Interview with ‘The Bridge’ director Henrik Georgsson

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Discover the series from another angle as we go behind-the-scenes of the ominous Øresund Bridge…

In the warm, low-key lighting of the Soho House screening room, members of the cast and crew, including Sofia Helin, Dag Malmberg, executive producer Anders Landström, and creator/writer Hans Rosenfeldt joined the press for a private showcase of the first episode of The Bridge III at the London PR launch.

While the venue provided the perfect contrast in style and a juxtaposition of the atmosphere from the modern and cold crime composition in the show, the analytical and creative eye of director Henrik Georgsson was still at work. After the credits rolled to the haunting theme tune and the lights went up, Georgsson assured the audience during the Q&A session that the show was not meant to appear as dark as it seemed when projected onto the big screen, despite the series being known for its dark visual tonality. The director insisted we watch the episode in a better resolution on television.

Therefore, with these words of recommendation in mind, fans can expect more darkness (but not too dark) as we welcome back The Bridge onto the best screen you could hope for – your own.

We sat down with the series director, whose filmmaking inspirations stem from Italian Neo-realists Michelangelo Antonioni and Federico Fellini, to find out more from the set of The Bridge.

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*Warning – May contain spoilers!*

What has it been like coming to the UK for the new season launch and the reactions to the first episode?

Henrik Georgsson: It’s been great, very nice. A lot of people here have been waiting for the new season and looking forward to it so it feels good, really good!

It was a great opening to the third season. During the press screening, you mentioned the filming locations shown on screen. Can you tell me more about the choices of the locations, the architecture, muted tones, and the overall look of The Bridge throughout the series?

HG: What we tried to do was to look at Malmö and Copenhagen as one big city. We are not looking for differences or opposites of the cities, on the contrary really. We look for similarities which is not the same in real-life as the cities are very different. We try to make our own universe in that sense. We look for modern architecture and nothing that is “picturesque” or cute in any way. We wanted it to look hard; a lot of glass, concrete, and hard materials. Then, of course, we show a lot of industrial environments. We also try to have a colour scheme that is either grey or brown – nothing that pops out! [LAUGHS] No strong colours and we try to keep that look consistent.

This definitely mimics the mood and atmosphere of the show.

HG: Yes. We like this feeling of a grey November and we wouldn’t mind a bit of mist every day to make it look eerie! [LAUGHS] Plenty of trees without leaves, it’s very beautiful. It is very hard for us as we are filming from November until the beginning of May. In Sweden, at least in Malmö where we are shooting most of the series, there are leaves on the trees up until November, then it is spring in April and we get some snow for a few weeks in January and February which makes it hard to keep consistent! The investigation in the programme is only running for one or two weeks so it’s difficult to maintain the mood with the weather. The mood of the show is not happy but gloomy in a way that I like! [LAUGHS] It’s not a boring mood; it goes together with crime and suspense in a good way. A good thriller makes it easier with darkness. There were some criticisms that we were degrading and muting the colours too much. In the third season, there is a bit more colour than there has been before – both in the design and the costume.

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As this is a signature association with The Bridge, how do you feel this visual style stands out from other crime shows?

HG: It doesn’t really stand out from other crime shows that much but I think we are very consistent with our darker and gloomier mood. A lot of other series tend to be worried about losing the audience and are conscious about adding more colour and being vivid in a way. Many more series are a little more anxious about those things. Although we are happy with this concept of Nordic Noir and Scandi-Noir, it’s like the audience wants the series to look like this and see it as a quality of the genre.

With this popularity in mind, as well as the common three-season-arc of Nordic Noir series, do you feel that this quality and cinematic style will benefit The Bridge with a greater longevity?

