So if asked to put an actor’s name to the Scandinavian drama tsunami of recent years, yes, most might point to Mads Mikkelsen, or maybe Stellan Skarsgård -- two Nordic actors who crop up not only in homegrown fare, but also increasingly in Hollywood productions. But one name that might not come so handily to mind, precisely because of his contrasting lack of U.S. credits, is Søren Malling’s. No matter, if you’ve been paying any sort of attention of late, you know his face. We got to meet the “A Hijacking,” the original “The Killing” and “Borgen” star at the Göteborg International Film Festival, where “A Hijacking” was close to wrapping up its stellar festival run (only a couple more to go -- here's our review from Venice).
It’s a journey that has seen Malling pick up several Best Actor awards, for his tightly controlled and masterful performance as the CEO of the shipping company forced to negotiate with the Somali pirates who capture one of his ships. And if he’s is a little relieved that the round of promotion is finally drawing to a close (“It’s done very well for us, and it’s been an adventure but… you have to stop [sometime]”) then he’s also justly proud of the film: “It’s a good movie. I’m sorry but it is. There are sometimes when you should just shut up about your work, but this movie… even my [teenaged] kids think it’s good.” With his key role in season 1 of the Danish “The Killing” getting him worldwide exposure (the actor was taken aback by his level of fame in Japan, for example) and an international agent, it’s probably only a matter of time before he lands some high-profile gig (in fact he teased as much), but in the meantime, here are a few things we learned from our chat.
SM: Tobias was co-writing the Danish TV series “Borgen” and he came to me one day in my dressing room and knocked on my door and said, “I’m so sorry to disturb you, but I have this story about this hijacking situation and I really want you to play the main part as a CEO." And he was so humble and so insistent at the same time that I couldn’t say no. Even though, he said, “I haven’t got a script, but please give it a chance.”
The extraordinarily minimalist, internalised performance he gives was informed by a directorial decision, but also by research.
SM: Very soon Tobias and I agreed that less is good. I didn’t have to act and prove that I was the top guy, the CEO -- all the other guys around me have to act -- this guy is the one who no matter what is in charge; that was the basics about how to develop the character. Then I did a lot of research in a Danish shipping company, and they allowed me to be in the room at the meetings and to follow the CEO around and I discovered that he was just acting very normal, but all the people around him knew, he was like the president, walking into the room, and no one dares to say anything unless they’re allowed to. I kind of physically adopted that situation, and I didn’t have to do anything more.
Oddly enough, to those of us only familiar with his recent roles, Malling was until recently best known at home as a comedic actor.
SM: I graduated from drama school in ‘92. I started out in theater and got a lot of comedian parts in theater. And because I have been there, and not to say that it’s easier to play more serious characters, but part of that being on stage as a comedian actually gave me a lot of confidence so I’m not afraid anymore. I’m not afraid to be open, for instance to cry, to show all that’s inside of me… So for me it helped me, being onstage being and slowly developing into a more serious character actor. And I’m getting older. Time helps as well… I think its harder to do it the other way around. I think it’s harder for a serious actor to suddenly be funny.