My 2016: Ólafur Darri Ólafsson

Cinema Scandinavia: Trapped has become incredibly popular abroad. What did you think it was about the series that made it well-liked among international audiences?

Ólafur Darri Ólafsson: Everything starts with the story, and Baltasar Kormakur provided us with a great one. The crime element of the story is the hook, but I believe it is the characters and the life of the village that keeps it going. I always find that people are interested in what kind of crazy people live in Greenland, Iceland, Northern Norway, etc. Most people in our world live in cities that don’t see a lot of snow and are pretty disconnected from the characters of the ones in Trapped, and I think people love getting a glimpse into their world. At least I know that I love it when I can watch other people freeze their butts off on TV from the comfort of my couch!

CS: How did you want to develop your character, Andri, and in what ways do you feel you are similar to him?

ÓDÓ: I remember meeting Baltasar for a cup of coffee at least two years before we started shooting the series. He told me he wanted me to play the part of Andri, so I think they always had me in mind when writing the script. I feel that made my job as easy as possible.

Andri is a fascinating person in many ways; he can be stubborn and difficult yet he really cares for his family and has an empathy for people. Being a police officer is one of the jobs that is incredibly tough. Our police officers see so much like this that gets hidden from the rest of society. The Icelandic police were lovely enough to give me a few hours of their time so I was allowed to ask a number of stupid questions.

CS: We spoke to Baltasar Kormakur about Trapped and he felt it was absolutely necessary to have you in the leading role. It seems like you have a very good working relationship…

ÓDÓ: I love working with Baltasar Kormakur and I feel like that I’ve had the opportunity to do so more than once. He has directed me a few times in the theatre and I have been in four of his films. He is really hardworking and won’t settle for anything but the best. I also believe that his background as an actor gives him a unique insight into directing other actors. Baltasar has a way of getting the best performance out of me, he stands on the side but when you need him he’ll know the right thing to say to get you back on track.

CS: This year we’ve seen you in a number of US productions. What is your experience like working on international films and how do you believe it helps you as an actor?

 ÓDÓ: When you come from such a small country, it is quite useful – almost necessary – to broaden your horizon if you can. I feel that I’ve been fortunate enough to have been offered the opportunity to work in the US as well as in Europe.

It is interesting, though, that wherever you go, the kind of people you work with stays the same. Crews are full of the same hardworking, loyal professionals wherever you go.

CS: Next year we’ll see you in some television series. How do you find working on films and television series to be different?

ÓDÓ: I think work on film and television used to be more different, but now it seems that the audience and the film-makers have discovered the freedom that comes with being able to tell a story over many episodes and in many cases seasons. Now you can have the opportunity to work with top actors and directors on television series, which is pretty great.

CS: What is your opinion on the current success of the Icelandic film and television industry?

 ÓDÓ: The Icelandic film industry is doing well when it comes to quality. Films like Rams, Sparrows, Of Horses and Men and Heartstone plus television series like Trapped, Case and soon Prisoners have built our reputation and that helps when it comes to financing both in Iceland and abroad. I am also very happy to see that investment in script writers and script development has increased. That has always been our Achilles heal which is understandable when you have a low budget.

CS: As you move towards more international productions, do you wish to continue working in Iceland?

ÓDÓ: I love working in Iceland and it’s where I live. The art scene here is vibrant and full of talented people. I also want to produce more and own the rights to a couple of books that would shoot in Iceland. Basically, as long as the stories are good and the projects are interesting I’m all for it.

CS: We’re speaking to you while you’re in New Zealand – what are you working on there? Do fans recognise you from Trapped? 

ÓDÓ: I’ve been working on a film called MEG, directed by Jon Turteltaub and starring Jason Statham and Li BingBing. It’s an action film that will come to cinemas in 2018. Funnily enough, I have been spotted by a fan who recognised me from Trapped, that was fun.

CS: Where can we see you next year?

ÓDÓ: First up is Emerald City, which is a television series based on The Wizard of Oz and is directed by Tarsem Singh. It has its premiere right after New Years in the US. After that, who knows! I’m heading to the US to shoot another season of Lady Dynamite for Netflix which should premiere next year, and I’m hoping Trapped season two will start shooting the second season next autumn.

Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.