French actor Sara Mortensen discusses her role in international hit detective series Astrid: Murder in Paris, representation in television and why she doesn’t watch many series.
Sara Mortensen has been a familiar face on French television for more than 15 years thanks to appearances in dramas La vie est à nous (20something) and Chefs, long-running soap Plus belle la vie and thriller L’abîme (The Abyss).
However, international audiences are more likely to recognise the star from her lead role in hit detective series Astrid et Raphaëlle, which airs in the UK under the title Astrid: Murder in Paris.
Airing locally on France 2 since 2019, the series introduces police commander Raphaëlle Coste (Lola Dewaere), who first meets police librarian Astrid Nielsen (Mortensen), a woman with Asperger’s syndrome, while searching the judicial archives during one of her investigations. They then become partners to solve a variety of cases, as Astrid provides unique insights into crime-solving with her extraordinary memory.
When Mortensen’s not in production, she can often be found on an awards jury – “It’s like a second job now,” she jokes – and it is for that very reason that DQ meets the actor at the Monte Carlo Television Festival, where she is taking part in the fiction jury alongside US star John Goodman and Italian actor Francesca Chillemi, among others.
Here, she talks about watching television, playing Astrid and her future projects.
What was it like working with jury president John Goodman?
I met John Goodman, so I’m happy. He’s amazing. We had to watch many things in a short time so it was hard work, but it was cool. He’s amazingly kind. The whole jury was amazing. We had a WhatsApp group and are all connected, and we all come from different places in the world, so we already plan to see each other in different countries and cities.
What did you take from watching so many series from around the world?
TV is doing well. It’s getting better and better. With Prime Video, Apple TV+ and so many other streaming platforms, you have to be ambitious and find some subjects [for drama series] that are not so well explored.
You’re half-Norwegian. Have you worked in Norway?
I want to work in Norway. I did the voiceovers for some documentaries over there but for French audiences, so I’ve never really worked there [as an actor]. I did audition for [wartime drama] Occupied and almost did it. But when it came to the channel, production and money, I’m no one there. So they said, ‘OK, let’s go for the famous one.’ I completely understand it – that’s the game.
Do you watch a lot of TV?
I like watching TV series, I just don’t have that much time to do it. I can’t spend a whole Sunday watching Netflix for six hours. I’m not that person. So it can take me a long time before I get to the end of a TV series, which is quite cool because if I like it, it feels like it’s lasting forever. I don’t know if I have a favourite. The last one I saw, which was extremely well done and brilliant, but also annoying, was The Handmaid’s Tale. When you’re a woman and you’re watching it, you’re like, ‘Why am I fucking watching this? Why do I do this?’ My favourite among everything is Orange is the New Black.
What do you think of representation on television?
Of course, I think there’s not enough. Astrid is autistic, and now it’s cool to have an autistic character somewhere. Saga in The Bridge [the Danish/Swedish series starring Sofia Helin] was autistic and it was never talked about in the show, and I think that’s brilliant. She made a difference. Of course, there are all sorts of autism and differences, but we always show one type of autism – someone who’s super bright, super nice. At least we’re talking about it and shining light on our differences. But it’s always a bit of a caricature. In society, their differences are not something we have to adapt to; it’s always that they have to adapt to us and to our world.
Was it a big decision to play Astrid?
It took me two seconds to say yes and then I thought, ‘Why?’ But of course, I couldn’t say no. But I rewrite everything – I rewrite the dialogue a lot. I’m part of the writing team at the end of the process after they do the story. I have to be so precise. If I see something [wrong with the character], they [viewers] will do too. So if I notice something, we have to change it.
What can you reveal about the proposed crossover between Astrid et Raphaëlle and medical investigation series Alexandre Ehle?
Sorry, I can’t say anything because I haven’t read a thing. We’re doing it in September. I’m going to play with two other actresses, and one is the daughter of Gerard Depardieu [Alexandre Ehle lead Julie Depardieu] and the other is the daughter of Patrick Dewaere [Astrid et Raphaelle co-star Lola Dewaere]. They’re both great actors and we’ll play together.
What else are you working on?
I just shot Muertres à Bayeux [Murder in Bayeux, a season 10 episode in the long-running Muetres à… series]. It was cool. The director, Kamir Aïnouz, is an old friend of mine. We never worked together and spent 10 years not even seeing each other because there was too much work, kids and everything. It was amazing to be directed by her. It was so cool to think 20 years later, she’s a director, I’m the lead role. The script was good. It wasn’t just a murder somewhere – there’s a real history behind it and the themes are amazing.
Do you have plans to write and direct?
Directing, yes, absolutely. I direct sometimes on Astrid, because I know the characters, so I would love to. Writing? I do write, but it’s so exhausting. It’s a long and hard process. I am shooting so much and working so hard as an actress, so when I’m an old and wrinkled has-been, I will write.
I can shoot anything if I believe in it and love the script. Even if it’s not working, I don’t give a shit. I can go for it and defend a project. But if it’s not amazingly exciting… I’m a perfectionist. I need to work, I need to write and discuss and do everything.