My 2016: Ulrich Thomsen

You can read the full ‘My 2016’ series in the new issue of Cinema Scandinavia, or by browsing our website.

Cinema Scandinavia: This year we saw you in The Commune. What was it like working with Thomas Vinterberg again, as well as such an established cast?

Ulrich Thomsen: This was the first time I worked with Thomas Vinterberg after The Celebration. So that was quite amazing. It was like coming home after an almost 20-year long journey. I owe him my career, and it was lovely to work again. I knew pretty much all of the actors from before, and they’re all great at what they do so naturally it was a joy.      

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

I always develop a character from the guidelines in the script and from conversations with the director. It’s that story you’re telling anyway. 

Erik is similar to me in the way that he’s not the “commune” type guy. I was never that. I like my own space. He’s different in many ways because the 70’s were quite different from today in the way they interact with each other. For example, sexual openness was a part of the experiment of living together. But I can easily relate to him in terms of having kids that grow up and the reality when you realise they are ready to leave the house. Also having a busy career where sometimes you have to choose the work. Luckily in real life, I have an understanding wife who takes care of the house when I’m away working.

CS: This year you also released In Embryo, a film you director, produced, wrote and had a role in. How did you find the balance between these different roles?

UT: That was fun to do but I had too many hats on. Being in it was the most disturbing part. I wanted to just direct. Also, it was a small production so a lot of the key departments, like props, I partly had to do myself too. The time we had to shoot our scenes suffered under that, but we got through it and I’m very proud of the film that world premiered in main competition at the prestigious Shanghai International Film Festival.

Currently planning the next one and this time I will not be in it. And we need slightly more money, having learned from experience. But I learned a lot. It was great that way. My years as an actor helped me a lot, but still, I have a new respect for the part of film director, mainly because everything is on your shoulder. Naturally also learned the importance of a good editor, sound and music, but that I knew already. Only here I experienced it at first hand.                 

CS: Can you tell us about In Embryo and where you found inspiration for the story?          

UT: It’s a gritty love story, based on the importance of upbringing and a sound moral. And that violence doesn’t solve violence. My own kids were a source of inspiration.     

CS: The film is primarily a US production. What was your experience working in the US and in English? How does it differ to Danish film?

UT: The production is actually Danish but we shot it in the US, which is the same as shooting in Denmark, pretty much. The biggest difference is the language really. A film is a film is a film is a film . No matter where you are. The difference is the language and the size of the production. This was a small one and that we’re used to in Denmark. Could be it’s different in other parts of the world, but that would be parts of the world where I haven’t worked yet.       

CS: You also have a role in the US series Blacklist. What can you tell us about the series and your character?

UT: The series is a huge hit. It’s in its 4th season, so I jumped in where a lot of people were already watching. I play this businessman who’s the father of Elizabeth Keen or is he… The series is a crime series where James Spader’s character has a blacklist of different criminals that he’s helping the police to find in order for him to be with Liz Keen for reasons that only he knows.    

CS: Small Town Killers looks to be your next release. What can you tell us about that film?

UT: It’s a black comedy by Ole Bornedal. A very funny thriller about two couples that want to get divorced but can only solve it with a killer for hire. And of course solving it is not so easy. The film is released in January.

CS: What do you feel makes the Danish film industry unique from other parts of the world?

UT: We have our film subsidised by the government, and that subsidy is not necessarily dependent on how many people are estimated to see it, which is very unique. The Danish Film institute can support a movie because they think it’s an important film to do culturally, compared to, for example, the USA where films are a business. Those are of course general terms.             

CS: Where else can we see you next year? 

UT: I’m currently working in LA on a TV show for Starz network, called Counterpart. It’s an espionage thriller, spiced with sci-fi. 

You can read the full ‘My 2016’ series in the new issue of Cinema Scandinavia, or by browsing our website.

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.