HG: I think the series could live on with one more season. Maybe more, depending on the actors. But for me, as a director, it’s important just to feel that we have an idea; we have a script that gives us something new and is better than the previous season. I wouldn’t want to do another series that was obviously made because the last season was a success – that would be boring. It has been a challenge making the third season after the second. We were kind of lucky that Kim Bodnia didn’t return because we had to rethink what we were going to do. [LAUGHS] We were in an underdog position thinking, “How can we do this?” However, this gave us a lot of energy. I wonder if this season will be a success in the UK. It is always fun to see if the next season meets our expectations. But, another season would depend on how good the script is from the beginning and what happens to Saga. It feels like we are doing a lot with her character in this season but I don’t know if we can go further in the same direction. We’ll have to come up with something else! Before The Bridge III, I was thinking that we need to do something drastic and make a real ending. I thought that would be cool! [LAUGHS] At the same time there could be ten seasons – why not? It could go on for many years but the quality of the show will go down. That doesn’t happen all the time, though, if we look at Breaking Bad (2008-2013) even the fifth season was amazing. So – why not? We’ll see…

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As well as directing The Bridge, you have also directed episodes of Wallander (2005-2013). What are the main differences in approaching a TV series like The Bridge and filming feature-length, stand-alone TV movies for Wallander?

HG: I made two Wallander films - Wallander: season two episode six: Prästen and Wallander: season two episode seven: Läckan (2010) – although there have been so many! It was more like coming into an industry when making Wallander. I came in with my director of photography and everyone else was already working on the show. In a way we have a freedom as the episodes are 90-minute-long movies, but for television and the DVD market. It could look a bit different in each film but there was more freedom in making The Bridge concept and in its universe. With Wallander,  it is domestic and realistic looking, whereas The Bridge has always been a bit larger-than-life with Saga, the villains, and opening with a body in the middle of the bridge. The Bridge does not have a “normal” murder! [LAUGHS] It’s more like a cartoon in that way with its creative freedom. We don’t make the show realistic to the degree that a real policeman will say, “That’s exactly how it works.” We don’t care so much about that! I don’t even know if it is realistic for Saga to have her job with her problems and the way she is. In reality, maybe, it wouldn’t be possible, I don’t know. They are very different shows and I think it has been more fun to work on The Bridge with the heightened narrative that leans towards a slightly more fantastical side of the crime genre.

There were anxieties over the departure of Kim Bodnia from the series but from the first episode, the narrative of the third season seems very strong. This is mainly due to the introduction of the new and interesting characters, including Henrik Sabroe played by Thure Lindhardt from Flame and Citron (2008), Angels & Demons (2009) and The Left Wing Gang (2009-2010).

HG: We were worried about that reaction from critics and from the audience that they would miss Kim Bodnia. There were a lot of discussions about it on social media in the UK. However, there was not much debate coming from Sweden or Denmark. As the new characters, such as Thure Lindhardt’s Henrik, are so interesting you tend to forget about the Martin. Henrik is quite exciting as a character – a lot of things happen to him in the series so he has a strong development too. It’s not just Saga. Henrik will replace Martin after a few episodes which audiences will see. Saga and Henrik are definitely the main characters to watch in The Bridge III.

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Other than this potential casting issue, have you encountered any major set-backs whilst filming? Were there any delays, especially when shooting on location at the Øresund Bridge?

HG: No, there haven’t been any major problems actually! [LAUGHS]

Do you prefer shooting on-location rather than on a set in a studio? The series appears to be predominantly shot on-location which gives the show a sense of energy and pace – things are kinetic and constantly happening.

HG: The police station and Saga’s apartment are the only places shot in the studio – the rest is all on-location. When we are filming so much in the police station I do like it but I prefer shooting on-location because it gives you a lot of ideas. On a set, you have to invent everything, whereas on-location everything is already alive and existing as normal life. That can be hard at times but you get a lot of inspiration; you get ideas that you would never get when you have to construct it. When you construct it, you have to think about it three months ahead in order to build it! [LAUGHS] Whereas on-location you can see things at the last minute, makes changes and say, “Wow, look at this. Let’s move the camera a little bit and point it at that thing!” You can find something new that looks nice. But it can be hard to have control over everything, especially sound and things that create disturbances but I prefer it.

With shooting so much of the series on-location and accessing places to film in and around the city, how well has Malmö council supported and cooperated with the production of The Bridge?

