As UK viewers wait in anticipation for the final series of the phenomenal Swedish/Danish crime drama The Bridge to begin, we spoke to its stars, Sofia Helin and Thure Lindhardt, about their characters’ relationship, the loneliness of modern society, and how awkward that iconic Porsche is to drive…
How does it feel to leave these amazing characters behind? You’ve obviously only done the final two series, Thure, but you’ve both created these incredibly rich and complex characters.
SH: I feel content, and happy, and relieved!
TL: Yeah, it feels right. It feels quite good.
First of all: is this really the end? No chance of revisiting Saga Norén at 50 as you once suggested, Sofia?
TL: No, no.
SH: Or 65…That could have been interesting.
What was it like joining the show at a relatively late stage, Thure? It must have been a slightly difficult job, given that Saga had this established partnership with Martin before you stepped into the breach.
TL: Well, as an actor you don’t look at it like that. You just read the script and look at the character, and it wasn’t as if I was going to play the other character (Martin). It was brilliant because I was entering a world where everybody knew what they were doing, from actors to make-up artists! It was actually really nice.
What was that transition like for you, Sofia?
SH: It was a big step, and it was a challenge to begin with, but then we found Thure and we started working, and it was brilliant. When you make a change, it hurts a bit. The situation was strange and insecure, but then it was perfect, and I actually now feel that it was the best thing that could have ever happened to The Bridge. It lifted it to a new level.
Saga and new partner Henrik Sabroe have an incredible relationship. How would you define it as we head into series four – as a love story, or as a deep friendship?
TL: I think both would work, in its awkward, undefined way. That’s what they’re trying to deal with as well – what is this relationship? Especially Henrik’s character.
I think it’s one of the best love stories on television. It’s absolutely wonderful to see these two characters come together. Henrik seems pretty well-adjusted when we first meet him, but then it turns out that he’s got these really deep-seated psychological issues. Saga is autistic, and is dealing with the huge trauma of her family problems. It’s a sort of meeting of minds, isn’t it?
TL: Yeah, they need each other. They find out that they need each other.
Thure, you’ve said in the past that you didn’t know Henrik’s full backstory when you first took the role.
TL: I didn’t know what would happen, which was quite interesting because Henrik didn’t know what would happen. Even at the end of series three, I didn’t know what had happened to the children – obviously his wife has been found, but I had no idea. Normally as an actor, you know; I mean, if you play Oedipus or Hamlet, you know what happens. Here, I really didn’t know.
Speaking as someone who admittedly doesn’t know a lot about the process of acting, that sounds like it would add a certain level of psychological realism to the role.
TL: It does, yeah.
How did that work for you, Sofia? Did you know in advance how Saga’s story would play out?
SH: No, I didn’t. Hans (Rosenfeldt, the show’s writer) didn’t tell me.
I spoke to Hans a couple of years ago, and he understandably doesn’t give too much away about his writing process while still working on a project, so it’s really interesting to hear from the two of you about how that works.
(They both laugh)
TL: Really? A mystery man…
Yeah! You both put a lot of effort into distinguishing the characters visually – Thure dyed his hair darker, for example – but what else did you do to set these two characters, so similar in many ways, apart from one another?
TL: I think they complement each other really well. He’s got this really dark side, and she’s taking his dark side with… I wouldn’t say with ease, but she’s really pragmatic. Henrik’s traumatised, and when you’re in that state, you don’t need someone fake, or to be smothered.
SH: Because people have been circling around him.
TL: Yeah, nobody wants to talk about it. They don’t know what to do.
But Saga isn’t like that, is she? She cuts straight through any kind of pretence. Sofia, what do you feel the character of Henrik brings to Saga that Martin or her mentor Hans didn’t?
SH: There’s love between them, a sexual love, and there’s also a friendship that is about being in a position where you’ve been very, very lonely. They connect with each other because each of them is as f***ed up as the other.
Is there a particular scene or scenes that stand out for you as special in terms of the level of emotion or how difficult they were to play?
SH: Well, we started talking about their love, and when we were doing the very last scene together…
That’s something to look forward to!
