INTERVIEW: Sofie Gråbøl

Sitting down with crime drama royalty.

As we all know, Sofie Gråbøl will forever be associated by crime drama fans as Sarah Lund in The Killing, one of the most influential crime dramas of all time. Yes, Gråbøl is crime drama royalty and Lund was the role that catapulted her to global fame. But before The Killing – and after – Gråbøl has proved herself to be an excellent actress, starring in a raft of different projects on stage and screen.

One of them – Liberty, a Danish drama that tells the story of two expat families from Scandinavia living in Tanzania, who have big ideas for change but soon realise that they need more than good intentions to successfully execute their idealism – is playing out on All4 thanks to Walter Presents from this Friday (1st March).

To launch the series, Walter Presents held a Q&A with Sofie Gråbøl at the Danish embassy, which we were witness to. We’re going to bring you the full chat, even though Liberty is not a crime a drama, because Gråbøl says some very interesting things about Sarah Lund and The Killing.

The Killing Times: This series is based on a very successful set of books. How do you explain the success, because it has a very peculiar Danish take on issues compared with say, a slightly nostalgic view that we have on colonialism that we have in the UK?
Sofie Gråbøl:
First of all, the author of this trilogy, he was extremely talented. He was a very very powerful writer, author, born 1968 like myself and he passed away sadly, from cancer, when he was 40. And his last work was this trilogy about Africa and I have to say when you say colonialism, what makes this story and this trilogy and this book so powerful to me is that it’s not just about colonialism, it’s about identity. I was born in the same year as this writer and I find you have different ages, but the amazing thing about being young in the 80s is that this is a very harsh, strong portrait of my parents’ generation, who’ve been praised and praised. I also find the interesting thing is that it takes some distance in time to be able to actually see, look at the period, look at their generation and see what actually happens. And I think maybe it’s just because it’s interesting to me, personally. But I think now we have distanced ourselves enough to be able to look at this generation and this is also very much a portrait of the, do you call them ‘68ers? What do you call that generation in the UK?

TKT: Baby boomers?
SG: What? Baby boomers? [laughs] Meaning the generation who gave us women’s liberation and all of those massive the hippies, the baby boomers? [makes face] It is also a portrait, a very personal portrait from the author, who grew up in Africa. What it was like to be a child of this generation. Because this generation was so fascinating, so amazing, so brilliant, so self-centred, and which I mean as a positive thing. But it was also a generation who with that self-centredness rejected everything before them. Every authority, every tradition, every… this was year zero somehow, which made them able to achieve so much. But which also made them and this is a story about that, I think. They go out, they leave their own society, their own culture, their own traditions with all of that morality and everything that follows with it and they create their own very idealistic world where they’re gonna help these African people and very quickly it turns out that all their own, they become very deprived? What’s the word? Suddenly it’s very easy for them to suddenly have a lot of servants, suddenly you know and all the ideals that they had and their own perception of being the do-ers of good, suddenly faced with their disillusion, is that the word?

TKT: Tell us about your character…
SG: Sorry if I get off track. It’s just… it was just because I’m so fascinated with this story and this story has so many things to tell that I think it’s a maybe too tiny a label to say it’s about colonialism. My character? Well, that’s also the same story, really. She’s a nurse and a mother of two and a very very good person. A good mother, a doer of good and she wants to go to Africa to help. So the tragedy is that in all of these good intentions, she actually in all her eagerness to help and do good, she actually neglects her own children. And I relate really strongly to this story because being the child of this star generation, the baby boomers. They were like movie stars, rock stars. All of them. And the wonderful thing about being a child of them was the inspiration. Was the freedom, was the respect. You can do whatever you want to do. You’re not being oppressed like they had been, or every child had been before. But right on the other side of that very fine line, I think is or was the feeling of being just neglected. Not seen, not because they were so busy saving the world. At least my parents were. Saving the world and liberating themselves and their sexuality and their political ideals and so its’ also a story about being the generation after that generation.

