We chat to Henrik’s new Danish partner
With Saga starting out in prison and Henrik back on the beat in Copenhagen, it was inevitable that the Danish detective would be partnered up with somebody else. Audiences will no doubt recognise Henrik’s blunt and wise-cracking sidekick, Jonas Mandrup, as “that guy” from Borgen and The Killing II. “I’ve been a good guy, a bad guy, a good cop, a bad cop, an understanding husband, and someone with a lot of problems – but it gives me a sense of freedom when I can be funny. Just as in life.”
We caught up with actor Mikael Birkkjær to talk about what it has been like to join the final season of The Bridge and play Birgitte Nyborg’s husband, not to mention Sarah Lund’s romantic interest in such iconic Scandi shows.
WARNING: If you haven’t seen it already, this interview contains spoilers for The Killing II.
Inspired by the bad cop interrogation techniques of Jonas, we got straight to the point to see if the actor would give anything away about the identity of the villain in The Bridge IV. “What? You’re asking me if I’m the killer in The Bridge IV? I can’t give anything away.” After having flashbacks to The Killing II, we’re still not convinced of this suspect’s innocence. Nevertheless, we believed Mikael’s confession that he has been a fan of The Bridge before joining the well-established series. “I’ve known Thure for many years, as I played his daddy once – when we were a lot younger [LAUGHS]. I’ve worked with Sarah [Boberg] many times, as well as the Danish and Swedish crew, so it felt like a family.” Mikael has also performed in Nikolaj Gogol’s The Auditor, with Thure Lindhardt and Sarah Boberg earlier this year. “It was like The Bridge reunion on stage! I was a funny guy – people were laughing.”
Despite being referred to as “that guy”, Mikael has been recognised on the street for the award-winning series he’s starred in. “It happens when I’m out of the country and in Copenhagen. People come up to me and say, “You! You’re that guy!”, and I say, “Which guy?” – “You must be that guy!” – “Who?” – “You’re the killer! – “Yes. I was the killer.” It happens. Not that much. Sometimes [LAUGHS]. I would be biking through the city with people shouting, “You did it! You’re the killer! You f**k!” If you shoot Sarah Lund, there’s going to be repercussions. “Recently, there was also a group of Asian people screaming as if we were The Beatles!” Mikael exclaims, “We walked out of the theatre after a performance of The Auditor to get on our bikes, and they couldn’t believe we didn’t have any bodyguards around us. They were screaming at us and asking us questions about what it’s like working together. They were very sweet, but it was crazy! [LAUGHS]” We completely understand this reaction – from the screaming fan perspective, we mean.
So, who is Jonas Mandrup? He’s very frank and funny, which bears a striking similarity to Saga. In our interview with Thure Lindhardt, he described Jonas as “one of those people who says what he thinks in a very blunt way, whereas Saga can’t help it. He can definitely help it – he should know better”. “[LAUGHS] Yeah! Thure called me first to tell me there would be a new Danish police character on The Bridge and I should expect a call,” Mikael tells us. “I met with Thure at the studio in Copenhagen to do a few scenes and, because Jonas is so rude and homophobic, we were laughing at all his crazy lines. The director [Henrik Georgsson] who filmed the first four episodes was laughing and said, “OK, this is going to work”. I turn to Thure and say, “This is going to work. This is going to happen. We’re going to have fun. We’re going to do this. Yes, let’s do this.” Later, I got the call to say I had the part, and when I spoke to Thure he said, “Yeah, I knew, I knew! Let’s do this!”.”
The fun continued on the set of The Bridge IV. Don’t let the macabre subject matter fool you. “When you’re acting in a serious show that deals with death and you’re around this crazy policewoman – again; the crazy policewoman, as she was a bit strange in The Killing too – we were laughing and laughing during takes. Saga is so special; she comes out with these lines and she’s such a difficult person to get to know. My character would look at Saga like an animal. Is she real or some kind of replicant?” This is the first time we’ve heard Saga described using a Blade Runner reference. “We laughed so much, and I enjoyed working with Sofia Helin a lot. We knew it was the last season, so everyone was happy yet thinking, “OK, this is the last time…” But I was the new guy!”
