We find out more on The Bridge from the series creator-writer and executive producer in the heart of Malmö…
With the interwoven story-lines of macabre plots and devious villains, rising up from the criminal underworld which surround the Øresund, that connect to the fractured lives of the modern, hard-boiled detectives of Nordic Noir, the fans of The Bridge have amassed in waves. What better way to find out more about the making of the successful crime series than by going to the scene of the crime and interrogating creator and writer Hans Rosenfeldt and executive producer Anders Landström?
Due to the popularity of an established series, how difficult did you find it to write a third season?
Hans Rosenfeldt: Even before the third season, I think the hardest part came with creating a balance in season two. You should recognise The Bridge; you should know what you are watching and that it is a continuation of the series. Although, we didn’t want to repeat ourselves too much, so that balance between familiarity and what’s new is the most difficult. We were constantly thinking, “What element can we bring in to make this feel fresh and new?” While, at the same time, not losing the audiences or failing to fulfil their expectations.
How had you envisaged the series progressing had Kim Bodnia remained - did you have to change your ideas about the script throughout the casting process?
HR: We had the first four season scripts in second or third drafts with the episode writers. Martin’s character was still supposed to be in The Bridge throughout the entire series. Then we had to do some changes because we had lost Kim so we had to come up with something new. What was actually working well for us was that we had already decided the third season should be about Saga, as the first two seasons had primarily been focused on Martin. The crime plot didn’t have to change that much, depending on who is investigating it, so we could keep very much to that concept. It was the smallest part of the script that had to be rewritten; writing Martin out and deciding how to bring in new characters.
Why did you think the third season should be about Saga, regardless of the loss of Kim Bodnia?
HR: It was time. The big, emotional and personal narrative strands had been Martin’s for both season one and season two. We also hinted throughout the seasons about Saga’s younger sister’s suicide. Season two was about Saga’s mother having Münchhausen by Proxy and hurting them. There is a key conversation at the end of season two when Saga tells Martin that she did something to her parents to get custody of her younger sister – Jennifer. All of that we didn’t want to leave unexplored so that’s why we decided to focus on Saga in season three.
At what point did you decide on the criminal plots? The blogging journalist and their responsibility is very focal in a post-Charlie Hebdo environment.
HR: We don’t write the criminal plot separately from the emotional journey of the main characters. They are all created when we are story-lining the show. We have one that is the major plot and we have our biggest characters embarking on their emotional development. Where do they start, where do we want them to end and what do we want to happen to them along the way? Then we ‘multi-plot’ with the smaller strands; what they are about and what the theme is. It’s not always that you recognise it when you watch it but we are thinking in terms of themes when we create the story-lines. We create them all at the same time; nothing is really more important than the other but we try to make them match.
Are the myriad of sub-plots something that make The Bridge quite unique in terms of police dramas? Do you think the show is becoming more complex than the previous seasons?
HR: There are probably a few more series like this but it’s definitely very significant for The Bridge. I think the third season is actually a little less complex that season two. There are more sub-plots in season three but the main crime story is slightly easier to follow than season two. That was quite complicated with the sister and brother story – whether it was the plague or just pneumonia affecting them. That was quite difficult to follow so we are making it a little clearer for the audience this time.
Would you say The Bridge projects a typically Danish or Swedish image on screen?
HR: We have a mixed team and we really try to make it mutual as the show is really coming from both countries. So I would say it is typically both Danish and Swedish. This season we haven’t really done that a lot. In the first two seasons there was more of a focus because we didn’t think that was such a big issue and I don’t think the differences have been growing over the years, since we have been working on The Bridge. What we do in this season is a little more but it’s not a heavy plot point. We investigate a little more into the differences between our countries. In the first two seasons Denmark and Sweden was like one region in that we all understand the same language which is not true. So we haven’t really looked into the differences between the countries. Now here and there we hint, in the first episodes of The Bridge III at least, that we do have differences. We feel differently about different things.
With UK viewers we arguably generalise and see the countries in a very similar way.
