Norwegian crime drama Eyewitness (Øyevitne) is released today on DVD. The series focuses on Philip and Henning, two teen boys who witness a brutal murder but say nothing, fearing reprisals from the killer but also the exposure of their sexual relationship. Helen Sikkeland (Anneke von der Lippe) local sheriff and coincidentally Philip’s new foster mother, investigates the case which comes dangerously close to home. We found it “a taut, dark and engrossing thriller” and so we were delighted to speak with stars Axel Bøyum (Philip) and Odin Waage (Henning) via email and phone respectively to discuss the most challenging aspects of playing their characters, the international attention the series has received, and their approach to Philip and Henning’s tender relationship.
According to NRK over 600 candidates auditioned for the roles of Henning and Philip. Were you aware of that when you first became involved in the project? How did you prepare for your audition with such strong competition?
Axel: No, I found out after I got the part. But I had a feeling it was a lot of people auditioning because I was in and out of auditions 13 times. The audition period went on for 6 months.
Odin: I actually didn’t know how many was in for the auditions. So I just came in and tried to be in the situation as best as I could, being myself and doing the best I could.
Few shows feature young lead characters in a gay relationship, but Øyevitne handles this in a refreshing, tender and natural way. How did you approach those scenes?
Axel: At first I did not know they had a gay relationship. The last audition round we got the message that these two best friends we auditioned for also had a relationship; they were boyfriends. At first it was a shock, because I did not see it coming. But in the end as an actor I just saw it as a challenge.
Odin: I thought about Henning and Philip, the connection they had with each other, and especially what they went through with the trauma with the murders. I just thought about how we can have a strong connection with someone, and it doesn’t matter really if it’s a boy-and-boy or a girl-and-girl. When you feel strongly connected to another person, you’re kind of drawn to each other.
Axel: In Norway they only asked about the gay part of my role, but I found the foster-kid experience more rare. I think that homosexuality is so common these days, so I wouldn’t get too deep into that aspect. In that way I think it became, as you said, in a more natural way.
Both Henning and Philip experience emotional turmoil after witnessing the murders. The characters go through a lot. What were the most challenging aspects of your role?
Axel: The most challenging part was that constant fear you had to carry through all the episodes. Me and the director Jarl [Emsell Larsen] worked a lot on that together. How that fear and frustration makes you. And the part of being a foster-kid living with new parents. I read a lot about that.
Odin: The most challenging was to carry all this [emotion] around and live a normal life as Henning. To carry it inside and let that shine through when, at the same time, I’m not supposed to show anything, keeping the secrets and all the frustration from the family.
Jarl Emsell Larsen is a very experienced writer and director. What was he like to work with? Did he allow you much freedom in how you interpreted the part?
Axel: Jarl is great. He was the writer as well as director, so we had many talks about the character and different kinds of emotions my character would go through. So we agreed on the character from the very beginning and he let me interpret the part that way. He’s a great guy who I talk to often, and he still gives me advice.
Odin: I was very glad to work with him. I felt like he gave me the space to understand my character but at the same time he was clear with what he wanted from Henning. We found a good balance for how it should be. And I’m grateful for working with him, he’s very professional.
It has been a year since series aired in Norway. It was well reviewed by critics and 500000 viewers saw the first episode. Has the series impacted the roles you are offered, or how you are recognised at home?
Axel: After the series I played in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time here in Norway, which got great reviews. I’m now working in the biggest theatre in Norway and shooting a TV series in Helsinki. [Øyevitne] was a great breakthrough for me.
Odin: I’ve got a part in a play here in Norway, so I can continue with acting, which I’m very grateful for. There have been people who have stopped me in the street and told me that they enjoyed the show, which I really appreciate. It’s very weird, people thinking of me as Henning, but a lot of fun.
Øyevitne had its world premiere at TV festival Screen Mania in Paris, has been broadcast across Europe and is now being released in the UK. How does it feel to receive such international attention for the series?
Odin: yeah, I think it’s great. I’m very happy about the series personally, how it all turned out. It’s my dream to live as an actor so it’s just all good and very fun to see that it’s going somewhere. [The international attention] means a lot, and I hope it’s going to go well.
Axel: It’s great to see the series receive attention internationally. I’ve got fan letters and followers on Instagram from all over Europe. So it makes me glad that people like it outside Norway also.
Eyewitness (Øyevitne) is released on DVD today (14 September) courtesy of Simply Media. Read our 4 star review of the series here.