In the fourth episode, Jonas and Saga partner up for the first time to visit the Sonnings. On their way to question the suspects, they discuss the idea of small talk in the lift, which stands out as one of Mikael’s favourite on-screen moments. “It was hard not to laugh in the scene! I’ve never worked with Sofia before. I was thinking, “Who is this woman when she isn’t Saga?”.” Mikael ruminates, “Sofia is a wife and mother, with a husband and two children back home, and she’s a very sweet and professional person to work with. She’s been playing this character for a very long time, so she could switch Saga on and off – from putting on the clothes to the nervous mannerisms. It was fascinating to see. We would be sat having a coffee and be told, “We’re ready to shoot”, and shoom, you’re back in the lift with her.”
As well as being a star of Nordic Noir and drama, Mikael is a proud fan of both Scandi and Euro crime series. “I was a big fan of Swedish shows before the Nordic Noir wave, like Wallander. I am also a great fan of the British series Line of Duty – my wife and I love it. So, if you can ask the BBC to hurry up and release season four! Another one we love is Happy Valley. It’s very good.” It seems that Mikael can’t get enough of UK police procedurals. “So, if you can call the BBC… [LAUGHS] Speed it up!” Happy Valley is a hit with The Legacy‘s Carsten Bjørnlund too, “I think it reminds us of ourselves; there are similarities in the acting and the environment. We love it, apparently! [LAUGHS]”
UK audiences responded in a similar way to The Killing, in which Mikael played Sarah Lund’s partner, love interest and nemesis, Inspector Ulrik Strange. “When we did The Killing II, I didn’t know I was the killer until we were filming episode seven,” Mikael shares. “I was sat with Sofie [Gråbøl] thinking, what’s happening, what’s the problem? The producers said, “Listen now, Mikael, you are the guy” – “What? How could I be?” – “Well, if you think back…” – “Oh, yeah, I wasn’t there when that happened.” Sofie was like, “I had been thinking about that!” When we were filming in Spain for the Afghanistan scenes, we both knew I was the killer at that point, but I couldn’t play it that way. It was little strange to be told that you did these terrible things! [LAUGHS]” This revelation didn’t affect his number one fan. “I got a copy of the last episode on DVD the day before it aired. I told my daughter, who was 17-years-old at the time, “Daughter, you mustn’t say a word until Monday morning, but I have the last episode of The Killing to watch” – “What? You’ve got it? Oh, my God!” So, we watched it together and she slowly realised that her father was a beast. She said, “Oh, my God. I’m going to get so much street cred from this!” When she went to school on Monday, everyone was like, “It was your father!”
Having also starred opposite Sofie Gråbøl in Paprika Steen’s Aftermath, Mikael only had good things to say about collaborating with the actress. “I’ve known Sofie for twenty years and she is wonderful. We met for coffee yesterday and wandered around the harbour of Copenhagen, asking each other about our lives and other normal things. We are friends.” That’s what we like to hear. “When we did Aftermath, it was our first time filming together, but we worked in the theatre beforehand. I would say Sofie is one of the best to read and discuss a scene with. I was more like, “It’s written here, it’s written this way, so it should be like this.” Sofie would say, “Yes, I can see that Mikael, but I don’t think she’s really happy in this scene.” She’s extremely well prepared but open to make changes too.”
In addition to Sofia Helin and Sofie Gråbøl, Mikael has shared the spotlight with another leading Nordic heroine – Sidse Babett Knudsen. This time, he played Philip Christensen, the husband of the first Danish Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg in Borgen. “We had a great time. I knew of [Sidse] when we first started but I didn’t know her. We acted together in a casting session – and I was good at it! [LAUGHS]” Mikael muses, “She was happy about it too and was like, “OK, you’re my husband now.” When I got the part, I would be starring in another DR TV series for the third time in a row. Previously, I did Sommer, then The Killing II, and then Borgen. The producers said they’ve never done this before, but now they saw me as the next Prime Minister’s husband.” Playing the supporting male role to a powerhouse female protagonist was welcomed by the star. “Someone on the street asked me, “How does it feel to be a man and not be the most important part of a marriage?” I said, “It’s nice. It’s very nice! I love strong women, what can I say? Inside every man, there is a woman. Come on, guys, there’s a woman. You don’t have to be this macho guy; you can be nice and relaxed, it’s fine.” I think we can all agree with Mikael on that one.
Mikael Birkkjær is represented by Panorama Agency ApS
Interview by Antony Smith
Stay tuned in for the next episode on BBC Two tomorrow night from 9pm. The latest episodes are also available on digital download via iTunes here