Nordic but nice: After The Killing and Borgen, the latest Nordic thriller is darkly comic and if you ignore the grimfest it’s almost a chick-flick
17:04 GMT, 30 March 2012
Roger Brown has it all. He has a beautiful wife and a mistress who is crazy about him for a start. He lives in a stunning home in Oslo and is an elite corporate headhunter.
Don’t ever apply for a job, he tells executives who apply for a job. It dilutes your appeal. In his Savile Row suits, Roger appears to be a master of the universe — or at least a distant relative of Christopher Walken, which is almost the same thing.
The only cloud scudding across his horizon is that he would like to be taller. But that’s no biggie, if you will excuse the tiny pun.
Nordic noir: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau stars in the thriller Headhunters
Except Roger would not excuse the pun. He has a bad case of small man syndrome, which manifests in the mistaken belief that his blonde goddess of a wife would leave him if he stopped buying her expensive gifts.
So that’s why he is also an art thief, stealing from his clients to fund his lavish lifestyle. No one wonders why he asks clients if they have guard dogs or stay at home during the day. They think it is part of Roger’s psychological assessment.
They don’t realise he is practically patting down their pockets. Then Roger tries to steal from the wrong man, a Danish CEO called Clas Greve, who is also a former mercenary. After this, his world starts crashing down.
So begins Headhunters, an intense Norwegian thriller based on the bestselling novel by Jo Nesbo. Shot over 40 days on a small budget in and around Oslo, the subtitled film is already a success across Europe. Suspenseful and gory, it morphs from art heist to cat-and-mouse chase to black comedy. In short, as Roger wouldn’t say, it is another example of the new Nordic noir, complete with moments of darkness that plunge deeper than an icy fjord.
The cast is led by Aksel Hennie, one of the most popular actors in Norway, as Roger Brown
The cast is led by Aksel Hennie, 36, one of the most popular actors in Norway, as Roger Brown, while Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, 41, stars as Clas Greve. Their onscreen relationship is not a case of good guy versus bad; it is more bad guy versus even worse guy. It says much for Hennie’s skill that audiences find themselves rooting for the two-timing, mistress-abusing, picture-stealing, amoral Roger.
He embarks on a journey of bloody redemption with the dishy but demented Greve trailing him like a psychopathic Don Draper. Will Roger find salvation in his terrible flight All I will say is that he learns so many lessons along the way that if you remove the carnage, Headhunters could be a love story.
‘That’s right, almost a chick flick,’ laughs Hennie. One thing that attracted me to the film was the love story. If you don’t have hope or love, it will just be violence and mess and a lack of morality. You need hope and those good feelings to make it work.’
Almost a chick flick: Aksel Hennie as Roger Brown and Synnove Lund as Diana Brown in Jo Nesbo's Headhunters
Certainly, the fact that Roger’s wife Diana (Synnove Macody Lund) desperately wants the one thing her husband refuses her — a baby — brings an emotional core to the film. Co-star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau clarifies a further subtlety in Headhunters, this time in the area of international diplomacy — or lack thereof. ‘I am the bad guy and I am Danish and that makes sense in Norway,’ he says. ‘Just like in American movies it used to be that a bad guy had to have a British accent. In Norway, the bad guys are always Danish.’
Lilyhammer, a Norwegian comedy drama about a New York mobster, starts on BBC4 later this year
Yet unlike the delicious pastries, Clas is one Danish with few sweet features. ‘Be fair. He loves animals. He is beautiful with animals,’ says Coster-Waldau, who also plays Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones. He is currently in New Orleans filming the big budget sci‑fi Oblivion with Tom Cruise. Directed by Morten Tyldum, the film is a project between production companies Friland and Yellowbird.
In the UK, Yellowbird are best known for the Swedish-language Millennium trilogy, adapted from the Stieg Larsson novels. They also made both the Swedish and English versions of Wallander, adapted from Henning Mankell’s crime novels. Their work has been at the forefront of the wave of Scandi-dramas which have found such a big audience in Britain.
In the wake of successes such as The Killing and Borgen, at least four new Scandinavian drama series are to come over the next few months. Why is the Nordic noir suddenly so in vogue Hennie believes it is because: ‘We have a history of going after the depth in the character, and when you mix that in with a thriller genre, it makes for an interesting mash-up.’
It is an exciting time to be a Norwegian actor. Hennie has just returned from Los Angeles, discussing ‘hopefully my new international career. Headhunters has opened a door for me. People like what I do in the movie so I am really, really grateful.’ Coster-Waldau is the more established actor, but is still delighted by the sudden interest in his native drama. ‘It is a surprise, but a very pleasant one,’ he says. ‘To become big in Britain is a big deal in Denmark. It is a source of great pride.’
The fact that Diana (Synnove Macody Lund) desperately wants baby brings an emotional core to the film
He believes the appeal is the unique
darkness that spins through the drama. ‘We have these perfect countries
where pedestrians won’t cross the road until the green light tells them
to, even if there is no traffic.That creates an undergrowth of
weirdness.’ Coster-Waldau is
married to Nukaaka, an actress who had a small role in The Killing and
is a former Miss Greenland. They live just north of Copenhagen with their two daughters.
He sheds light on the phenomenon of faces from one Danish drama series suddenly turning up in another — has Denmark run out of actors ‘If you add up everyone, including dancers and opera stars, there are only about a thousand members of the Danish Actors Association. We aren’t many, so if we overlap, that is the reason.’
Personally, I could never get enough of the 6ft twin policemen in Headhunters. ‘They had never acted before and they spent days upside down in an overturned car,’ says Coster-Waldau. ‘What troupers.’
Hennie is also recovering from spending a bitter Norwegian November outdoors covered in icy water, fake blood — and worse.
But I loved it!’ says Hennie, with his rather maniacal laugh. ‘The journey is physical and emotional and I tried to do as many stunts as they would let me. Sometimes I would put on the costume and think: “Am I this guy covered in blood or the guy with the tailormade London suits” I found it insanely interesting and fun.’
Perhaps in Roger Brown’s predicament we can see a global parallel, for his is a cautionary tale of greed and what happens to those who spend more than they can ever afford. At one point Roger has to hide submerged in human sludge — actually a concoction of Nescafe and cereal.
‘But he still smelled awful; he smelled of coffee for days,’ cries Coster-Waldau.
‘What I remember,’ says Hennie, ‘is just how cold it was. I was always drenched in something. But I think it gave something to the film.’ In one scene, Hennie — ever the glutton for authentic punishment — shaved off all his hair. ‘With a blunt razor’, he says. ‘I accidentally shaved off a mole. You can see it if you look hard. It bled a lot. It wasn’t meant to. Insane!’
Headhunters opens in cinemas across the UK and Ireland on April 6.