the commercials. This is just one hour (per episode). And that’s quite new. It’s not crime, it’s more of a thriller.”

Nilsson, who will appear in SVT drama Springfloden (Spring Tide) in 2016, adds: “There is an interesting underlying story that will reveal itself. Anne is a fantastic writer and her spirit is very well taken care of in the series.”

Fellow cast members Simon J Berger (Torka aldrin tårar utan handskar), who plays Vik’s ex-husband Isak Aronson, and Alexandra Rapaport (Ulrika Sjöberg) both felt the script was too good to turn down.

“I thought it was another Nordic crime show but then when I read it, I realised it was a drama, a thriller. Both that genre, which interests me, and the quality of the script really made me keen on doing it,” Berger says. “It’s got a lovely quality and both the team and the cast are absolutely amazing. The plot is not just the case and then some drama scenes sprinkled on top. Here the drama storylines are the plot and among those plotlines there’s also the case.”

Rapaport (Morden i Sandhamn) adds: “It’s a great script and all of us had discussions with Lisa about our characters to develop them so that we’re not just a function, we’re real people in the series.”

Based on a book by a Norwegian writer, written by Danish writers and produced by a Swedish production company for a Swedish broadcaster, Modus is a truly Scandinavian production. And with the demand for a new thriller to follow the success of Forbrydelsen (The Killing) and Bron/Broen (The Bridge), Modus might just be what the international television market has been waiting for.


Anne Holt
Anne Holt

Holt’s life of crime

As one of Scandinavia’s most successful crime novelists, Anne Holt admits she was reluctant to allow a new television adaptation of one of her books and was waiting for the right team to come along.

With Miso Film and TV4 behind Modus, she thinks she’s found it – and the author likes what she’s seen so far.

“I really love it,” she tells DQ. “I’ve seen the first six chapters and I’m very impressed, both when it comes to the script – they’ve taken care of my universe in a very respectful way but still managed to convert it into a TV series in a fantastic way – and the actors.”

In particular, Holt speaks warmly of scriptwriters Mai Brostrøm and Peter Thorsboe and says she was happy to leave her story in their hands, staying in the background during production.

“I love Peter and Mai’s earlier series,” she says. “You can’t argue with success. They have three Emmys – they know what they’re doing. The producer Sandra Harms made enquiries with several Swedish scriptwriters and was just not satisfied with them, so then she said, ‘Let’s try to go for the best.’

“Peter and Mai were somewhat reluctant to do Modus – they never do adaptations – but they’ve done an excellent job. I know a lot of authors who have had their work adapted and they all seem a bit unsatisfied afterwards. They feel something is lost or wrong. But this story has gained something.”

With her background working for Norwegian broadcaster NRK and as a police officer, lawyer and journalist – not to mention a short spell as minister for justice – Holt’s novels feature plots rooted in problems with society, such as Modus’s exploration of hate crime.

“As a writer I’m always asked if I have profited from the fact I’ve covered so many areas in my working life, but I make up my people. They’re not based on real people,” she explains. “My strength is probably that I’ve lived for a long time and I’ve met a lot of people, spoken to a lot of people and read a lot of newspapers. My position as a crime writer in Scandinavia has made it easier to do research because I can pick up the phone and call anyone.

“I was in the police force for two years and made some connections there, so if I need to know what the inside of a police car looks like, they can show me. That’s a benefit, but otherwise life experience is what inspires me and gives me my main advantage as a writer.

“My main goal is always to write a story that is entertaining. I write suspense, but it’s no fun for me or the reader if it doesn’t reflect my political engagement. My latest book is about extremism. I’ve written about child abuse, racism, everything.”

The BBC is adapting another of Holt’s novels, 1222, which features police officer Hanne Wilhelmsen, the author’s most prolific character. But would she ever write an original story for television?

“I’m too old to learn new skills. Why should I write TV when they do such an excellent job? I should stick with what has given me quite a comfortable life for the last 25 years.”

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