The Nordisk Film and TV Fund Interviews Kormákur

Click here to read the interview

For his first TV drama as creator, director and producer, Baltasar Kormákur (pictured) has reunited some of Iceland’s top talents, from promising directors Baldvin Z (Life in a Fishbowl), Oskar Thór Axelsson (Black’s Game) to actors Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (XL) and Ingvar E. Sigurðsson (Of Horses and Men).

While putting the final touches to his Hollywood epic/adventure Everest, he spoke to us about Trapped (backed by Nordisk Film & TV Fond) as well as Viking backed by Universal Studios.

What new twist will you bring to the ‘Nordic noir’ with the 10×60’ series Trapped?
Baltasar Kormákur: Iceland has not yet been at the forefront of TV drama, unlike the rest of the Nordic region and I felt we needed to be part of it. I wanted to create a great Icelandic crime story that would make the best use of the country’s stunning landscape and unique weather conditions. The small fishing village where the action is set is very much a microcosm of the entire country. People feel trapped in the village because there is one small port where a ferry comes from Denmark, bringing along smuggling and various criminal activities as it’s the only seaway into the country. One day a corpse is found in the ocean at the same time as the ferry arrives in the small port. Because of the storm, passengers are stuck in the village. That’s the start for the intricate plot.

Trapped is also very much character-driven. The main character, seasonal cop Andri Olafsson has to deal with his own personal problems while investigating the crime. He is raising his two daughters in the fishing village as his ex-wife has gone back to Reykjavik, and he has to live with his in-laws because he hasn’t finished the house they were supposed to move into. So he is stuck emotionally and physically.

I’m very proud of the storyline written together with Clive Bradley and Sigurjon Kjartansson.

In terms of crew, who is involved?
The crew is very much the ‘usual suspects’ who have been working with me a long time, such as DoP Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson who did Jar City, White Night Wedding, The Deep, as well as Of Horses and Men. Then Elisabet Ronalsdóttir who has worked with me on Jar City, Contraband, The Deep, is editing.

I’m also bringing young directors who have been successful – Baldvin Z [Life in a Fishbowl], Oskar Thor Axelsson [Black’s Game], plus a young director, Börkur Sigþórsson who did the short film –Come to Harm (Best Short at Eddas 2012) and whose feature debut Mules I’m producing. Those guys are very talented and can bring a commercial edge to a project.

What about the cast? Are you going to have non-Icelandic actors as well?
There is the Danish actor Bjarne Henriksen who played in Borgen, The Killing, andCelebration among others. But the rest is the crème de la crème of Icelandic actors, such as Ólafur Darri Ólafsson who plays the lead, Ingvar E. Sigurðsson, Þorsteinn Bachmann, Þorsteinn Gunnarsson, Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir and Ilmur Kristjánsdóttir just to cite a few.

How do you feel about working on a long running show? Many top directors feel TV drama is more interesting than feature film these days …
This is a new way to direct but I do love films and don’t prefer one format to the other. I think it’s a great way to use all Icelandic talents and bring them together on a major project. It’s so gratifying to give the opportunity to many of them to work on a huge international project.

The international distributor Dynamic TV has been working on pre-sales since last spring. How has been the response from international broadcasters so far?
Dynamic has confirmed that ZDF and France Television have joined the Scandi TV stations DR, SVT, YLE, NRK and of course RUV that commissioned the show. Dynamic is still negotiating with many territories such as the UK, and the remake rights are sought after by US companies. We’ve never had so much interest on a project so early in the game and we can now develop it at a bigger scale.

After Contraband, 2 Guns and Everest, Universal Studios has agreed to back your Viking project that you’ve tried to pull off the ground for more than a decade. It must be very special to have a Hollywood studio behind your ‘dream’ project …
Everest which was another huge challenge is now almost finished. Once more I’ve showed Universal I could deliver.

When you deal with a project like Viking you want to involve the best partners and be in an environment where you know the ropes, what to ask for etc. Universal gives me a lot of trust and it’s thrilling to have them on board. The film will be shot in Iceland and I will have pretty much all creative control. It will be my vision of the Icelandic Vikings, not a historical reconstruction. Mel Gibson’s Apocalypso has inspired me in that sense.

Ólafur Egill Egilsson is working on the script with you. What will be the exact story?
It will be about Vikings settling in Iceland, taking Irish slaves. One of the main characters is an Irishman, caught in a feud between two Norse warriors fighting for land. What’s different about the project is that it will go deep into the Viking culture and show how their daily life was at the time.

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.