Tobias Lindholm interview header

Director of the hotly buzzed “A Hijacking” (our glowing review here) that has been doing the festival rounds since Venice last year, Tobias Lindholm is, in his own words, about to “close up the circus and start working on the next thing.” But with his two breakthrough film projects “The Hunt,” which he co-wrote with director Thomas Vinterberg, and “A Hijacking” still awaiting U.S. releases (the latter is slated for second-quarter 2013 bow through Magnolia Pictures), it is tempting to cast him as being only "on the cusp" of major international success.

However during our extensive interview at the Göteborg International Film Festival last week, it became clear that Lindholm is very happy, in a grateful and non-complacent way, with the life he has built for himself in Denmark, and with his "day job" -- writing for acclaimed Danish political procedural “Borgen,” featuring his ‘Hijacking’ stars Pilou Asbæk and Søren Malling (interviewed here).

And so we can expect his recent rhythm to continue: writing for TV and for other directors (we already reported on his next collaboration with Thomas Vinterberg), and then every two years or so taking on a directorial project. We spoke about achieving that balance, the gestation of “The Hunt,” the shooting of “A Hijacking” and the influence of U.S. cinema, among other topics. There may be mild spoilers throughout, but the only major one is signposted.

So do you consider yourself primarily a screenwriter, and a director second?
Yes. I was educated as a screenwriter and my passion is there. I believe the big fights are won just with me and my computer. From there on it becomes a very practical thing. Thing is, I don’t like people that much, it’s a big problem. So I like to just sit with my computer and once in a while, every second year, direct.

Is it hard to switch from one track to the other, though?
Well, when we did [Lindholm’s directorial debut] “R” and “A Hijacking”’s a little rock band: same editor, same photographer, same actors, same producer, same crew. We all make our living staging concerts with other, bigger bands -- me with Thomas Vinterberg and “Borgen” and everything, and then once in a while we meet up in the garage and jam away. We did that with “R” and with “A Hijacking” and we’re going to do it again with the next one. And we try to make low-budget films so we have complete artistic freedom.

So as a writer, what would you say is your basic ethos?
Vinterberg and I, we always try to not "make up a plot" but just stay with people. The thing is that in a lot of films it seems like the characters are just waiting for a plot to begin. But it’s not like that in real life. It’s more like you’re living your life, and suddenly, say, you’re in love and it disturbs everything! It’s fucking annoying… So you really need to build human beings that are living full lives, and then suddenly this other thing happens and it’s a problem because they were actually doing something else. They have plans and they have friends and they have a life going on.

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How did your collaboration with Vinterberg begin, and what then led to “The Hunt”?
I had just come out of film school. And I thought I had nothing to do, I was sort of desperate and my phone rang on my second day out of film school and it was Vinterberg asking if I wanted to write “Submarino” for him. So it changed everything. And during that process we decided to keep on working because we had fun together. And I became a father for the first time and I discovered the paranoia of parenthood, and he had two children already so we talked a lot about that during “Submarino.” And then when we talked about “what to do now” he was very eager to do the anti-'Celebration,’ I mean, that was a story about a guy who had done it, let’s make a story about a guy who hadn’t done it.

So we made a decision that he should be a very likeable guy. And then he cast Mads [Mikkelsen] in it and he’s very likeable, so that was easy. The other thing was that we would know from the beginning that he didn’t do it, we didn’t want a plot twist like “and then in the end… maybe…!” Because it’s a witchhunt story, and that fascinated me. If we had done it in post-Second World War Denmark, it would have been about a guy who was friends with the Germans. Or if we had done it in the U.S. in the '50s it would have been about a guy who was a communist. Right now, it seems like we’re so desperately afraid that something will happen to our children, that we will become animals. 

I’m a huge fan of “The Hunt” but some reviewers, especially among U.S. critics I noticed, had issues with the central character’s seeming passivity in the face of the allegations. Did you note a difference in how the film was received by American as opposed to European press?
I don’t read a lot of reviews, but there is some truth to that, and maybe that’s the finger on the spot that I’m very interested in, which is the difference between “A Hijacking” and “The Hunt,” and the big difference between American and European cinema. It seems to be in Europe, as in “The Hunt,” we are very interested in psychology -- a human being is first and foremost a psychology. In U.S. [films] a person is a citizen -- it’s always a sheriff or a President or, in “A Hijacking,” a sailor and a CEO. You define them by what they do in society, therefore you know them, therefore you can relate to them, therefore you can tell stories about them.

In Europe it’s the other way around. You are one big psychology: you have all these problems you are struggling with, and then maybe you are also a policeman who has to solve a murder case, but that’s not really the story. In the U.S. it’s always the murder case [first], and maybe he’s getting divorced as well. It’s a totally different point of view. And it’s interesting because I realized that “A Hijacking” is more American than “The Hunt” is, and as a writer I’m much more influenced by American than by European cinema. I don’t always understand the obsession with psychology.

But I do think, if someone accused me of this, I wouldn’t run around screaming. I mean, guilty people run around screaming that they’re innocent. The rest of us are a little in doubt -- “fuck, did I do something?” -- and that’s the way you would react, especially in a small town like that, among friends -- how could this happen? It will ease down… And if he had [been more active in his own defense from] the beginning it would have been a lie. Maybe more American, but definitely a lie. 

So it's partly to do with his job?
I believe if we made “The Hunt” in the U.S. we wouldn’t have had the guy work in a kindergarten, you would have him do something where he could be closer to violence. [Maybe something where] he would have a gun, violence is his language, and he could turn to that. Lucas is working in a kindergarten -- violence is not part of him.

[But when] I wrote “A Hijacking” I stayed with the [characters'] jobs. They also have wives, but you don’t see that too much, because you are in their jobs; the story is all about a job becoming another job.