This article is part of the new issue of Cinema Scandinavia, which focuses on women in Nordic film and television. To find more great articles like this, order your copy of our magazine.
After one week, this article is available to members only. Never miss out by becoming a member of Cinema Scandinavia! Click here to get started.
It is fair to say that the acting career of Marie Louise Wille eliminates any pre-existing ideas about what an acting professional can or should engage with. Her CV includes experience as diverse as acting for stage, film and television, community art projects as well as teaching.
To most audiences in Scandinavia, she is well-known for her authentic style, in-depth approach and ability to build characters which are one hundred percent believable. Television viewers in Northern Europe might have seen her cast in the part as Mille Kaiser in the acclaimed DR television drama series Sommer from 2008.
Throughout the series, spanning two seasons and several repeats on DR TV’s on-demand service, viewers got to know the full complexity of Mille as they witnessed and identified with any victories and failures she landed herself in. They were situations, which she managed to ease herself out of as the first season ended and the second progressed.
Not only could viewers see how loving she could be, but they also learnt about the deep flaws in her personality such as her egotistical behaviours and pronounced tendency to hardly ever think before taking action, let alone react.
Sommer provided a rare acting for screen opportunity to develop complex characters with interesting stories to tell.
Wille regards Mille as someone who inevitably will appeal to both men and women for different reasons, and this is reflected in the way both sexes tend to engage with Mille as a character.
Marie Louise Wille: It is my impression that although some women did not like Mille they could still identify with her. Some men consider her too harsh, because she can be very mean. But most women understood her complexity.
Some of DR’s senior TV executives suggested more ‘sweet’ scenes were recorded to create a balanced, softer character but luckily, for viewers at least, the idea got dropped.
Following her work on Sommer, there was a period where she took a couple of film parts including the role as Sanne, a woman in her 40s, who begins an affair with an 18-year-old boy in Peter Ganzler’s film Dreng (Boy).
She also played a mother cast as Marianne in Søren Kragh-Jacobsen’s film Det som Ingen Ved (What No One Knows).
There is little doubt that Wille’s work knows few if any, creative boundaries, not only does she thrive in environments driven by diversity, change and exploration of the new and unknown, she seeks it out in abundance too.
She trained and received a traditional drama education at Statens Teaterskole (The Danish National School of Performance Arts), widely regarded as one of the leading and most prestigious drama schools in Denmark and perhaps in Scandinavia overall.
A very young Wille, aged seven knew from early on how much she loved acting and wanted to take it as far as she could. Despite that first realisation, a few years went on where Wille seemed committed to the idea of pursuing a career in journalism and writing and during this period she also spent some time in Moscow and got involved in some political movement before realising that she considered herself as being far more ‘artistic at heart’.
Wille has spent years building up her enviable portfolio of acting work. The height of it might have been when she worked at Aarhus Teater. At the acclaimed theatre, she nurtured her love for theatre and drama experimenting with a range of styles, working closely with Swedish director Stefan Larsson when she starred in Fanny and Alexander as Emilie, All My Dreams Come True with director Christian Lollike and Other Desert Cities with Thomas Bendixen among others.
It was a time of incredible intensity. Wille really enjoyed experiencing the Swedish theatre and acting tradition through her work with Stefan Larsson. She sees the style as quite different to the Danish one.
Marie Louise Wille: There is a particular emotional intensity in the Swedish tradition, which I like. Stefan Larsson insists on creating a space and a sense of complete peace when you work, let the art and musicality lead. I see this as being very different to the Danish tradition which tends to be more about feeling cosy and having a bit of fun. I like that idea and sense of creating a more serious atmosphere during acting and performance.
Wille has always worked hard for her craft and success. She had to be strong for herself, be determined about what she wanted to achieve. During the early years, in particular, her parents might have spent too much time worrying about her and questioning the career path she took and the decisions she made. Particularly, when she did not get into Statens Teaterskole the first time but her brother got in quickly and built his career at a faster pace than she managed to do.
Marie Louise Wille: It took them a bit to recognise that I was different to my brother and regard my achievements for what they were, they were highly valuable too. They worried a lot about me, how I was going to get on in life, how disappointing things might turn out for me. I remember my mother talking to me about all my ‘non-acting talents’.
The truth is that Wille is academically minded, too.
Marie Louise Wille: I could have gone down a different route, a more academic one. I could have got good grades at secondary school or university. I told my mother this was exactly what complicated things for me, the fact that I had a range of skills and potential. My mother got very upset with me.
Very little goes over Wille’s head, she is a thinker and regards her profession as more than just pure acting, she sees it as part of something wider, sees in the context of the society we live in. There is theory and there is politics, and she is passionate about both. When the subject of our conversation turns to politics, her commitment becomes very apparent.
Marie Louise Wille: Despite my upbringing, I am not a communist. It has been a long process to accept it, because I also have this romantic notion, I believe in the good in every person, but I know this also forms the basis of most political and religious foundation and thinking. In Marxist tradition, there is a tendency to view workers as better people than lawyers or chief operating officers of large corporations, and I find all of that a bit too black and white. It is too square and naive.
Proud and secure in her political viewpoints, partly a product of being born and bred in a communist family and tradition, and partly just about being curious and engaged in current affairs. It is obvious that she also has the foundation of knowledge to back it up. Her position and belief is more complex deriving from a range of theory and schools of political thinking.
Marie Louise Wille: Although I consider myself more of a social democrat I do not see anything wrong with a system where I can be valued and paid for coming up with a good idea, so I am liberal in that respect. I believe it is important to be able to express myself and generate ideas, even if they are edgy.
Her view, or approach, seems irrespective of topic, discipline and level, Wille has a way of connecting her craft and profession to the bigger picture, and it appears to seep right through every aspect of her career and life. It is deep within her and is entirely genuine.
Marie Louise Wille: For me, the two have always been closely connected. My romantic notion of the idea of the community, everyone looking out for each other and a society where everyone does that will always be a better society to me.
Wille certainly never stands still, she likes to develop and take on new challenges, be constantly on the move and never procrastinate. That acting is her craft and profession for life cannot be argued, but she likes to take on more of a lead on things too, lead a team or a group, work and inspire in a learning environment.
Marie Louise Wille: To be honest, I can be a bit of a control freak, I have that in me. I find it hard just to let someone else lead the creative side of things as I really enjoy playing an active part in that. Having more than one interest is mainly a high point, but it can feel like a weakness at times. I do wish that I could embrace the creative process even more than I do, take instructions and ideas I am given, and just go with the flow, accept it for what it is and not feel the need to change stuff.
She also teaches Meisner technique and sometimes leads community arts projects. Earlier this year she directed a film project titled De Fremmede (Strangers), which involved children at a school on an island in Denmark. The core theme was about exploring the fear of people or groups we do not know and are unfamiliar with.
Marie Louise Wille: Right now the issue is current and more topical than ever before. We are right in the middle of a refugee crisis. I view the film as being about both parties making an effort, the necessity of meeting halfway, being curious and open-minded towards each other.
One thing is certain, Wille is on a fascinating journey. It is highly creative and she does not know the end result of it yet and why should she want to know, the best events in life often happen when we least expect them to, when we do not know what is going to materialise or when. That is usually life at its most interesting.