Three’s a crowd
Writer and director Lisa Linnertorp joins star Matilda Källström and producer Helena Larand to discuss the making of Swedish series Threesome, which focuses on the troubled relationship between a Swedish couple living in London.
For fans of Swedish drama, Lisa Linnertorp will be recognisable from series including Hidden, Sthlm Rekviem, Bron/Broen (The Bridge) and Vår did är nu (The Restaurant). For her latest project, however, the actor has stepped behind the camera for the first time to write and direct Threesome, a six-part series about a Swedish couple living in London.
While recent series such as Trigonometry and You Me Her have explored polyamory, where traditional couples invite a third person into their relationship, Threesome takes a different approach. After having a threesome with a stranger, the couple at the centre of the show are then left to examine the state of their own relationship as the series explores themes of love, sex and betrayal.
Matilda Källström and Simon Lööf play Siri and David, high-school sweethearts who are now living together in the city while Siri is studying. During a night out, they meet French art student Camille (Alma Jodorowsky) and what begins as an exciting, harmless night together leads to a moment of spontaneous passion that will have hidden consequences for them both.
“In the heat of the moment, it feels exciting and totally uncomplicated. But afterwards, Siri starts to feel like something between her and David is lost and damaged, and they slowly begin to drift apart,” explains writer and director Lisa Linnertorp (pictured above between the show’s stars). “Siri starts questioning not only her relationship with David but her life in general, her career choices, her goals, who she is and what she really wants in life.
“By coincidence, she meets John, a professional ballet dancer who is recovering from a damaged ankle and doesn’t know if he’ll ever be able to dance at a professional level again. When they meet, they are both standing at a crossroads in life, not knowing what path to take next. They have this instant platonic connection that turns into a very strong physical attraction. Siri gradually slides further into John’s universe, leaving David and her old life behind.”
When we first meet David and Siri, “they have this picture-perfect relationship,” says Matilda Källström, who plays the latter. But when the threesome happens, she starts to question her entire life and the choices she has made.
“I was very nervous about Siri when I first got the part,” she says. “Mostly it was because of the intimate scenes; I wasn’t really sure how that would work out or if it would be super scary, but I feel like Lisa’s vision for them made me brave enough to just jump right into it. I was also super excited to show female sexuality and lust in a way I felt hadn’t been shown that much on TV or film before. It turned out really cool, raw and authentic. Now I really love Siri. She really became a part of me.”
Källström believes her character is “super relatable,” adding: “She really goes into some deep soul-searching and does make questionable choices. I don’t know if I would have done the same things as she does, but it’s really interesting and a very heart-wrenching story.”
Linnertorp was initially approached by producer Yellow Bird to write a series aimed at a young-adult audience, but instead she decided to create something that would feature people in their 20s, who are no longer teenagers but haven’t yet begun to focus on adulthood.
“I instantly knew I wanted to go older and a bit bolder,” she says. “I knew I wanted to write about a relationship and the psychology behind it, because that interests me a lot. I also knew I wanted, in some way, to portray a love story but I didn’t want to make it a saga where two people meet and fall in love. I wanted to be in the middle of a relationship and then I wanted to crush it and take it apart.
“At that age, everything feels so huge and life-changing, and you’re in a place where you’re not quite an adult but you’re expected to be an adult and make adult decisions and be firm in what you want in life. It leaves you in a spot where you’re really vulnerable, and that vulnerability is something I’m extremely interested in.”
Linnertorp also wanted to write a female main character and have viewers follow her perspective through the story, which would focus on only a few central characters.
“I had an idea for a modern chamber play, but we ended up with 45 locations – where did that chamber play go?” she jokes. “But it has the sense of a chamber play where you’re really intimate and close and feel the intensity around the small events in everyday life, which is what creates the drama, because that also makes it relatable. I was also eager to explore sex and sexuality and to have sex scenes I haven’t seen before, where the audience should almost feel the sex and physicality of it.”