TKT: Tell us about your parents…
SG: My mother was very much into the Chinese revolution and Mao’s little red book so she went to China. We had a lot of Chinese food, Chinese clothes. Very heavy coats and yeah, she was politically active and there was a lot of putting up posters with my mum. I think it was very much of the time. She was not radical in any way. It was very much a normal thing in the 70s and 80s. I grew up with my mum.  And a lot of it, I also have a stepdad who built the first… this is really a sidetrack… he, there was a first windmill, is that what you call it? It was built in the 70s and everyone laughed and now the windmill industry is very strong in Denmark. But yeah, they lived in one big collective. I remember visiting him there we were going to bed and where’s the toothbrush and there was just a big bowl of toothbrushes. [everyone laughs] That’s how collective it was. So some of it is laughable, and some of it is well, today nobody laughs at the thought of green energy and sustainable yeah.

TKT: Liberty really doesn’t paint an idealistic picture of what that generation did
SG: No but it’s funny that you ask that cos I think that’s the essence of… is that a Nordic thing? Don’t we all love stories that are… nobody wants stories that are painless or harmonic or what’s the word you use to, we don’t want that. We want strong stories that mirror our lives. And that goes, I think, for all Scandinavian drama, doesn’t it?

TKT: You were the very symbol of Nordic Noir because you created the most iconic cop of all time in many ways. And the fact that your career evolved in such diverse directions and you kind of… and you refused to do that again and again and you end up being a nurse in Tanzania.
SG: When I came to the UK to work I met, cos you are so different from us because we have to distance… well we have a great love of traditions. But it’s nothing like the English people’s love of traditions. That’s almost a little bit neurotic. You have theatre plays that has been playing since [laughs] The Mousetrap? And it’s just .. and I remember once I was offered a part, my agent called when the very start of The Killing. I didn’t really know a lot about the UK. And my agent called and said there was a show called… what’s the TV series with the mad professor and the time travelling that you’ve had since…

TKT: Doctor Who
SG: Yes! And he said it’s a TV show and it’s been going since the 50s! The 50s!

TKT: Isn’t that a good thing?
SG: Yes, but then when we came here with The Killing and we decided to stop after season three, I met so many British people going, ‘What?’ I mean, where’s the rational thinking? In stopping something that is good.

TKT: And that’s what you did with The Killing…
SG: Yeah. And so did the writer, I think. All of us did. But because we had the notion that we can’t, it has topped. Once you have that feeling, then leave. And go somewhere else and climb a new mountain. So yeah that’s very much in the essence, I think of the way we do drama in Denmark, isn’t it? We constantly look for a challenge. A new constellation. A new something that makes it hard and sometimes we succeed, sometimes you fail, obviously. When you risk, you risk failing as well. But you also risk finding something that you didn’t know you were looking for. 

TKT: You have this quality of being very versatile, and playing characters who have a lot going on…
SG: I’m hoping for them to identify. If there isn’t an identification then we’ve all failed. The writer, and the actor. Even with the cruellest character, you need identification, otherwise it’s well it’s not really drama, is it? It’s more like fairytale with good and evil. But I think any actor would tell you that what makes us really happy and fulfilled is mystery, speaking on behalf of our character. We all want to play the uncomfortable, stupid, vulnerable person you know, with all the flaws. That to me, is the first door I enter into a character. And I always had a feeling that it’s the same door that the audience enters of the character. Cos there’s not a door in the wall if it’s perfect, if it’s just heroic or… don’t you find that? That you identify with the… I experience that not to speak of The Killing, but very strongly with The Killing that a lot of people identify with that. A lot of people came up to me and said, ‘it’s so wonderful you’re not beautiful’ and I knew what they meant. They meant that we portrayed real people. That they actually believe we’re real people.

Liberty: from Friday 1st March, All4

One Comment Add yours

  1. Charlotte Carling says:

    Liberty is very good and a rather uncomfortable watch at times with all the greed and exploitation. Great ensemble.

    Gråbøl is indeed very versatile. She has good comic timing and great facial expressions that would never be put to use in a Noir series. Before The Killing she was most famous for playing one of the main characters in very popular drama/romcom Nikolaj og Julie, which is rerun every now and again in Denmark.

    A very famous scene of hers, at least domestically, is from the film Flickering Lights.


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