Have you had problems warming to The Bridge’s humourless detective Saga Noren at first? Turns out you’re not alone.
“I didn’t like her,” reveals Sofia Helin, the Swedish actress behind this no-nonsense police-woman who worked by the book – reporting her colleague for letting a life-saving ambulance drive through a crime scene, going out for sex and takeaway in the same disposable fashion, having to be taught about the art of being kind to people and the etiquette of the work coffee break.
“I said no to taking the role – for so many reasons,” remembers the actress.
“I thought it would be boring, there are so many of these crime dramas in Sweden, I just wasn’t interested, so I read it very roughly…” she admits almost guiltily, “so at first glance, she just seemed to be another Lisbeth Salander in our midst, and I didn’t want to do a tough lady.”
Helin is referring to the eponymous heroine of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, who shares many of the same antisocial traits as Saga Noren. Salander may be far more troubled and violent, but her outsider, uncompromising stance has successfully permeated every strand of the Nordic fiction flying off the shelves and the telly that is keeping us pinned to subtitles in our masses.
“But because I was SO irritated at the beginning, I thought there must be something here,” she continues, “So I started doing more work on the character, and realised we could do something possibly quite special.”
Helin’s research brought her into contact with people with asbergers, Saga’s condition that makes her appear so uninterested in the concerns of others.
“It was a revelation to me,” she reveals. “It was very strange realising that all those people I had judged as cold – because I am so open and social myself – are really doing the very best they can.”
It is a testament to Sophia’s acting skills that, as a mother of two in real life, is so believable as one of society’s lone wolves, stomping around in her leather trousers, speeding in her car, bored by the social platitudes that grease the wheels of community life.
And it seems a bit of Saga has rubbed off on Sophia. “I definitely learned a lot from her – I think it would be good to be a bit more like her. I’m too emotional, I get stuck all the time, to the point where I hurt myself.”
A lot of the success of The Bridge depends on the chemistry between Saga and her far more empathetic Danish colleague Martin Rohde, but it turns out it was Sophia who was actually intimidated by the pairing-up with actor Kim Bodnia.
“I’d never met him before, but I’d heard things about him – he’s a big name in Denmark, and renowned for being very tough, so I was a bit scared.
“Then, when we started working, I felt bad. I told him, ‘I’m not giving you anything!’ but he was so kind. He told me, ‘It’s ok, he relies on just observing her, you don’t have to do anything.’
“He was trusting and confident, and it made all the difference to me.”
Sophia, like all the other stars of these Nordic dramas I’ve spoken to, is quietly bemused by the scale of overseas success.
“I was due to visit the UK to deliver a prize at a gala, and I wasn’t nervous at all, as I didn’t think anyone would be interested.
“I got there, and it turns out everyone’s been watching The Bridge, so there was lots of attention… “
Such a spotlight is showing no signs of abating, with a script for a second series already in Sophia’s hands. She promises it delivers that same unique combination of personal and political storyline, with the dual characteristics of Denmark and Sweden tapped into once more.
So will Saga once more be behaving a bit strangely, such as looking through pictures of corpses while her prospective new boyfriend sleeps beside her?
“Oh, I imagine so,” chuckles Sophia. “It’s a dark world – why not?”
Clearly more than a little bit of Saga has rubbed off.
The Bridge is out now on DVD and Blu-Ray. Pictures below...