Cinema Scandinavia: Can you please tell us about your character in Across the Waters?
David Dencik: It’s a character that, contrary to other characters in films, is not particularly interesting as such. Across the Waters doesn’t deal with characters, but rather it deals with a group of people who are fleeing. That is the task of the director and the actors: we have to place ourselves in a situation that involves improvisation from one minute to the next – needing to escape the city, find food and everything you can see in the film. So the character in that sense is less important.
I mean, my character Arne has some character traits: He’s a typical musician, flamboyant and playful. However, as the film goes on he realises the gravity of the situation and seriousness of what is happening in Denmark. This is something that his wife understood from the beginning. So he grows during the film and you can maybe say that he sacrifices himself at the end, but this is rather open to interpretation.
I’ve worked with the director Nicolo Donato before on the film called Brotherhood, which is about a gay Nazi. That film involved much more character work. My character there was conflicted between his Nazi ideology and his homosexuality. Many dramas are like that, but in this particular film (Across the Waters), it was a bit more of a history lesson because my character should not prevail in the circumstances he is under.
CS: We saw you earlier this year in The Day Will Come, which seems more like a character drama…
DD: In a way, yes. There was a clear antagonist, which was the headmaster of the school. I was a character conflicted between what he knows is right, which is to intervene in the school, and then his conflict of employment. The character was much smaller, so I couldn’t develop him too much, but I wanted to portray the fact that he knew what was happening but couldn’t intervene. Compared to Across the Waters, there aren’t many scenes where any particular character trait is shown – maybe the fact that he takes his guitar with him when he escapes plus the fact he has spent all of the money that his wife had saved in order for them to escape to Sweden when they did. Those are kind of character traits.
CS: And your character really wanted to bring that guitar with him…
DD: Because he didn’t understand the consequences or the gravity of the situation as was the case for many Jewish people or Danes for that matter. He didn’t see that it was a matter of life or death, and that is actually historically correct because many people didn’t see it like that. If a film was to be made just about Arne Itkin before October 1943, I think it would’ve been a film about a musician who might’ve been a big infidel, might’ve played gigs and had lots of alcohol – a very typical bohemianism lifestyle full of optimism and completely naïve to what was taking place outside of Copenhagen.
CS: You’ve played a wide variety of roles spanning genres and decades. How do you adapt to each role?
DD: I somehow never take the genre too seriously. It’s very hard to act a genre but I like to think I work from the outside in. For instance, now Follow the Money season two is airing in Denmark and I’m wearing a wig. Now, I’m a balding man and those things kind of affect me and it may be a stupid thing, a wig, but suddenly you start acting a bit different. You start moving your head in different ways because the hair would start falling and suddenly that character has been created. It kind of dictates many of the characters. I did the script and I understand that it is not a comedy, I read the script and I think I have a pretty good understanding through whoever does the role. There’s no way I should dominant the entire film in that sense. That’s what I hate not to do at least. To be a bit let’s say sensitive to the entire script, that could maybe define how I work with different characters.
CS: What do you feel are the biggest challenges facing Danish actors today?
DD: For me, that would be the English language. I work in both Danish and Swedish films and television series so I change between those two languages and that’s challenging. An actor is his language in many ways otherwise, he would be something else, a dancer maybe, or a mime. I rely on my language skills and I think my English – I mean I get by with it but the more I speak English the freer I will feel acting in English. I remember the first couple of gigs I did in English it was a mild sense of panic – having the self-confidence and feeling like I have the lines right in a language I don’t speak on a daily basis. Many Scandinavians are pretty good at English compared to many other countries or continents. English is like a language that has been in place in Scandinavian culture and I think that is why Scandinavian actors, in general, are doing well abroad. Many different TV shows and films and ways of performing, at least the younger generation of Scandinavian actors are working in English. That is a challenge.
CS: Do you feel that’s what the industry is moving towards?
DD: I think that’s the way the world is heading. Even Hollywood is looking out for more actors with a slight dialect. When I do self-takes they tell me to perform it in my own dialect, it’s almost if they want that dialect I can bring to the table. And sometimes they want me to act in some other dialect, but I’m not very good at other dialects at all. I think the globalisation is not confined to the world market, but the drama is very much influenced by the globalisation. It’s easy for me to cast for something that would’ve been impossible to do before the internet.
CS: What do you feel makes Scandinavian films so popular abroad?
DD: Well, Scandinavian films are by far more popular in the Western hemisphere. I’m not sure Scandinavian drama is big in Mongolia or something, though who knows – maybe! I think it is because we are so adaptable, we come across as something that reminds people of their own society, whether you are in France or Paraguay. But with a slight difference. I think people are curious about Scandinavia. From the outside, it is almost like an unexplored territory. It seems that people are increasingly interested in Scandinavia. Not only through drama but through gastronomy, just ordinary tourism and nature and stuff like that.
You should also pay attention to the fact that it’s a thriving film community in Denmark and it’s gaining quickly in Sweden and in Norway. Also, the TV industry is thriving. One success leads to another and there’s a great amount of self-confidence at least on Danish television. The younger actors, the grass roots if you will, are full of self-confidence because they know they have means to break into the industry. Everybody here watches Danish speaking drama and American speaking drama with a strong sensation of ‘we get it!’ and a strong sensation of ‘we understand it!’. When I was a kid I watched the American Series Dynasty, that was a completely different world from what I was used to. It was in Texas and it fascinated me. But today it’s not so much a different world. I see Breaking Bad and I feel like I can go there and understand these people. It’s as if the language gap between these worlds is so narrow. All you read about in Danish papers is American politics, especially this year’s presidential election. You don’t read about what goes on in other countries. It’s as though we have chosen to be an American state or part of the British empire or something. All of our associations or reflections are reflected upon these cultures. Much more so than the French culture or the Portuguese culture or the Finnish culture for that matter.
CS: And where can we see you next year?
DD: There is this series – Top of the Lake – I did season two. Season one was shot maybe four or five years ago in New Zealand. Season two was shot this year in Sydney and I’m in it. That will air somehow, somewhere. Then I am in Follow the Money season two, which is currently airing in Denmark and I’m sure will premiere abroad soon. After that, my family is growing and I have to pay attention to them!