HR: That has been our idea to present the series that way – that was the decision. We don’t make a big thing about where we are. You don’t really need to know whether or not we are in Malmö or Copenhagen. We decided very early not to have a problem with the differences in language. We wanted it to be one place but the third season is like the first in which we slowly look at the differences between the countries. I think this has grown over the years since we started filming.
Why do you think this interest in the differences between the countries has grown?
HR: We’ve been working on this show for nine years. Very few things are the same politically over the course of a nine years period. The whole world has changed in nine years and so has Denmark and Sweden.
With culture and tourism becoming more important to the local economies is there pressure put on your production company to be more specific about the locations on screen?
HR: No, there’s not, I don’t think. This is because we are not funded by these cities; Malmö and Copenhagen are not funding the production in any way.
Anders Landström: No, not at all. Nothing like that. There are regional film funds down here in Copenhagen and in Malmö. The tradition is that you cannot tell us what to do and what not to do. It doesn’t work like that. We just do what we want to do. If they believe in the project they give us the money.
HR: I think it’s been quite the reverse actually. We have tried quite hard to keep the big tourist attractions away from our show. We very rarely show the Turning Torso, except for some stock shots. We try to make it up because The Bridge universe is not really Malmö and Copenhagen. It’s kind of an enhanced reality of Malmö and Copenhagen. So the more we show of the places that everybody recognises, the more we lose the imagination that is our universe. We created it. Of course, it is in stock shots and in the title sequence. Then there is The Øresund Bridge. The Bridge is The Bridge.
AL: When we started making The Bridge in season one there were anxieties from the city council, “Oh, you’re going to film a crime story and you’re going to show all these ugly environments in Malmö. We have enough of crime and things here – do you really have to set the series here?” There were talks about that. They were not that happy. Now they are so happy because it’s a fantastic drama.
It’s also usually very dark in The Bridge – is it ever sunny there?
AL: Yes, it’s always dark! It looks better on film. It’s nicer to shoot night shoots. It’s beautiful.
HR: We shoot it in winter. That’s how it is. There are a few sunny days and then we go into the studio!
A lot of Saga’s character quirks, like dressing in the police station, were reintroduced. Was this intentional so that viewers could watch this series not having watched the previous two seasons and get to know her easily?
HR: Those scenes are not really for new viewers. They are shown because that’s what she would normally do. If we just did it for season one then audiences would feel like that was a gimmick. If you see the first two seasons you know Saga had a little sister that committed suicide, but that’s all we say about it. We don’t do a re-cap for new viewers. You can follow it but you get more out of it if you’ve seen the first two seasons. Those moments with Saga driving her Porsche and changing sweaters in the office – that’s just because in some TV series you see a character trait which disappears after an episode or two because it was more of a gimmick than an actual character trait. Whatever Saga was doing in season one we try to keep it so viewers recognise it.
Did you ever expect the series would be so popular abroad in the Netherlands or the UK?
HR: No, I didn’t. We thought we had a really good show. But I’ve seen and been involved in good shows before and they never travelled anywhere.
AL: I didn’t know either that it was going to be such a success but I think the show is also better than the ones we have done before.
HR: I think The Bridge came out at a really good time. Stieg Larsson was really popular in crime fiction. Jo Nesbø and Jussi Adler-Olson – there was a lot of crime writers prevalent in the international market. The Killing (2007-2012) came out from Denmark so everyone was kind of looking at Scandinavia to see what would happen next. That was us and we had a good show! The timing was really good for us in 2010 and 2011.
AL: We just succeeded to do something that is better than I think what we had done before.
What makes The Bridge better than the projects you have worked on before?
HR: The Bridge is made up of many good parts. We have the crime plot – which is quite intriguing. You try to figure it out by yourself as a viewer; that’s what keeps you watching for ten hours. Then you have Saga. I think now, with season three, very few are thinking that they are fantastic crime plots. Instead, audiences are saying, “I’m going to be spending time with Saga again!” That’s the real strength to keep the show going; that you have characters you want to spend ten more hours with, whenever they appear on the TV. That’s the real strength actually.
Interview by Jon Sadler, Andy Lawrence and Kristel van Teeffelen.
Keep watching The Bridge III to see what happens to Saga and Henrik on Saturdays from 9pm on BBCFour