Kurt Wallander, Saga Norén, Martin Rohde, Sarah Lund – Nordic Noir is a snake pit of difficult coppers and troubled characters. And now there’s another to add to this fascinating and compelling list: Nikolaj Lie Kaas is Carl Mørck, lead detective in the new Danish thriller The Keeper of Lost Causes, based on Jussi Adler-Olsen’s bestselling Department Q novels.
Detective Mørck is the black sheep of the Copenhagen police department, a brash and outspoken detective, clashing with everyone he works with. He is also racked with guilt following an operation in which one of his colleagues was killed and another left paralysed. When the city authorities decide to create a unit dedicated to solving the city’s cold cases, Mørck’s bosses jump at the chance to move him out of the way; seeing little chance of these cases ever being solved, they assign Mørck to lead the unit – known as Department Q – assisted only by enthusiastic young cop Assad (Fares Fares). Mørck resents the new position, but quickly becomes obsessed with the disappearance of politician Merete Lynggard (Sonja Richter), and, with the help of her brother Uffe (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard), Mørck and Assad are determined to solve their first case together.
Best known for his role as special branch officer Mathias Borch in season three of The Killing, Kaas almost passed on the opportunity of playing Mørck. “I was working on The Killing at the time my manager suggested The Keeper of Lost Causes, but I was up to my eyeballs in crime thrillers so I didn’t consider it,” says Kaas. However, the chance to work with director Mikkel Nørgaard changed his mind. “I didn’t know too much about Mikkel, but I knew that he had worked on Borgen and Klown (2010), both of which I liked, so that was a good incentive to do the film.”
For Kaas, an actor highly regarded for the unique characterisation he brings to each of his roles, Mørck’s character was intriguing. “I knew about the Department Q novels but I wasn’t aware of their popularity, so I went away and read a few. From those I started to learn more about Carl as a character and realised he was a fascinating individual. There is great potential to do something interesting and different with a character like that.”
While the original story is followed closely, Kaas is keen to point out the differences between the film and the novel. “As well as the difference in humour, the main difference is our age. In the novel, Carl is much older than me. He’s around 60 and has given up on everything. But I’m only 41, and in the film Carl still has a lot of chances to change his life and do something significant.”
With the more ambitious and elaborate sequel The Absent One already completed, these are exciting times for Kaas and his career. “There are four Department Q novels and I am contracted to do four films, but it did say I should be ‘open minded’ about making more. As always with these things, it depends on financing, but the third film is already looking like a strong possibility.” Inspired by actors such as Peter Falk and Robert Downey Jr., Kaas relishes this chance to develop Carl’s character. “Actors love to have the opportunity to work with a character for a long period of time. It pleases everyone, especially the audience, because you can really follow a character and learn lots about them. It’s something I find very interesting.”
Beyond the Department Q films and his other projects in Scandinavia, Kaas has also been working further afield. In 2009 he starred in Ron Howard’s The Da Vinci Code follow-up Angels & Demons, and will soon be appearing alongside Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman, as well as fellow Nordic actors Noomi Rapace and Joel Kinnaman, in the Russian political thriller Child 44. Describing working on this film as a “fantastic experience”, Kaas particularly enjoyed working with Hardy and director Daniel Espinosa. “I think it’s amazing to go abroad and do other projects. I have done everything I feel I can do here in Scandinavia, so it’s good that I can go and check things out elsewhere. I love to see what possibilities are out there, and I’d love to work [in Hollywood] again.”
When asked for his thoughts on the Nordic Noir genre, Kaas has a typically individual take on the global fascination with crime drama from his region. “People feel Scandinavians have a very melancholic outlook on life, which is kind of true, but before we weren’t too proud of it and used to hide it. Now we embrace it.”
The Keeper of Lost Causes is released in UK cinemas on August 29th.