Taken to the extreme
Writer Gjermund Stenberg Eriksen, director Magnus Martens and executive producer Håkon Briseid introduce Furia, a Norwegian drama that explores the violent world of right-wing extremism.
The atrocities committed by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway on July 22, 2011, killing 77 people in Oslo and the island of Utøya, have already been dramatised in two films and a TV series. The latter, titled July 22, depicted the events of that day and the stories of the survivors and those who came to their rescue, with writer Sara Johnsen winning the Nordisk Film & TV Fond prize for the 2020 show.
Now, the attacks serve as the basis for Furia, an eight-part series launching on Nordic streamer Viaplay and Germany’s ZDF later this year. Yet rather than focus on Breivik or his crimes, the drama widens its focus to explore the growing threat of right-wing extremism.
The story opens with a shocking killing in an idyllic Norwegian town that leads police investigator Asgeir (Pål Sverre Hagen) to undercover cop Ragna (Ine Marie Willmann) as she infiltrates a nationalistic subculture. What follows is a journey into a horrifying underworld of hatred, revealing a terrorist plot that reaches from Norway’s mountains to the very heart of Europe.
Filmed in Norway and Germany, Furia comes from creator and writer Gjermund Stenberg Eriksen (Mammon). Trond Espen Seim, Preben Hodneland and Henrik Mestad co-star in the drama.
“The starting point was Utøya and the forces that created that terrorist, but we’ve had two films and one TV series about Utøya so what we wanted to do was to try to look at the forces that actually created and radicalised Anders Behring Breivik,” Eriksen explains. “Instead of giving him a role in the show, we wanted to look at how those forces have actually grown stronger and more sophisticated in the last 10 years. Since we started the project in 2016, the world has not become a safer place.”
The series is coproduced by Norway’s Monster Scripted (Nobel) and Germany’s X Filme Creative Pool (Babylon Berlin), and in the years it has taken to develop and produce Furia, Eriksen and Monster have also partnered on an entirely separate series – crime procedural For Life. “Well, we don’t recommend that to everybody,” jokes Eriksen. “From now on we will be making one show at a time.”
“When [Eriksen] first came into my office, I hadn’t worked with him before, but we set up a meeting and he had some new ideas,” executive producer and Monster CEO Håkon Briseid. “What he pitched me was Furia, and I’m happy to say it’s exceeded my expectations.”
Collaborating with Monster and X-Filme, it took time to find the right tone for the show, with Eriksen’s aim to move away from flag-waving nationalists and instead explore the new alt-right factions and online far-right political Identitarians.
“We had two writers, Nikolaj Frobenius [Insomnia], who has studied right-wing extremists, and Hege Ulstein, another writer and journalist who followed the trial of Anders Behring Breivik on a day-to-day basis, so she’s very knowledgeable,” says Eriksen, with Stephen Uhlander and Henner Schulte-Holtey also writing on the series. “I’ve worked with the topic before and the most rewarding thing is everybody thinks the topic is quite interesting, feels dangerous and that these are stories that need to be told.”
Director Magnus Martens (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Walking Dead: World Beyond) agrees that the subject tackled by Furia is one that needs to be explored on screen. “When Gjermund came to me with this project and I really got a sense of what this is, I really felt like I have to be a part of this because this is so important,” he says. Having worked a lot in the US recently, he adds that he could recognise similarities in rising far-right extremism both in the States and in Europe as politics becomes increasingly splintered and polarised.
“The weird thing is I have people in my circle, people I know, who suddenly started talking about immigration in a way I have never heard them talking about it before,” the director continues. “They used words that really scared me. These are people I have always respected, and suddenly they were talking in a way where I don’t recognise these people anymore. That informed me that we have to tell this story now, because this goes really deep. It’s broader and wider than we are aware of, so it was really crucial to be part of the show.”
The story that plays out in Furia doesn’t follow the traditional crime beats of a Nordic noir series, while Martens also wanted to avoid creating the sort of atmosphere associated with the genre.