After writing down her ideas, Linnertorp then met with focus groups of young men and women and interviewed them about their love lives and sexuality, hopes, dreams and fears, which would then help root the drama in the authenticity she wanted.
Producer Helena Larand (Solsidan) came on board once the outline had been written, describing it as a page-turning premise she hadn’t read or seen before. In particular, she was struck by how a seemingly simple plot could be so thrilling, with cliffhangers hinging on character moments rather than action set pieces. The show was then pitched to Nordic streamer Viaplay, before international distributor Eccho Rights also came on board.
Filming was set to take place in Ireland, but when the pandemic forced countries into lockdown last spring, production was delayed. During the hiatus, Larand and Linnertorp discussed whether it would be more cost-effective to relocate the story to Sweden rather than spend extra money to film overseas with all the associated health measures now needed on set.
“It was a low-budget production so we knew we had to be smart with every penny and put everything in front of the camera,” the producer recalls. “When we started thinking about shooting somewhere else, we discussed David and Siri actually living in Stockholm. We involved our production designer and she made a mood board and we tried to pitch it to Viaplay and Eccho Rights. But because this was an international production with a lot of English dialogue, we felt it would be a bit corny for these English people running around in Stockholm. They didn’t go for that, and I think it was a good thing – we didn’t like it either. Then we contacted some local Swedish film funds because we didn’t have the tax incentives from Ireland anymore, so we had to look at other options.”
The production found a “match made in heaven” with Film i Skåne in southern Sweden, and Threesome moved to Malmö, which now doubles for London alongside some stock footage of the city and interiors built in a studio.
“We really liked the process of thinking outside the box and faking every angle. We also had a really close-camera, documentary style, so we knew we could put the setting anywhere,” Larand says. “It’s not London that is a character but David and Siri, so the London part is to make the characters feel isolated in a big city where they’re not close to home. They’re on their own. But we’re not in the tourist part of London. I don’t think people will see we are in Malmö. We had to make some set extensions and build the apartment in a studio because that was one of the hardest parts – to find a typically shabby London flat.”
The build up to Siri and David’s night with Camille also includes scenes shot in a nightclub. To get around the coronavirus rules regarding large gatherings of people in small spaces, the scene was filmed at the end of the shoot, rather than at the beginning, with extras who had all tested negative for Covid-19. The main cast had also spent time in quarantine before filming began.
“You could feel it on the set; everybody was so excited to have so many people gathered together,” Källström says of filming those scenes. “I had my sister on set that day as an extra, and I was so excited to see her because I couldn’t be with my family in quarantine. Just having this fake party with 50 people, it felt so freeing to stand in that crowd and just jump. It was so much fun.”
Larand picks up: “Usually you would start with those scenes – partying, at restaurants or coffee shops. But we had to quarantine all of the cast, put them in a hotel, they had to test themselves beforehand… [Instead] we started with the sex scenes just because we couldn’t go out and potentially have Matilda and Simon getting infected, as they were our most valuable people in the production. If Matilda got sick, we couldn’t film because she was in every scene. We had to start with the sex scenes, and then the nightclub scenes were at the end of the shoot. Then everyone was just happy to be out and to see people.”
Set to debut this fall on Viaplay, Threesome was the subject of a case study during Content Nordics On Demand earlier this week. Linnertorp believes the series tackles universal topics such as love and heartbreak that will make Siri’s story relatable to audiences around the world.
“I’m so thrilled with the results. I’ve seen every frame and every second of it a thousand times and I still get totally blown away by it, and I think everyone else will, no matter where in the world they are,” she says.
Källström describes playing Siri as one of the hardest roles of her fledgling career, not least because of the quarantines before filming but also because of the flawed nature of her character.
“She doesn’t just do good, she also makes poor decisions. It’s not just black and white,” the actor says. “There are going to be people who don’t agree with her and people who relate to her and understand what she’s going through, and that’s what makes a really good character. I hope people can see and feel the things going on inside Siri and feel her pain but also question what she’s doing. It was really hard because there were so many emotions and we had 10-hour days [on set], but it was so much fun. I would do it again.”