Exclusive interview with head writer of ‘The Bridge’ Camilla Ahlgren

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Find out more from the head writer of The Bridge IV

Together with series creator and co-writer, Hans Rosenfeldt, esteemed writer Camilla Ahlgren has been penning The Bridge’s compelling storylines since season one. So, what can we expect from The Bridge IV? “We move deeper into Saga and Henrik’s personal lives – it’s more about relationships than the previous seasons, as we knew this would be the last season,” Camilla explains. “It also focuses on the theme of identity. The bridge between Denmark and Sweden represented an opening to Europe, but nowadays it’s like a closed border. You must show your identity card to travel from Denmark to Sweden, which is very weird! [LAUGHS]” Keep your eyes peeled for these real-life references in the show.

Read our interview with Sofia Helin here.

Since season three, Henrik has fast become a series favourite, alongside Saga, of course. “After Martin, audiences responded well to Henrik’s dark and mysterious character, as we didn’t really know who he was in the beginning. I think that was a very good introduction and Thure is a great actor too.” I’m sure we all agree with Camilla on that one. “We wanted to find out more about him in the fourth and final season because Saga and Henrik are like two wounded animals who need each other. And we wanted to end their stories in a way that we think is satisfying! [LAUGHS]” While at the end of season three, it was a far from satisfying to see our beloved heroine completely broken down. “That’s true. She’s far from OK at the beginning of season four as well – it’s not easy being a cop in prison.”

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Other than contemplating killing off Saga in season one, we had to ask what other initial script ideas intended for The Bridge. “That was one of the main things we changed – not killing her! [LAUGHS] I, for one, am very happy with that decision because Saga is The Bridge,” Camilla exclaims. “We had to change the storyline in season three. Originally Lillian was going to be murdered instead of Hans, which would have affected Martin. As Martin wasn’t with us any longer, we had to rewrite the script. Henrik was introduced, and we thought it was a better idea to kill off Hans to impact Saga. It was a difficult decision because we liked working with Hans very much! So, we had to get back in touch with the actress, Sarah Boberg, to say, “we’re not going to kill you now” and tell Hans, “sorry, we are…” [LAUGHS] That was another big change! It was bad for Saga but great for us and the story.”

As Hans Rosenfeldt knows Saga inside and out, we were curious about how the creator and head writer of the show brainstorm ideas. “Hans is great – he’s my best friend. We work very well together – we’re always working so hard, but we have fun at the same time,” Camilla confesses. “We know each other so well and we also have different skills, so I hope we work on something again together soon.” The pair previously co-wrote The Sandhamn Murders, Marcella, and the long-running crime drama Rederiet. “I think he is one of Sweden’s greatest writers and, thanks to him, he has created Saga. He’s also the best person to write her dialogue.”

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Not only does Camilla collaborate well with her long-time writing partner, they both share ideas with the actors themselves. “We have a dialogue with Sofia and Thure to get their input and their reactions,” Camilla admits. “I think it’s very important to be a team while you work, which is part of the success of The Bridge. We know the directors and the producers well, as most of the crew have been there from the beginning – back when we didn’t know the show was going to be as successful as it is! [LAUGHS]”

With this in mind, we wanted to know if it was the same case while Camilla worked as script editor on another iconic Nordic Noir production, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? “That was also something very similar to The Bridge. When we first started working on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, we didn’t know if the books were going to be a success either.” A statement which is almost unbelievable in hindsight. “This is why it was originally planned to release one as a feature film, with the other two adaptations as TV movies. When it became clear it was an international success, all the movies were released as feature films. It was a different kind of project but, like The Bridge and The Killing, they’re all about very strong female characters. It was very important and very good timing to be made.”

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It’s quite interesting to compare the heroines, as Saga’s introduction to the Nordic Noir audience wasn’t received well. In fact, she was regarded as unlikable. “That was actually a criticism, especially in Sweden. People thought Sofia was a bad actress or that the director hadn’t done their job properly! [LAUGHS]” Hands up if you immediately fell in love with Saga. “Because she was so strange, they didn’t want to watch the show anymore.” Almost like the Twin Peaks ‘water cooler effect’, word-of-mouth generated its popularity. “After people started talking about it more and more, suddenly they had to recap and grew to like Saga. If we look at Henrik, he is a lot like Saga in season three, with his drug addiction and family. But you get to know him too, and you say “aha!” We always try to surprise the audience in a good way.”

Whereas the American version approached the heroine’s character in a more direct way. “In the US remake of The Bridge, Sonya was diagnosed [with Asperger’s syndrome] in the first episode and it was explained why she was the way she was.” There were other ways that made the Nordic series stand out too. “Saga had leather trousers and her car! That wasn’t actually in the script; it was something the director, Charlotte Sieling, thought of. Charlotte said, “what about a Porsche?” We thought it was too posh [LAUGHS], but Charlotte said it was cool! Why not?”

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For such a complex character, it seems that a lot of Saga’s backstory was created on the go. “At the beginning, the only character profile we had of Saga was that her parents were dead, she had nobody in her life and she was very lonely.” She has definitely developed in leaps and bounds. “Then the director said they needed something very personal about Saga to reflect what was happening around her. As one of the earlier victims was a young girl who was killed in a garage, we thought that maybe Saga had a sister. There’s a scene where she’s visiting a grave at a cemetery and Saga tells Martin she had a sister who committed suicide when she was thirty-years-old – that’s all. That was all we gave to the audience – and we didn’t know anything more either! [LAUGHS] Then, when we were creating the Munchausen by proxy syndrome (MBPS) storyline for Martin in season two, we had the idea to link that to what happened to Saga’s sister. In season three, we wanted to bring her father back but thought it was better if we changed it the mother instead. We didn’t know any of this when we started working on The Bridge, which I think is a funny and interesting way to work.” Like a sneaky snowballing evolution effect? “Yes!”

Now, it’s nearly time to say goodbye in what we can only imagine will be the ultimate bittersweet finale. “It feels strange and empty to leave Saga and Henrik – but it’s good to end while we’re on top. I get bored with fifth and sixth seasons that aren’t as good as the rest! I hope the audience will think so too.”

 

Interview by Antony Smith

 

Don’t forget to watch the first episode of The Bridge IV tomorrow night from 9pm on BBC Two