Meet the pathologist with all the answers
We may not know his name (it’s David, by the way), nevertheless, the pathologist or ‘obducent’ whom Saga regularly visits has starred in The Bridge from the very beginning. These memorable and comedic scenes, in which David tests Saga’s ability to deduce the victim’s cause of death, helped us to understand our heroine from the very first episode – as well as revealing pivotal clues about the elaborate investigations themselves. Before we bid a bittersweet farewell to our favourite Scandi crime drama, we wanted to get to know the actor behind David. His name is Gabriel Flores Jair.
Not only is Gabriel a passionate photographer, he loves languages and can speak Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, and English, as well as a bit of Italian, French, and a tiny bit of Hebrew too. In our conversation, we discovered more about what it was like to prepare for the role and working alongside Sofia Helin – plus, why he thinks The Bridge has been such a big Nordic Noir success. “I believe there are several factors. Firstly, the script and the stories that are being told. Then comes the cities – Malmö and Copenhagen. The two places are very distinct and different characters. There’s also the pace, the rhythm, and the overall aesthetics of the show, including the photography and the theme song. And, yes, Saga – absolutely, without a doubt!” We wholeheartedly agree.
Despite the cool exterior we expect from David, Gabriel didn’t share the same confidence about his audition. “It was a strange situation when I auditioned for the role. I kept thinking, oh, I should have done this or that. I was full of doubts. But after Charlotte Sieling, the co-director of season one saw the takes, I received a call the next day to say I got the part.” The character attracted Gabriel due to his air of mystery. “This guy, this pathologist, didn’t even have a name. He is an anonymous entity, not a central character, and he works in a space with dead bodies. He’s trying to understand what happens to a body that used to be full of life, and now, after death, it still tells a story. It’s last story.”
While the show comments on social themes and representations on screen, David’s character stood out as a transgressive role which the actor welcomed. “I was born in Argentina and, like most Argentinians, I am a mixture of different cultures and religious beliefs. Today, I live in Malmö, which is unlike any other city in Sweden, due to a large number of people from different cultures too,” Gabriel explains. “I remember saying, “Yes, I am going to do this part, yes! I am not going to play a villain, or a murderer, or a rapist, or any other criminal that is so often portrayed by people who look like me!”. This was very important to me and was the decisive reason.”
Like Saga’s extra-curricular curiosity, we wanted to know if Gabriel had an interest in pathology beyond his character. “When I was 17, I thought of becoming a doctor, so I studied anatomy and physiology. But when I started to take photographs with an Olympus 10 analog camera, my focus shifted to photography.” Gabriel also studied pathology prior to playing David. “Pathology interested me while preparing for the role too. I believe it’s my responsibility as an actor to prepare myself. When I was 14, I started to read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, so, while preparing for David, I asked myself, what if Sherlock Holmes was a pathologist? How would I portray him?”
The deaths in The Bridge IV have been described by The Guardian as having “more carnage than in a Saw film”. With this in mind, are the bodies we see being examined played by the actors themselves in special make-up and prosthetics? Are they dummies? Or are they a bit of everything? “If I remember correctly, all the bodies I examined were real actors with special make-up. It could be a bit uncomfortable because we must touch and feel the body of the actor whom you don’t know – while they’re still and silent,” Gabriel recalls. “Beforehand, Sofia Helin and I would talk to the actors to show them exactly what we were going to do, making sure they were OK with it. It’s important to always show respect to everybody on set because it can only work if we all take care of one another.”
Gabriel’s scenes are predominantly with Sofia Helin, which has made a great impact on his views of gender representations. “Saga is very unusual. Even if Saga were male, the character would still be unusual. I believe we need more heroines; we need more female directors, screenwriters, producers and female leads,” Gabriel exclaims. “I believe we men have been telling and talking too much for too long. We need other stories and other perspectives. The great thing about Saga is that she is not looking for revenge, like most male leads in action movies; she is looking for the truth.” Gabriel explains how Sofia has influenced his acting too. “Sofia taught me, without maybe realising herself, how to act in front of the camera. Sofia is a very intelligent and empathetic person. I believe the audience can see that too. I believe they see beyond Saga and see Sofia, which allows the audience to see themselves. This is Sofia’s greatest talent as an actress – to show you the human being on screen.”
One of Gabriel’s chief artistic passions is photography. “It is the love of my life. Sometimes it’s a bliss and sometimes it can be cruel to me. I started photographing a year after military service in Kristianstad, Sweden when I was 19. I photographed a lot, but when I was 23, I fell into an artistic ‘depression’. I took a break from photography for almost 20 years and, during this time, I decided to become an actor. I even applied for the Theatre Academy in Stockholm, but they said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Thank goodness this didn’t affect his audition for The Bridge.
“When I started taking photos, somebody told me about a French photographer, so I went to the library and found his books. Henri Cartier Bresson was and still is, my teacher. At the same time, I fell in love with Anders Petersen’s pictures,” Gabriel shares. “There are so many photographers that have inspired me throughout the years. I love street photography and I love my Fuji X-E1. About a year ago, I started with my very own project – taking pictures of Malmö, the city I love. I hope to show them in an exhibition in the future.”
If you’re planning The Bridge tour to see the filming locations, Gabriel strongly recommends fans to visit as soon as they can. And to not just visit one place, but – “All of Sweden! There’s the beautiful nature and it’s so peaceful here. I love the silence. I am sad to say that I have never been to the north of Sweden – but I will one day! I’ve lived in Stockholm for 4 years and, I must say, it is one the most beautiful capitals I’ve ever seen. Whatever season it is – it’s beautiful here.” Gabriel is also an ambassador for Malmö city. “Come, please do, come to Malmö and see the places where we shot The Bridge. Malmö is a very special city. There’s nowhere else like it in Sweden. It’s like a mini Berlin. Here, you can rent a bike very cheap and discover the city – but remember, it’s very windy!” Gabriel will fit in very well with the Nordophiles in the UK: “When I auditioned for a part in Wallander, the director asked me if I had seen some of the Wallander movies. I was ashamed because I had to admit that I hadn’t. But I’m a sci-fi nerd. I love sci-fi movies and I love Sherlock Holmes – so, I enjoy British TV dramas too.”
What will the actor miss most about working on The Bridge? “On set, everybody was very focused. While shooting the first season, nobody knew the national and international impact we were about to make. The only thing we knew was that this was a great story, judging from the script and I loved the logic of it. I’ll miss the camaraderie and the art of telling a story. I’ll mostly miss being part of something that is greater than me.”
Interview by Antony Smith
Watch the penultimate episode of the final season on BBC Two tomorrow night from 9pm. The latest episodes are also available on digital download via iTunes here