On the 21st August 2009, the British public first met Sarah Lund, and the dramatic landscape has never been the same since. The first season of Danish crime series The Killing (Forbrydelsen) blazed a trail for Scandinavian TV in the UK and established “Nordic Noir” as a crossover success. It introduced audiences to the richness of small-screen foreign fare, in large part to the compelling Lund. Grimly determined, ferociously clever and with an enviable taste in knitwear, Lund was at once familiar yet different. As played by the terrific Sofie Gråbøl, she was archetypal and iconic.
We were fortunate to speak with Sofie at Nordicana 2015. Warm, generous and insightful, she discussed her first reaction to the initial pitch of The Killing, what makes the series so enduring, the appeal of working on Sky Atlantic’s Fortitude and why actors are nothing without a good script.
One of the most iconic things about The Killing was how it dealt with the human cost of crime. Was that something that attracted you to the role?
Definitely. That’s the big strength of The Killing, and that’s praise to the writer (Søren Sveistrup). The crime drama, the whodunit, is just a very satisfying frame to tell a story about the human mind. Of course you can use it superficially, where it’s just the mystery, but the writer really used the genre to go much deeper into, like you suggest, a portrait of the characters and of politics, what power does to people, what grief does to people. That’s why the audience embraced it so much.
I remember when he came with the idea originally, and he said “I’m going to do twenty episodes of crime story, but there’s only one murder.” And everyone, including me, said, “this is going to be so boring! It’s going to be so slow! There’s no way this is going to hold viewers’ interest!” But actually it turned out to be the opposite. The audience appreciated that there was a chance to go deeper while they were guessing who the killer was, and really get into the story, especially about the family who lost their daughter, and the whole political plot. That’s what makes him so brilliant, and as an actor you’re always attracted to good writing. We are truly nothing without a good script.
The journey that Sarah Lund goes on, from episode one where she’s about to start a new life, to the final episode where she’s [SPOILER] on the run, that’s quite a transformation over three series. As an actor, was that something you were keen on, preventing it from just being an ordinary cop show?
Yeah, where the main character is just static. One of the interesting things about working with Søren Sveistrup is that he writes as we go along, so you have to really trust him. I didn’t know where we were going to end; he didn’t know where we were going to end. I thought after the first season that that was the end of it. When they came and said, “let’s do a second one,” I was like, “really? I think it’s finished!” So I didn’t know when it was going to end. But it was quite a journey. It couldn’t get much darker, could it? She lost everything!
More recently you’ve been seen on British screens in Fortitude. In terms of your involvement, was that much different from The Killing?
It was very different for me. Just from the fact it was an ensemble piece with more than twenty-five characters, and I was just a voice in the choir. Obviously when I did The Killing I had a very close collaboration with the writer, because I was such a big part of the project, and I wasn’t on Fortitude. So it was a very different process. It was very much Simon Donald’s writing, and I enjoyed that as well. I was at a point in my life where that was really what I needed.
You mentioned the ensemble cast. You have Michael Gambon, Christopher Eccleston, Stanley Tucci, very talented actors. Was that an appeal of the project as well?
Very much so. I have admired Michael Gambon since I saw The Singing Detective when I was a young teenager. It made a huge impression on me. And to work with him and Stanley Tucci obviously, and a lot of great actors, that meant a lot.
And last year you were on the British stage (in James III: The True Mirror). Is working in theatre internationally something you are keen to do?
It was a huge experience for me. It was the challenge of my life workwise. I walked past the theatre the other night when we came here, and I looked at the building and just thought, “I can’t believe I did that!” That I had the nerve! But it was such a great piece of writing, Rona Munro’s play, and I couldn’t say no to that. Yes, I would like to do more, but I have two children in Copenhagen. When you do theatre you’re away for months. With Fortitude, I can fly back and forth. Copenhagen is not far away, so some days I woke up in Copenhagen, got on the first flight to London, filmed all day and was in my bed at midnight in Copenhagen. But theatre is different, because you have to be there six days a week. But yes, I would definitely like to do more. Challenges are good. It’s good to feel the knees shaking!