In what is undoubtedly one of our favourite films this year so far, A Hijacking marks yet another wonderful film to come out of Denmark, and we had the pleasure of speaking to the director Tobias Lindholm ahead of the film’s release.
Lindholm, who also wrote The Hunt, last year – is the second person we have interviewed from this title, following our filmed one-on-one with lead star Pilou Asbæk. Once again we discuss the immense attention to detail of this piece, as Lindholm tells us of his astonishing techniques to help further the realism of the film. He also tells us why Asbæk’s wife hates him, and offers his views on this golden age of Danish cinema.
I read that your father was a seaman, so I was wondering if this was an area you always wanted to explore on film?
Definitely. I mean, he didn’t ever speak to me much about it and now he’s not here any more, so I can’t ask him about it. But I always felt that a ship caught out there in a big ocean, the elements of guys living in very small spaces is a great arena for a drama, I just couldn’t find the right story until around 2007 when this hijacking came to my attention. From there I knew there was a great story to tell.
The realism is incredible in this film – was it quite eerie shooting on a boat that had been hijacked in real life, and in pirate filled waters?
We were out in the ocean without guards, and it made us very accurate in the way we told the story because we were with former hostages so we were telling their story. We had guys who not only knew about life as a hostage in general, but life as a hostage specifically on that ship. The production department didn’t like it too much, but we did it anyway and I believe it helped the film.
The realism extends to the negotiating scenes as well, because you had a real negotiator in the cast in Gary Skjoldmose Porter too?
Yeah it’s true he was a consultant on the film until I asked him to play a game with me, I said, pretend I am the CEO of the company and my ship has been hijacked, take me through the drill, just so I can understand what the engine of the story was. We filmed it, and I watched the material afterwards and I just called him right away in the middle of the night and said “Can you please act?” because he was so fantastic, a great gift. The funny thing is that I never wrote lines for him you know, I always wrote the questions for the other actors, but never Gary’s answers.
Did you shoot the scenes on the boat chronologically so to get a sense for the physical and psychological demise of your characters?
Yeah we did, exactly for that reason. We shot from day one until day one hundred and something, and then we did the same thing back at the company in Denmark, we started all over again. There are two reasons for that, firstly because Pilou needed to lose a lot of weight shooting so he lost 16 kilos while shooting, he would eat like 100grams of chicken and a cucumber every day, and that’s it. So we needed to get that on camera, we needed to do it chronologically. At the same time, it helps for those who aren’t actors to understand the situation. Trained actors can cope with the idea of shooting the beginning and end of the film in the same day, but people who aren’t actors and just professionals in whatever they do in life, need to travel with the story from the beginning until the end to understand where they are. So we just did it like that. For me it’s a big gift because you can go home after shooting, and you know exactly where you start the next day, and that is a great gift for the actors.
I was fortunate enough to interview Pilou last week, and he was saying that he put weight on to fit in with your idea that a good chef should be fat, because you trust fat chefs more…
[Laughs[ it’s true. I didn’t ask him to do that by the way, that’s just how it is to work with Pilou. He is all in. When he says yes to something, he is all in and goes all the way. I do believe that Pilou’s wife hates me still, she thought she married this handsome movie star and ended up with a fat guy eating two pizza’s for breakfast. So that was all on him and his development as a character. He felt that to be in the kitchen with authority, he needed to be fat, to be more believable as a chef, anyway.
Both Pilou and Søren are absolutely outstanding – it must make your job so much easier when you have two actors like hat on board?
I’m a big fan of cycling and I am the water-carrier, and they are the stars, and to have guys like Søren and Pilou you know they will provide. I actually called them before I started to write the script to ask them if I could write this for them as we knew each other from Borgen, and I knew what they were able to do and they just said yes, which helped a lot.
One of my favourite aspects to the film is that we don’t actually see the hijacking take place – can you tell us why you decided to leave that bit out?
I tried to write this action sequence of a hijacking taking place and writing it I just felt that tension in the small room was much bigger without the actual hijacking, and at the same time, we were only on a small budget. There are films out there that can really make action sequences work, but we don’t have the kind of economy, so I’d rather not do it and keep on doing what we do best, which was building stories in small rooms.
Another impactful aspect was that the Somalian language wasn’t subtitled for the viewer, putting us in the same position as the character. But was it all still scripted? Did you actually write for the pirates and know what they were saying, even if the audience didn’t?
Some of the scenes I did, but these guys were just from the streets of Mombasa, they were Somali refugees there so I couldn’t expect too much acting from them. They turned out to be much better than I had hoped for, but it didn’t make sense for me to write lines because I don’t speak Somali so I couldn’t check if they said what was on paper. I just asked them not to speak about the film and to talk about being hungry and hot. Of course in the scenes when they were demanding something from the sailors, I would write down exactly what they were supposed to say, and the finally when I got back to Denmark I go a translator who could talk me through it. I just hoped they hadn’t made too much fun of me! Talking about soccer or that the director is an idiot and stuff like that… But they were actually really good guys and acted all the way through.
Naturalism plays a very big part in your work, but do you ever seen yourself one day making a fantasy movie or something?
No. I don’t like my own imagination that much, I don’t find myself very interesting. The world around me is interesting, so in that way I do believe that naturalism is right now the place I like to tell stories in as a director, so I will continue to do that for a while, I guess.
To wrap up, Danish cinema is just booming at the moment, and of course you’ve been behind the likes of The Hunt as well as this, and A Royal Affair did really well – as a Danish filmmaker, have you got a sense for that? Do you feel like you’re a part of a ‘golden age’ for Scandinavian cinema?
Yeah, we’re just riding this wave for as long as we can and hoping that it will last. The last time it happened was the Dogme age and now suddenly there are so many talented people here and the work has opened up to them, and we are totally aware that is a golden age, but it will end at some point. I remember when I was at film school I watched every film from Poland that I could, because there was some kind of feeling of something new and different happening, and now I just feel lucky to be a part of a new Danish wave right now.