Borgen creator Adam Price and stars Birgitte Hjort Sørensen and Mikkel Boe Følsgaard get political again as the Danish drama returns. DQ hears all about about filming in Greenland and the trouble with elevators.
At the wrap party for season three of Danish political drama Borgen in 2013, star Sidse Babett Knudsen bid the cast and creative team farewell, joking that she would see them again in 10 years’ time for the reboot.
While the comment was said for laughs, it turned out to be a premonition: almost a decade later, Borgen has been revived for an eagerly anticipated fourth season coproduced by Danish broadcaster DR and Netflix. Eight-parter Borgen – Power & Glory, which has already aired on DR, will be made available on the global streamer on June 2. It is once again produced by SAM Productions (The Chestnut Man, Ragnarok).
“We didn’t think there would be another season, partly because DR’s public service broadcasting remit means they need to have a pipeline of new shows – and season three seemed the perfect time to say goodbye to Borgen,” explains Adam Price, the show’s creator, head writer and executive producer, adding that showrunners shouldn’t revive dramas unless “they risk something and do something with the characters that hasn’t been done before.”
But making a fourth season of Borgen, which won a Bafta Television Award in 2012, proved to be a risk worth taking. The first season of the drama follows Birgitte Nyborg (Knudsen) as she rises up the ranks to become the first female prime minister of Denmark. But while her career goes from strength to strength, she struggles to juggle her professional and personal life, ultimately divorcing from her long-term husband. Later seasons see the prime minister enter the corporate world, strike up a relationship with a British architect and launch a new political party.
In Borgen – Power & Glory, Nyborg has started a new job as the minister for foreign affairs, but risks losing her position after she comes to blows with the new PM over billions of dollars’ worth of oil found in Greenland. Things gets darker when it’s revealed the company purchasing the oil has ties to corrupt Russian businesses, making Nyborg even more determined to stop the operation.
For the character of Nyborg, Price says he wanted to explore the implications of “building your life around the position you’re in.”
“If you don’t have a private life, just a professional title, you run the great risk of never being able to lose your job, otherwise you lose your identity,” he says. “What would happen if Birgitte lost her job as foreign minister? Her whole identity would be lost. And that [consequence] is basically a survey on the long-term effects of power.”
As well as being able to further develop characters, Price says he needed the right story to come along to even consider making a fourth season of Borgen. By chance, he came across articles about political issues concerning the relationship between Denmark and Greenland and immediately identified the potential for a thriller.
Initially, Price was going to turn the idea into a feature film, but as he dug more into the complexities of the politics, he realised it “reeked of Borgen.” “It was just like the world of Borgen,” he explains. “That was about five years ago. I approached the head of drama at DR who was on board, and we also managed to bring them together with Netflix.”
The addition of Netflix as a partner did not change Price’s creative process or the story, which had already been plotted before the involvement of the streamer. “The story also just happens to be more international this time, because it deals with Denmark, Greenland, the Arctic and big international players like America, Russia and China,” adds Price.
Locating much of Borgen in Greenland not only served the plot but also added an extra layer to the visual aesthetic of the drama. “It’s always used by politicians who want to talk about climate change. They go to Greenland and stand next to a glacier and point out how sad the glacier looks and how the rest of the world is also diminishing,” he says.
“I thought it would be a strange irony if we set the story in this pristine jewel of untouched landscape and contrasted it with the most terrifying, polluting fossil fuel there is on Earth. The irony gives us a beautiful political conflict.”
Birgitte Hjort Sørensen kicked off her international acting career in Borgen with the role of journalist Katrine Fønsmark, landing the part just a couple of years out of drama school. Now back for Power & Glory, she jokes that she is miffed she missed out on filming in Greenland.
“Through four seasons now, somebody else always gets to go to Greenland or Kenya or Hong Kong, but I’ve always been in Copenhagen. I’ve never gotten to travel with the show. Even when we did Afghanistan, it was shot in Copenhagen,” she laughs.
Most of Sørensen’s scenes were shot in the TV1 newsroom, where this season her character has been promoted to the head of the news department. “It felt just like having an office job – going there in the morning, telling people what to do and then going back home in the evening,” the actor says.
But that relative ease and structure didn’t mean Sørensen, who has had roles in projects including HBO’s Game of Thrones and feature film Pitch Perfect 2, had no issues while filming.
“I have a scene where Sidse [playing Nyborg] and I meet in an elevator, and elevators are like the curse of filming because you can’t control them,” she says. “Usually, we say animals or children are the worst things on a TV set because you can’t control them – but I’m going to add elevators to that.”
Fønsmark’s character arc in Borgen – Power & Glory sees her struggle with her work for the first time, her job having been her safe space in previous seasons. “The Katrine we know in the first three seasons was really good at her job, but not very good at her personal life, and it’s kind of switched in this season.
“At the end of season three, she landed a relationship with a man who put her at ease and made her feel comfortable. Unexpectedly, her work life is now becoming a problem, when it has always been a place where she succeeds and didn’t have problems or doubt herself.”
Joining Borgen as new character Asger Holm Kirkegaard is The Chesnut Man actor Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, who says getting the role was surreal, having been a fan of the series since it debuted. “My first day of shooting was in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, sitting across from the prime minister, and it was very surreal acting in front of this person I’d watched on the TV,” he explains. “I was a bit nervous, but it worked in my favour as Asger is also nervous and spills coffee all over the place.”
Kirkegaard becomes the prime minister’s ambassador to the Arctic, a role that meant Følsgaard – unlike Fønsmark – did spend a decent chunk of time filming in Greenland. In addition to the breathtaking vistas, the weather in Greenland an unexpected layer of drama and atmosphere to the show.
“I was filming a scene at the Hans Egede statue and, when we started shooting, the sky was blue and everything was cool,” the actor recalls. “I had a long monologue and was on the phone to the prime minister and, I’m not lying, in five minutes suddenly the fog came and I couldn’t see through my glasses. The cameras also fogged over. We had to cut the scene and stop, but fortunately we got a good take.”
Sørensen wasn’t aware the fog was unplanned, believing it was a special effect coordinated by conceptual director Per Fly. “It’s a fantastic scene and has a great effect,” he adds.
Alongside the filming, Price and his writers were producing the script. “It’s time-efficient to write at the same time,” he explains. “We write at the same time they’re shooting, although we’re constantly trying to keep up and not risk being overtaken by the production.”
While this sounds pressured and stressful, Price has a fool-proof method of letting off steam. The screenwriter has a side hustle as a successful television chef, hosting DR culinary series Spise med Price (Eat with Price) alongside his brother, James Price. He also co-owns restaurant chain Bdr and has written several cookbooks.
But tensions in the kitchen certainly aren’t inspiration for the heated political drama of Borgen. “Cooking is a wonderful way of de-stressing because the process of making food is so logical, so methodical and so orientated towards a result,” he says. “When you are sitting in endless script meetings and everything becomes vague and you’re looking at something that’s supposed to be finished in two years’ time, it’s great to go to the kitchen and know that in two hours there will be a meal.”