TL: That was a very special moment.
SH: It was.
TL: And it was the last scene we shot.
There have been some fantastic scenes with Saga over the years, haven’t there?
SH: I love the scene where she’s masturbating (after her then boyfriend refuses to have sex with her because his mother is in the bedroom next door).
That scene was amazing in its frankness and humour. Did it raise many eyebrows in Sweden and Denmark?
SH: Yes, it’s still shocking.
Scandinavian television has developed a reputation for strong, complex female characters. Saga’s become something of a feminist icon; she also provides much needed representation for autistic women, who are rarely depicted in popular culture. What’s been the response from the autistic community to your portrayal of the character?
SH: I tried to play it as well as I could, and if some of them (autistic people) are happy, I’m happy. What makes me proud is that many people with Asperger’s have approached me and said thank you for putting a person like this in focus and letting her be a hero.
Henrik’s got his own difficulties, hasn’t he? Like Saga, he’s good at his job, but he’s also struggling with drug abuse and serious psychological problems. The moment when we realise that his wife and kids aren’t really there comes as a massive shock. It almost has a horror-film quality.
TL: It’s extremely well written.
SH: That’s also down to how Henrik Georgsson directed it, I think. It’s that combination of writing and directing.
TL: Yeah. It’s also true to how a lot of people do their jobs and can function, but people don’t really see what’s going on behind the surface. So many people are going through depression, are feeling unloved and unwanted, are on prescription drugs. It’s definitely something we can all become better at, looking at each other and seeing each other and talking to each other.
SH: Have you read this little book by Timothy Snyder, called On Tyranny? It’s fantastic. It was written after Donald Trump won the election, and the author is an American historian. He says exactly what we should do now to avoid getting caught up in tyranny, and one thing he says is: stop doing things on the phone, meet someone. Have a proper conversation with people. I don’t know what it was you were talking about that made me start thinking about that, but we don’t have time to really sit down and meet each other.
I guess you were thinking about the absence of human connection Thure mentioned.
SH: Yes. People are so depressed and can’t stop thinking about how lonely they feel.
And we try so hard to avoid confronting these issues.
TL: Yeah, and Henrik and Saga have that connection. They can talk about anything with each other.
At the beginning of series three, Henrik was trying to woo Saga in a conventional way, asking her out to dinner (having taken advantage of a booking at a swanky restaurant made by one of the murder victims!) and that didn’t work…
TL: That really didn’t work! (laughs). I actually went to that restaurant like half a year ago, and it’s a really good restaurant. I can’t believe she said no. Three Michelin stars. Anyway, sorry…
I’ll remember that recommendation, thank you!
TL: (laughs) But you’re right, it doesn’t work.
Sofia, are you going to miss driving the Porsche?
SH: No. Not at all.
TL: You should try driving it.
[Sofia Helin mimes struggling to drive the Porsche and makes a frustrated sound, while laughing.]
TL: It doesn’t look like fun. It looks good from the outside, but not from the inside.
SH: And it’s not comfortable, is it?
TL: No, it’s an illusion. (laughs)
I’m going to try to forget all this…
TL: Yeah, it looks really good.
What’s next for you both? You’ve both recently worked in English-language television and film, haven’t you? Can we expect to see you both on our screens again soon?
TL: I did a World War One movie (In Love And War/I Krig & Kærlighed) and I did a play, so I’m just gonna take some time off. I don’t know what’s going to happen next – just enjoy spring?
Sounds good! What about you, Sofia?
SH: I just did a Danish film about refugees (Lifeboat), about a couple finding a refugee in the Mediterranean Sea, and then I’m having time off just to wait for the right project, and I have that project. It’s coming up after summer, and I think it’s going to be interesting for people in the UK as well. It’s a big Scandinavian thing, but it involves the UK.
Sofia Helin and Thure Lindhardt, thank you very much!
The Bridge starts on BBC Two on Friday 11th May at 9pm, all previous series’ are available on iPlayer now. Sofia is also supporting WaterAid’s Water Effect campaign; wateraid.org