Interview: Sofia Helin on 'The Bridge'
After 'The Killing' and 'Borgen' comes a new Scandinavian thriller – the star talks to Phil Harrison
Another week, another dark Scandinavian crime drama premiering on BBC4. It’s as if there’s a factory buried deep under the Øresund Strait churning out prickly, charismatic detectives, taciturn sidekicks and complex, labyrinthine plots before shrouding them in made-to-measure, permanently twilit ambience.
Actually, there almost is. DR and SVT – the two licence fee-funded channels responsible for this glut – have an extraordinary hit rate, given the sizes of the populations they serve and, increasingly, represent abroad. Indeed, one of the minor pleasures of the Scandinavian crime drama boom is spotting refugees from other shows – another hint that a relatively small talent pool is producing extraordinary results.
But is there room for one more? Of course there is. Because beginning on Saturday night, ‘The Bridge’ may well be the symbolic apotheosis of the trend. The titular bridge is the Øresund, the cable-stayed behemoth which, since 2000, has linked Malmö and Copenhagen. But that’s only the start of the symbiosis. In tonight’s opening episode, a body is found in the centre of the bridge. Seemingly, it’s been chopped in half. However, close inspection reveals that the two halves belong to two separate bodies, one Danish, one Swedish.
Surely a job for some sort of Sarah Lund/Kurt Wallander dream team? Sadly not. And after all, such frivolity would hardly befit such a rich seam of uniquely downbeat television. Instead, ‘The Bridge’ introduces us to another odd detective couple. In the red and white corner, there’s the bearish, avuncular and sympathetic Martin Rohde. And, donning the figurative blue and yellow, meet Saga Noren. Noren, played by Sofia Helin, is the latest compelling addition to the burgeoning Scandinavian list of substantial, intriguing female leads. She’s by a distance the oddest, too.
‘My first reaction was: “Who is this woman? I don’t understand her,”’ recalls Helin. ‘I was so irritated and confused. And that’s always a good beginning when you’re getting into a part, because you start wondering about someone.’ With Noren, there’s plenty to wonder about. In the opening episode, she, and by extension, Helin, seems infuriatingly depthless. It’s in episode two that the reality starts to dawn. Noren completely fails to understand why Rohde and his wife sometimes speak on the phone even though they have nothing to say. Later, she hits on a random stranger in a club, fucks him, goes to sleep and then wakes up and starts scrolling through grisly post-mortem photos as he slumbers beside her. The girl ain’t right and Helin brings her condition to light in a thoroughly convincing, suitably nuanced way.
‘I don’t think she knows she has Asperger’s,’ reckons Helin. ‘But obviously she has some issues with social relationships. The writer Hans [Rosenfeldt] was very precise about this. She just thinks she’s odd. It was a very big challenge to play because I’m a very emotional person. I felt like I was standing beside a window and knocking and knocking. But then suddenly I got into her and it wasn’t hard at all.’
Still, it turns out the relentless logic and emotional distance sometimes associated with the condition may just be a perfect fit for police work, a fact confirmed by a policeman to whom Noren spoke while researching the part. And it’s just as well, because the case at the heart of ‘The Bridge’ is a cracker accommodating multiple subplots involving a controversial journalist, an apparent campaign against the urban homeless and the most well-prepared, forward-thinking perp this side of John Doe in ‘Se7en’.
So what’s prompted this tidal wave of darkly accomplished drama? Noren – who surprisingly claims to have seen just a single episode of ‘The Killing’ – invokes a cultural tradition encompassing the likes of Ingmar Bergman and, semi-jokingly, cites the long, dark winters too. But there’s also insight into the relationship between these co-operative Scandinavian rivals. ‘Soon Malmö and Copenhagen will be like one city,’ she reckons. ‘Even though we joke about each other. Swedes joke about the Danish for drinking, smoking and being lazy! They joke about us being strict and ambitious and boring!’ As far as TV’s concerned, boring and lazy aren’t descriptions that seem particularly appropriate for either country at the moment.
‘The Bridge’ starts on Saturday April 21, 9pm, BBC4