We talk to the Danish actress about introvert detective Sarah Lund
Danish crime series The Killing was last year’s cult TV hit, so much so that it spawned a US version (season one of which is currently airing on OSN). At the heart of the Danish series is introverted detective Sarah Lund, who is assigned to investigate the murder of schoolgirl Nanna Birk Larsen. Sofie Gråbøl brought an enigmatic charisma to the role of Lund, while her wardrobe of heavy knitted jumpers has almost single-handedly revived the knitwear industry.
Gråbøl has since been named Best Actress at the Crime Thriller Awards in London, while the drama picked up the BAFTA for Best International TV Show. With the second series of The Killing just finished in the UK and the third set for screening in Denmark in September, Time Out met the somewhat unnerving actress for an inside look at the show.
What tempted you back to make a second and third series? The more I thought about it, I didn’t feel finished with that character – it wasn’t like I’d been in every corner of her. She seemed to me still very full of secrets and things I didn’t know. One of the reasons we did the second series was to do something else with it. It’s only 10 episodes, but the plot is more complex. The first series is this archetypal story of innocence being brutally killed, while the second involves national politics on a higher scale. It really has a different feeling; it was like an exercise to see how dark you can get.
How do you think you managed to keep viewers hooked through the 20 episodes of the first series? You should always hold back, but it’s the hardest thing to do because you’re also dealing with the fear of boring people. It’s an impossible task, really – one murder over 20 episodes. Everybody thought, at the beginning, that it wasn’t going to work, that people would click away on the remote control. That’s why you get a tendency for love stories, sex scenes, crime chases and gun shots, because you have to entertain. That’s one of the things I admire about our writer [Søren Sveistrup] and that’s what makes us proud of this project: it doesn’t underestimate the television audience, which is the tendency. You keep giving them what you think they want, but actually I think people want to go deeper and reflect and not necessarily skate through. I like that he insisted on that.
Lund seems to follow her intuition a lot. It’s almost as though she’s channelling her inspiration somehow… People have said that. To me it’s a totally rational mind, not intuitive at all – she makes connections, that’s her talent, her gift. Of course she has a strong gut feeling, but there’s nothing supernatural.
The first series showcased several strong women alongside Lund, including Pernille Birk Larsen, the mother of the murder victim, and Rie Skovgaard, the PR minder to central politician Troels Hartmann. The strength of the characters, both male and female, is that they are very nuanced. I understand that people see my character as some sort of feminist ideal, but to me she’s full of weaknesses, very vulnerable and full of flaws.
She’s actually a bad cop… [Laughs] She makes a lot of huge mistakes; she is responsible in some way for things that happen in the first series. I think she has tunnel vision and she has the ability to focus on one direction. She loses sight of the big picture, and that is both strong and weak because it gets her into trouble, doesn’t it?
Since the first series took off and was shown around the world, there has been an American remake. How do you feel about that? I’ve only seen bits and pieces, but I think it’s very close to the original story – I think it’s good. American culture is so strong I think it’s extremely important that Europeans watch each other’s work and get an understanding of who we are. I have a sense that The Killing really opened that up, I’ve met so many British people saying, ‘We want to go to Denmark now.’ Yeah, it’s dark and rainy and cold – they might be disappointed! Season two of The Killing is available from Dhs136 at www.amazon.co.uk.