“This is a totally different kind of crime thriller,” he notes. “What these people do is so incredibly dark and hard to balance both tonally and visually. We didn’t go in and try to do something that’s classically dark in terms of the visuals. The other thing we really had to work on is we wanted to humanise these people, even though they talk in a way that is extreme. They mean things and do things that are extreme and downright evil but, at the same time, we want to get an understanding of why they think like this. Why do they do the things they do? That was a strange balance, trying to figure that out. But hopefully we have succeeded in it.”
Eriksen picks up: “The key thing to understand is extremists have relationships too. The fear they feel, the anxiety they feel, the motivation for their violent worldview – these are very recognisable traits. From an ethical standpoint, not portraying them as one-dimensional villains makes it more right in the sense that this is a real problem in Norway.
“The safest place in the world experienced one of the worst terrorist attacks a solo terrorist has ever done. Nobody saw him coming before that happened, so we needed to understand that [extremists] love their children, they have friends, they have loyalty, they have interests that look very much like our own. We’re not a slow-moving drama, we’re a suspense thriller, but we don’t need 30 minutes of a woman in a dark basement with a flashlight in the first episode – a classic Nordic noir way of doing things that I have done myself.”
Ragna offers viewers a unique perspective into the world of far-right extremism, as her undercover role means she is forced to choose how she makes her presence felt and what she must go along with to keep her true identity hidden.
“I’ve always liked female protagonists, from Ripley in Alien to Lisbeth Salander [in the Millennium trilogy] and Homeland’s Carrie,” Eriksen says. “Ragna is very aware of the ethical dilemma she is involved in. If you’re undercover within a drug cartel, you cannot stop all the drugs. Some drugs will flow through and kill somebody. As she’s infiltrating this group, she has to be a part of a violent community, and not blowing her cover causes her great pain. We try to put her under a maximum amount of pressure.”
Monster and X-Filme joined together after the show was pitched during the Berlinale Copro Series event in 2018. Keshet International later came on board to handle worldwide rights to Furia, excluding the Nordics, German-speaking territories and Flemish-speaking Benelux, where the series is represented by Lumiere.
“It is a true European coproduction,” says Briseid, who notes that the pandemic delayed production last spring. “Then, of course, we were waiting for a new normality that didn’t come. We were shooting in Berlin and we had to rewrite the ending three times just to fit with restrictions. Then you have actors who are from Sweden, Norway and different parts of Germany, and all the rules have to fit together – but they changed all the time. But producing is like this all the time. It’s always about getting the pieces together on fairly short notice.”
Having cast and crew working under Covid-19 restrictions, and often needing to quarantine while travelling between countries, meant Martens found the shoot “extremely difficult.”
“But the good thing is everybody knew that,” he says. “Filmmaking, making TV, it’s about solving problems. That’s what it is, and we always have a way of dealing with things. Shit gets thrown towards us all the time, so we are used to it. The really positive thing was that everybody in the crew, all the actors, everybody, we all knew this was going to be extremely tough from the get-go. That created this sense of community that really helped us a lot, because everybody just wanted to do it. I also think that everybody felt we had to do it because of the themes and because of what this show is trying to say. We just had to keep on going and find solutions. It was tough but rewarding, and you then have a result afterwards that you are extremely proud of.”
Of course, the challenges of shooting a TV series in a pandemic are nothing compared to the actual health implications. “These are peak luxury problems,” Eriksen notes. “We’re shooting a very expensive TV show for rich, lovely broadcasters.”
As for the show itself, which features among the Hot Properties showcased during C21Media’s Content Nordics On Demand event, the writer hopes it won’t be seen as political propaganda but will instead spark discussion about one of the biggest global political issues of the day.
“There are very few countries that don’t fear the new alt-right fascist subculture that is growing in most places, and hopefully we’ve introduced a new kind of female protagonist that people haven’t seen before – one that can compete with our great competitors in Scandinavia, like Sarah Lund [from The Killing], [The Bridge’s] Saga Norén and Lisbeth Salander,” Eriksen adds. “We want to have a female character on that kind of level. Wish us luck.”
“It’s also a very engaging show. It’s very tense,” Martens says. “From a genre perspective, hopefully a worldwide audience will find it extremely engaging and thrilling.”