So if asked to put an actor’s name to the Scandinavian drama tsunami of recent years, yes, most might point to Mads Mikkelsen, or maybe Stellan Skarsgård — two Nordic actors who crop up not only in homegrown fare, but also increasingly in Hollywood productions. But one name that might not come so handily to mind, precisely because of his contrasting lack of U.S. credits, is Søren Malling’s. No matter, if you’ve been paying any sort of attention of late, you know his face. We got to meet the “A Hijacking,” the original “The Killing” and “Borgen” star at the Göteborg International Film Festival, where “A Hijacking” was close to wrapping up its stellar festival run (only a couple more to go — here’s our review from Venice).
It’s a journey that has seen Malling pick up several Best Actor awards, for his tightly controlled and masterful performance as the CEO of the shipping company forced to negotiate with the Somali pirates who capture one of his ships. And if he’s is a little relieved that the round of promotion is finally drawing to a close (“It’s done very well for us, and it’s been an adventure but… you have to stop [sometime]”) then he’s also justly proud of the film: “It’s a good movie. I’m sorry but it is. There are sometimes when you should just shut up about your work, but this movie… even my [teenaged] kids think it’s good.” With his key role in season 1 of the Danish “The Killing” getting him worldwide exposure (the actor was taken aback by his level of fame in Japan, for example) and an international agent, it’s probably only a matter of time before he lands some high-profile gig (in fact he teased as much), but in the meantime, here are a few things we learned from our chat.
Malling took the role in “A Hijacking” sight unseen, due to the relationship he has built up with director Tobias Lindholm, on the set of the TV show “Borgen.”
SM: Tobias was co-writing the Danish TV series “Borgen” and he came to me one day in my dressing room and knocked on my door and said, “I’m so sorry to disturb you, but I have this story about this hijacking situation and I really want you to play the main part as a CEO.” And he was so humble and so insistent at the same time that I couldn’t say no. Even though, he said, “I haven’t got a script, but please give it a chance.”
The extraordinarily minimalist, internalised performance he gives was informed by a directorial decision, but also by research.
SM: Very soon Tobias and I agreed that less is good. I didn’t have to act and prove that I was the top guy, the CEO — all the other guys around me have to act — this guy is the one who no matter what is in charge; that was the basics about how to develop the character. Then I did a lot of research in a Danish shipping company, and they allowed me to be in the room at the meetings and to follow the CEO around and I discovered that he was just acting very normal, but all the people around him knew, he was like the president, walking into the room, and no one dares to say anything unless they’re allowed to. I kind of physically adopted that situation, and I didn’t have to do anything more.
Oddly enough, to those of us only familiar with his recent roles, Malling was until recently best known at home as a comedic actor.
SM: I graduated from drama school in ‘92. I started out in theater and got a lot of comedian parts in theater. And because I have been there, and not to say that it’s easier to play more serious characters, but part of that being on stage as a comedian actually gave me a lot of confidence so I’m not afraid anymore. I’m not afraid to be open, for instance to cry, to show all that’s inside of me… So for me it helped me, being onstage being and slowly developing into a more serious character actor. And I’m getting older. Time helps as well… I think its harder to do it the other way around. I think it’s harder for a serious actor to suddenly be funny.
He believes there is a fundamental difference of approach between U.S. and Scandinavian TV drama.
SM: You know, Stephen King was asked what were his top ten TV shows of 2012 and three of them were Danish: “Borgen,” “The Killing,” and “The Bridge. “ And “Borgen” was his number one. He was asked why and he said if it was an American TV show and it was about a [female] President, her family life will end up being the winner. But here it’s totally the opposite way around — she almost skips the family and her work is top priority and he thought that was a very different and very human way of looking at things.
I think maybe we are not so much into “concepts” but being more [about how] life is a bit, oh sorry, and then you fucking die. Sometimes you have to go with that… When we are working we are very concerned that there is always a little man inside a huge character. I mean, I am so much in love with these huge American HBO series coming out — they are so good, but they are still a concept, there’s a little bit of distance there. I love “Mad Men,” but it’s a huge concept: it’s so well written and it’s spot-on for the period, but I don’t get inside the characters.
As a result, he is not such a huge fan of the American remake of “The Killing”
SM: Well, I didn’t like it. They changed it. They changed it because it was a U.S. thing and it was their own version but again it got a little bit of distance. Sarah Lund is a very, very dark character but the American version of her was not a dark character, much more light. And that whole mystery about who is she kind of disappears. It was good, but because I was part of the original I kind of think, “Come on.”
He will however be reuniting with Sofie Gråbøl, who played Sarah Lund, in his next film “I Lossens Time,” in which she will again play a vocational character.
SM: It’s based on a book by a Swedish author called Per Olav Enquist. I think it was a novel, then it was a play, now it’s becoming a movie. I can’t translate the title [we look it up — something about a lynx]. It’s about a boy who kills his grandmother and he is in a mental hospital but he doesn’t speak, he doesn’t communicate at all. I play the male nurse who takes care of him and Sophie plays a priest who they bring form the outside because when he does talk, he talks a lot about God.
“I Lossens Time” will be released in Denmark in May, and in addition to his regular “Borgen” gig, you can also catch Malling in a small role in the Danish Oscar-nominated “A Royal Affair” (reviewed here) and an upcoming episode of the Kenneth Branagh version of “Wallander.”