Back to reality

Back to reality

By Michael Pickard
June 7, 2024


Dates in Real Life creator Jakob Rørvik and star Gina Bernhoft Gørvell come together to discuss this award-winning Norwegian drama, in which a woman must escape the comfort of her online world if she hopes to find a physical connection.

On the face of it, Norwegian series Dates in Real Life is a classic love story – one where protagonist Ida is looking for her perfect match after being left heartbroken by her ex-boyfriend.

Jakob Rørvik

Yet in reality, it’s a much more modern tale of love. Ida (Gina Bernhoft Gørvell) spends most of her life online, and she’s never actually met her boyfriend, Marvin, as they spend their days together in a virtual world. When Marvin suddenly announces he’s dating another woman IRL (in real life), Ida is devastated, and sets out on a mission to find her own physical partner while also hoping to get back together with Marvin.

“For me, there’s the love story but it’s also about a young person trying to figure out who she wants to be in the world,” says writer and director Jakob Rørvik, who has previously featured in the DQ100. “She lives, many would say, quite an extreme life, living at the beginning of the series fully immersed in an online world. All her social interactions and intimate relationships are online.

“But most viewers today would recognise something of themselves in that; we’re all attached to screens and we all have this avatar of ourselves that we create on Instagram or Facebook, so there is an element of something for everybody to recognise, even if she’s the extreme version.”

The production process behind the NRK series, which comes from producer Maipo Film and distributor Dynamic Television, might also be described as extreme. Drawing parallels to Channel 4 and Netflix’s 2018 thriller Kiss Me First, much of the action in the show takes place in a virtual environment, immersing viewers in the online interactions between Ida and Marvin while the characters wear their VR headsets in the ‘real world.’

At first, it meant the show proved to be a hard sell, with buyers unsure what the finished series might look like. That led Rørvik to shoot a pilot four years ago, which he could then use as a proof of concept when pitching the series.

The director admits the show was a risk – but it has paid off. The drama won the best series award in the international panorama category at French television festival Series Mania, where it held its world premiere earlier this year, and will debut on NRK at the end of August.

“But the risk side of it is the fun part,” he adds. “Just to feel like you’re pushing yourself and pushing the format was fun. It was difficult to explain how the VR would be integrated early on in the development, so we did this proof-of-concept pilot to show that, yes, you can tell an emotional human story with VR being a big part of it. Once that was in place, it wasn’t that hard to get people to believe in the rest of it.”

What the VR sequences would look like was also a big question for Rørvik, who wanted to represent what “charmingly buggy” virtual reality looks like today, rather than giving it a polished, animated appearance.

Dating in Real Life stars Gina Bernhoft Gørvell as Ida, who spends most of her time online

In practice, it meant building sets and locations and shooting all the VR scenes live, with performers acting out the scenes. In the final series, they make up about 30 minutes of the seven half-hour episodes, but took 20 days to shoot.

“Every shot took 15 takes, and the avatars have a limited amount of expressions,” Rørvik explains of creating Ida and Marvin’s online avatars. “They’re quite expressive but there are still maybe 15 mouths to choose from. I had like a wall full of all the expressions available, so the directing was very peculiar. I was creating an emotional map where, ‘OK, at that point move into the angry face. And then at that moment, the big puffy eyes.’ It was like being a puppeteer.”

Before they were shot, however, Rørvik recorded every scene with Gørvell to create references for the technical performers to use when they filmed the VR sequences, so they could mimic the actor’s body language and movements she would make as Ida.

Filmed before the live-action scenes, the VR segments also informed the way the rest of the series would be shot. “If we hadn’t done that, it would have been mysterious for us how each scene would work, and it was helpful too for Gina that we had all that footage,” Rørvik says.

Dates in Real Life marks the first major screen role for Gørvell, who found she could recognise elements of herself in Ida, even though she didn’t share her character’s passion for gaming and living life online. “The script was so original. It was like nothing I had read before,” she says. “And to see her journey from her perspective was unique. I just read it and I was really into the project.”

It’s a first major screen role for Gørvell, who has a background in theatre

Coming from theatre, she found starring in a television series to be a completely different way of working. But in Rørvik, she had a director who gave her the freedom to make her own choices on set.

“It was very much the feeling of working together. Jakob is a very present director. We talked so much and gave me the possibility to have different takes,” she says. “It felt very much like we did it together. Jakob had a lot to say after each take and then said, ‘OK, try another thing,’ which made it really fun to do. Jakob was very, very invested, and then I got very invested. It was super fun working like that. Maybe on other series, you come in and try one or two takes and then move on. But Jakob is looking for something.”

“I liked the part where I got to learn about the character through Gina. That’s how I tend to think,” says Rørvik. “When I cast someone, I really give the part to them, and they have to tell me or teach me who that person is.

“One of the big things for me with Gina was her mind works as fast as the character’s. It’s a character that’s constantly making new choices and taking U-turns. That was a quality Gina had, and together we built on that and took it further. It was hugely collaborative and so much fun.”

Dating in Real Life’s virtual reality scenes took 20 days to shoot

Having produced a number of short films before 2022 feature Thomas mot Thomas (Thomas vs Thomas), Rørvik moved into television series for the first time with Dates in Real Life. The episodic format appealed to him because it gave him the chance to “reset the universe” a little bit in each episode.

“That meant we could start each episode with a slightly new aesthetic, new places to visit and a new sub-theme to explore, which would attach itself to the larger narrative arc,” he says. “I thought it was incredibly fun to toy with. In TV series, there’s a lot of room for experimentation. Once the audience is hooked, you can take them to a lot of different places. Episode four is a pretty wild ride, where Ida joins an online religion. It goes to some strange places.”

Ultimately, Ida goes on a journey to create ‘Ida 2.0’ in a series that poses questions about love and relationships in the era of the metaverse, and how someone might try to construct a new identity for themselves.

But will she find the love and the personal connection she is looking for? Rørvik doesn’t give the game away, only to say that Dates in Real Life won’t leave viewers ghosted at the end. “It’s got a very complete narrative arc,” he says. “I tend to like that, and those are the series I gravitate to as a viewer as well.”

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