HG: From what I know with the producers of the show, the cooperation has been very good with the Malmö city council, especially after the first season because it was well received and the council understood that it was good for the city. Also with the bridge itself. There is a special company that runs the bridge. Before the first season, we didn’t actually have availability to the Øresund Bridge until a few weeks before we started shooting! [LAUGHS] So that was kind of tricky! They soon realised it was good advertising in itself for tourism. They have also been very helpful with all kinds of security when you are filming, such as rules for the highway and not causing traffic. In the first season, we stopped the train that runs underneath the bridge – that was interesting. We just had twenty minutes to carry out the scene until the train had to move again. Wow, it was funny. [LAUGHS] Both cities – Malmö and Copenhagen like the project very much. Malmö is a city with a lot of problems, actually. There is a lot of crime there so the show, for Malmö, is very good and they now have a lot of tourism due to series fans.

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What have been the most challenging scenes to film?

HG: In the third season towards the end, there have been a lot of hard scenes to film, which I can’t spoil at this moment! We were in a very special location that was difficult to shoot there. In the second season, the most difficult part to film was the beginning with the ship crashing into the bridge. That was hard and a lot of fun. We were filming on one boat and had to get onto a bigger ship on the sea, climbing up ladders with the camera equipment. It was the only way to do it! [LAUGHS] It was windy and there were waves bouncing the boat into the bigger ship. The captain was yelling and screaming, “What the f*** are you doing!?” [LAUGHS] That was crazy. In the first season, for me, it was a challenge with stopping of the train and the final scenes on the bridge between Martin and Saga when she has to shoot him. We were on the pylons which were 5mx5m and it was 70m down to the water. It was quite scary. It’s in the middle of the sea so it’s windy and cold. You remember those days as the good days because you had to struggle to get everything filmed. It was very nice to see the scene captured afterwards. Smaller scenes with a lot of emotion and drama that don’t have a lot of dialogue are also very challenging for me to bring to life.

What has it been like to work with Sofia Helin, especially during the emotional scenes?

HG: It has been very nice because she’s a great actor and we have been working together for so long now. We know each other so well that sometimes I don’t even have to say anything; I just look at her and she understands what I mean. She’s a real actor so she likes those scenes where there are emotions. It’s very interesting to work with a character like Saga because she is not very good at showing them. She has feelings, of course, but she doesn’t really know how to handle them. There are a lot of emotions for Saga in this season.

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Throughout the series, it has been very interesting to see comical, blunt interactions between Saga and other characters around her who do not understand her personality, combined with touching moments of serious drama. We see this in the first episode of The Bridge III from the awkward humour with Saga and Danish detective Hanne Thomsen (Kirsten Olesen), to the change in tone when Saga encounters her mother Marie-Louise Norén (Ann Petrén).

HG: There were many changes that we went through to show the drama in the scene with Saga and her mother. We tried it many different ways and discussed them with Hans Rosenfeldt so we could show Saga’s journey, but not make her reactions too strong and intense straight away. This way it can only get worse! There is a balance in comedy and drama all of the time. We work a lot during the editing process to show the comedy and Saga’s real, emotional feelings. We definitely think we should have both parts in the show. It’s just a delicate problem to make that work. It can’t be too funny because then the series becomes something else! There are a lot of opportunities to make it funny when it comes to Saga because of the misunderstandings and the way she is.

They really do complement each other well – both the humour and the drama create a bittersweet reaction from the audience. After discussing the visual style of The Bridge, this is also arguably one of the series’ strongest selling points – the ambivalence of Saga’s character which has made her an iconic and likeable heroine.

HG: This season will be very emotional. Not just for Saga but for Henrik as well. I think it’s the strongest season of the three in that sense. The series has a very strong crime plot as well as a very strong leading actor with emotions too. It will be very interesting to see how the UK audience responds to The Bridge III.

 

Words and interview by Antony Smith

The Bridge III begins this Saturday from 9pm on BBC Four, with two electrifying back-to-back episodes of the new season!