Paul Risker chats with Midnight Sun star Gustaf Hammarsten…
Following the critical acclaim for their Nordic Noir crime series The Bridge, Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein’s Midnight Sun sees them continue to build on the foundations of their earlier success. Here are two storytellers that have transcended Scandinavian storytelling to yet again appeal to the international market – winner of the audience award for Best Series in Paris at the SeriesMania Festival.
Midnight Sun tells the story of Kahina Zadi (Leila Bekhti), who is despatched to the Swedish mining town of Kiruna, where she teams with prosecutor Anders Harnesk (Gustaf Hammarsten) to investigate the murder of a French citizen.
In conversation with Flickering Myth, Hammarsten reflected on his career in front of the camera and the changing of perspective. He also discussed his aspirations, the role of drama in procuring his interest in the series and discovery through fictional encounters.
Why a career in acting? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?
I was acting when I was a kid, but then I stopped. I wanted to be a graphic designer because there was absolutely no theatrical history in my family – I wasn’t even aware that you could work as an actor. When I was in my twenties my mother came to me with an article for a theatre school. She said: “Maybe this could be something for you.” I don’t know why I went. I thought it might be my way home, and so I just went to the audition more as a challenge, to show my friends and family that I would make it. And I did. From the first week I understood it was perfect for me, and so that’s how it all started.
How has your perspective on the art of performance changed over the course of your career?
I now look back on those days of first discovering that I wanted to be an actor, and that I was perhaps well suited to it, as having a mission. I had a goal of wanting to be a professional actor and I was happy because everything was in front of me. I studied at the Swedish Royal Acting School and I began working on stage. I was given good parts and I then began working in television and movies. I have just been going along for twenty years, which has been fantastic, because I never lost myself. And I don’t think things went too fast, but maybe they sometimes went too slowly [laughs].
So I have gradually worked my way into it and in the beginning it was more of an egoistic feeling that I just wanted to act. Whereas now, the older I get, the more interested I become in the whole story and its message. It is very important to me when you have an opportunity to talk to someone for a while, and to ask questions about people and the world. It is a delicate gift and while I love entertainment, I’ve always enjoyed drama that sticks to your soul when you leave the cinema – it’s like going to a good restaurant instead of going for fast food.
Picking up on your point about dialogue and the strength of experience, do you give consideration to the audience in the process of telling a story?
I wouldn’t say that I particularly think of the audience. It has to feel good for me because when you do something that you absolutely don’t believe in, or you have a character that doesn’t give you anything, then it is horrible. I need to believe in what I want to do because that has more worth than doing something which everybody thinks is fantastic. It’s important for me to have the drive because it’s so much work, and I also don’t want to do the same old thing. For me to stay in this profession, I need to try to develop and to challenge myself.
When you first read the script for Midnight Sun, what was the appeal of both the character and the story?
First of all it was the creators, who I have known for a long time, and who I’ve wanted to work with because they have their own filmmaking world. The other main reason was that this could have been a very exciting thriller or crime story, but within this there’s actually a drama. There’s the Sami, the Swedish indigenous population that brings to it a subtle colonial racism, which I think many western audiences can relate to. I always see myself as a Swede living in a very democratic country, but I realised that we have our own indigenous people that for hundreds of years haven’t been treated all that well. This is an important aspect and also there’s another story of the mining town of Kiruna, where this is actually happening. They are moving parts of the town in order to develop the mine and so there are also economical and political issues to the drama. And the character I play is half Sami, who hasn’t acknowledged his history. He now gets to meet his own culture, which he’s neither been proud of or thought about. So for me it was the interest in the drama more than the actual thriller.
Filmmaker Christoph Behl remarked to me: “You are evolving, and after the film you are not the same person as you were before.” Do you perceive there to be a transformative aspect to the creative process?
Playing a very good character is like meeting an interesting person, and even if you have silent dialogue, you hopefully get to learn something new about yourself. If there’s a good project or character, an interesting role, then I wouldn’t say I change dramatically, but by meeting with another person, they may sub-consciously teach me new things that I come to believe. In Midnight Sun, I was unaware of the Sami people – who they are and what they mean to Scandinavia and its history. When I was a kid, I would watch American westerns and I was so upset by the treatment of the Native Americans. Then I realised that we have native indigenous people in our own country that I hadn’t even thought about, and now I feel so much more respectful towards them. So yes, you do change.
Midnight Sun is now available on DVD & Blu-Ray from Studio Canal.