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Lina Åström speaks to DQ about writing and directing Swedish comedy-drama Ligga and how the series tackles themes of representation, grief and self-acceptance with the story of a newly single woman trying to get over her ex.
While it is a brand best known for its factual content, Discovery Networks Sweden has been commissioning a raft of new scripted series for fledging streamer Discovery+. Original titles set to debut in 2022 include thriller Mörkt hjärta (Dark Heart), comedy-drama Vi i Villa and Dumpad, about a young adult suffering from mental illness in a world dominated by social media.
But before those comes the launch of Ligga, a dramedy set in the world of dating, sex and heartache in a story that explores how best to get over your ex. Skam star Ulrikke Falch plays 24-year-old Line, who has just been dumped by her girlfriend Julia. Feeling like her world has collapsed, she agrees to let her best friend Elin (Clara Henry) manage a Tinder account in Line’s name with a view to setting her up on a new date every week for two months. What follows is an eight-part series that shines a spotlight on the dating scene in contemporary Sweden as Line faces increasingly funny and heartbreaking situations.
“One of the themes is self-acceptance, another one is grief,” writer and director Line Åström tells DQ. “We enter the story when the main character Line has just been brutally dumped by her girlfriend. She’s heartbroken and at the same time tries to move on. The stakes are high. Basically this is a story of how to cope with grief when you’re not allowing yourself to grieve.”
Every episode is set in a new week of Elin’s experiment, which sees a reluctant Line face up to her own commitment issues. “She has to be pushed to do it by her frantic friend, but at the same time she is desperate,” Åström explains. “She is insecure and in a fragile place and basically just tries to manage life without Julia. As the story unfolds more layers are added and both Line and Elin turn out to be more complex than you first think.”
In contrast, Elin is the free spirit Line needs to become if she is to get over her ex. “She has good motives and wants what’s best for Line even if she’s a bit pushy in creating this semi-destructive plan of how to get over your ex,” she adds. “Elin is a quick-fix person. She has no feelings of consequence.”
Ligga, which translates into English as Lie, took an unconventional path to the screen, beginning life as a shortform, six-part miniseries produced by Stockholm-based Breakable Films that was initially intended to launch as a standalone series consumed via mobile screens.
“In the end, we used [the miniseries] to sell a full-length series instead,” Åström says. “It worked as an elaborate blueprint, a way for us to get Discovery+ onboard and fully realise our vision. It was a great way to test-build the series arc, set the tone and the characters, and since we practically used the same team and actors in both the miniseries and the full-length one, we all gained a lot from making the pilot. It was like a rehearsal.”
The original idea for the series came from Breakable co-founder Mikael Ljung in 2019, with Åström and producer Elin Falck joining the project later that year and working on it in different forms since then.
“Even if the first idea was quite different from the final series, the element of Tinder was there from the beginning and that’s what I initially liked about it,” she continues. “I believe one of the most interesting phenomena of our time is the development of the ‘dating market.’ That description has never been more apt than now. Tinder is Amazon! You want to buy a new jacket, but at the same time you are the jacket. In an absurd way, you can control the image you put out there and what parts you want to show, and maybe more importantly what you don’t want to show.”
Blending the comedic elements of the series with its dramatic themes and moments proved to be the biggest challenge for Åström to overcome. “I have been trying to wrap my head around how far you can push the comedy and how far you can push the deeper and darker things and still have them resonating with each other,” she says. Because it is a character- and situation-based comedy, viewers need to be able to believe Line in the comedic situations in which she finds herself in order to then invest in the emotional aspects of the series.
“A lot of the comedy stems from Line’s fish-out-of-water perspective on the dating market and her being an indecisive people pleaser in a world where you need to know what you want. Elin is quite the opposite – zero percent people pleaser, which also brings a lot of humour into it. To me, comedy and grief, sorrow or heartache are closely related. When you’re going through a rough time, in this case a break-up, there’s a certain amount of desperation. All your feelings are amped up and that’s a perfect source of comedy.
“In this case, Line is desperate to get back to her girlfriend. Meanwhile, Elin is desperate for her to get over her girlfriend. Line thinks her world has fallen apart – and when you’re on the edge like that, I believe you make decisions based on instinct. To me, that’s a great source for comedy.”
Another key aspect of the series, which is released as a boxset on Christmas Day, is its representation of various types of relationships that fulfil Åström’s aim to show the world as it is – but with a twist. From the very beginning, it was also important to her that the story was told from a queer perspective.
“In my opinion, there are not enough queer scripted series out there,” she states. “I have a tendency to write these stories and it feels important to me to contribute to the queer representation in media. Although, it’s not just about telling queer stories, it’s about how you tell them. In this series, the plot points and dramatic elements consciously do not revolve around Line’s sexuality. It’s just there. I see this series as a small homage to the community, and in that spirit we have had the great honour to have the Swedish pop duo Rebecca & Fiona make a cover of Tatu’s old lesbian anthem All The Things She Said connected to the series.”
Åström wrote the story outline with Karin Aspenström (The Machinery) and then penned the scripts by herself. Episodes sometimes veer between pure sitcom and full-on drama, and she admits there were times when she would struggle and become stuck in “the never-ending loop of, ‘Is this funny?’”
“Like all writing processes, sometimes it was hard but it was always a big security for me knowing Ulrikke and Clara would carry the story. They have brought every line and every scene to a whole different level.”
Falch and Henry – an actress, comedian, presenter and author who previously worked with Åström on comedy-drama Sjukt oklar – were cast very early on, even before Åström herself joined the project.
“They have both been very involved in the process along the way and it has been fantastic working with them,” Åström says. “They are both creative, care about the details and are extremely precise in their character work. They have put a lot of themselves into this.”
The same can be said for Åström herself, who not only wrote the show but directed all eight episodes of what stands as her debut drama series behind the camera. Seeking a balance between ambition and the show’s limited resources, she quickly realised that being more comfortable in comedy, she wanted to dig deeper into the drama.
“Being a screenwriter, my strength as a director lies in character-directing more than anything else,” she says. “Early on I had a vision of the show. It’s somewhat a high-concept show and I wanted it to take place in its own universe. In my first mood boards, I had a lot of Marvel references. I wanted to make it a visually dark, neon lit show, far from classic comedy. I wanted it to be messy and a bit rough around the edges and I had the luxury to work together with a fantastic crew who made that happen.”
Filmed this summer, a year after the original miniseries was shot, Ligga didn’t lose a day of its shooting schedule to Covid-19 shutdowns. For a series built around a main character having a lot of sex with different people, intimacy coordinator Sara Arrhusius also became an important part of the team.
“I had no experience working with an intimacy coordinator from before, but I will never again work without one,” Åström reveals. “Apart from the support Sara gave the actors, for me as a director, just knowing there was a designated person whose first priority was to make the process safe was absolutely fantastic.”
With so many people working on the show from its initial conception and the pilot miniseries through to production of the final series, it’s no surprise to hear Åström describe Ligga as a passion project for many of the cast and crew.
“This is a show about what we all struggle with in some way,” she says. “I believe life is about finding and building functional relationships to others and – it may be clichéd – most of all to yourself. Finding ways to co-exist with others and at the same time don’t lose yourself. Maybe we, as human beings, never finish that job. I hope people can relate to Line and, of course, I hope some people, at some point, find the series funny and giggle at something!”