Paul Risker chats with Modus star Melinda Kinnaman…
Melinda Kinnaman plays Inger Johanne Vik, a character that creates a separation from her Nordic counterparts Sarah Lund (The Killing) and Saga Norén (The Bridge). A psychologist, police profiler and devoted mother, she is in stark contrast to her recent counterparts that have defined Nordic Noir through their detective status and non-existent or fractured personal lives. Yet in spite of this contrast there are moments where Vik shares much in common with Lund and Norén – that inward looking introvert character type that has an isolationist effect in shaping her world and her relationships. In Vik, Kinnaman has discovered a character that nurtures the complexity of the troubled Nordic female protagonist, offset by a narrative that taps into contemporary social intolerance, and the exploitation of religion.
In conversation with Flickering Myth, Kinnaman spoke about how her perspective of the art of performance has changed across her career and the importance of both preparation and instinct. While discussing the process of lifting her character off the pages of the script, she also shared her thoughts on the role of the audience and the transformative nature of performance.
Why a career in acting? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?
Well I started very early. With My Life as a Dog I was thirteen already, but I think it was when I was little bit older. When I was sixteen we actually did a Strindberg play for TV. It was shot in a studio and I worked with a fantastic director, and in a way I just felt free. I guess that’s when I started thinking that maybe I should do this as a job when I am grown up, not only as a teenager. I hadn’t totally decided yet, but I think that was the first time. We had done some dramatic scene and afterwards I had such a wonderful feeling, and I think it was a sense of something to do with freedom and presence. With this job, even though we are pretending, it can be like a heightened awareness. It’s almost as if you feel more alive or as alive as when you are involved in something dramatic, or when something very wonderful is happening. So it’s that heightened presence.
Over the course of your career, how has your perspective on the art of performance changed?
Well, one thing that I love about this job is that you are never finished, and you don’t even become good – you are not supposed to become too good [laughs]. There’s something to it where you have to put yourself in a position where you don’t really know and you are open because if you get too technical… I’m actually working on stage with The National Theatre and what I feel there is that sometimes you can decide more how you want to play it. So you can really work and it can be impressive, but maybe you are not really moved, and so there is an element of not really knowing, but just daring to throw yourself into it.
Having spoken with filmmakers on the subject of honing one’s instincts within the filmmaking process, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the place of instinct within the mode of performance. Is instinct a key aspect of performance?
Oh yes, I really do. I love preparing and doing research, I think it’s fantastic. For this part I got to meet a woman that works at the Swedish equivalent of the FBI. She read all the scripts and we we spoke a lot about the character, the different themes and everything. And with Esmeralda [Struwe] who played my daughter, I met psychologists and we went to schools for kids with autism and we met teenagers. All that stuff is really exciting, but when you are standing there in front of the camera, then I would say the most important thing is to just be there with your co-actor, to just rely that all the work you’ve done is there someplace. But I think intuition is extremely important.
What was the appeal of the character and the story when you first read the script for Modus?
Well one thing that I really like is that it’s eight episodes based on only one book. So it goes quite in-depth into the different characters and every character is very complex, and very much alive. It’s a very character based story where that is as important as the crime plot, and I really like that. I also like that the female lead character is a psychologist and not a police officer or detective, and so she has more of an outside psychological view point – she’s more towards the people and the situation, whereas her colleague is the more technical one. Also she’s just a woman trying to be a good mother, to be there for her kids and work full time in a job she’s so passionate about, with all the difficulties of making the everyday work. And I think is something that a lot of people can relate to.
In speaking with actors they have explained that the process of developing a character can lie in the discovery of the smallest detail, such as the way the character walks. How does the process of discovering a character work for you personally?
I think my two main things were through this police woman learning more of what a profiler needs to focus on, what a profiler will look for, and what sides of yourself you need to really nurture. And then also very much talking to mothers with children on the autistic spectrum diagnosis. One of the things there that I could feel is how you always have this sense that you want to protect your children, but with a child that has that kind of vulnerability, it is even stronger. Also with a few of the mothers I spoke to, I could feel there was a sense that they could never quite do enough. Both really wanted to protect, but also there was a kind of guilt that would rise up easily. So I think it was more those and if I just think about her appearance, I didn’t want to wear make up because I didn’t feel she was in a place in her life where she cared very much about her looks. It was almost the other way around where she didn’t have time to have another man in her life now. She’d decided to come back to Sweden and to not work in the field any more, but just teach, write and focus on her family – she was not open for a new relationship. So that was one thing where I was, okay let’s not put a lot of effort into making her attractive because I don’t think that’s her main focus in her life right now.
The novel form allows us inside the mind of a character and thinking to Modus’ source material, the way your character withdraws into her thoughts gives her a literary quality. This creates a distance or curiosity amongst both the other characters and we as an audience.
There is something with her that she wants to be in control. She has such a strong intuition and she’s so experienced, but sometimes it’s like she needs to learn how to let other people help her. And I think that was interesting because sometimes she doesn’t share. She could be much more open with things, but she doesn’t work that way. She needs to think about it on her own before it comes out, and in the next season which we are going to start shooting in January, she’s faced with something even more that she feels she can’t talk about with those that are closest to her. She’s kind of exploding trying to deal with things, while at the same time not being open with what’s actually going on. And I think she’s aware of it too, she knows and that’s interesting. I really, really like that she has her faults and she’s in no way either a perfect mother or a perfect profiler. She’s too emotional sometimes and she gets too impulsive, and that’s what makes her human and interesting. And if you don’t show or give everything away there’s a lot of room for the audience to fill it in, in whatever way they do.
Speaking with Carol Morley for The Falling she explained: “You take it 90% of the way, and it is the audience that finishes it. So the audience by bringing themselves: their experiences, opinions and everything else to a film is what completes it.” Would you agree?
I think the audience is important, and I definitely do think there is something that happens when a film plays for an audience, but that’s what it’s made. I am so used to standing on stage where you are all in the same room and where so much is happening right now, and it will never ever happen in the same way again. You don’t get to feel that it in the same way when you are filming and so with a TV series you get to hear people’s reactions.
Do you perceive there to be a transformative aspect to the filmmaking process wherein you are a different person to the one that began the film?
I love playing parts that are quite far from who I am. I think it is such a gift in this job that you have the ability to understand from the inside how it is to be in a totally different situation, and you learn a lot about what it is to be human with this job. There are those that sometimes effect me more during the shooting or the rehearsal period, but if it is a stage production then usually not after the premiere. It is mostly during the rehearsal period I can feel it seeping into my private life. But I don’t think I’ve felt that for a while actually, or maybe it’s people around me that notice it more than me.
Modus concludes on BBC Four from 9pm on Saturday December 17th. Nordic Noir & Beyond releases Modus on DVD & Blu-Ray on Monday December 19th.
Many thanks to Melinda Kinnaman for taking the time for this interview.
Paul Risker is a UK based film critic and Editor for Mise-en-scène: The Journal of Film and Visual Narration. His writing has been published by international film, art and culture publications.