The main cast and writer/director Nikolaj Lie Kaas discussed with us TV2 Denmark series which world premiered in Berlin on Wednesday.
The comedy series which had a red-carpet treatment at the Berlinale’s Series competition this week, was promoted in Berlin by its top actors Esben Smed, Ulrich Thomsen, Julie Agnete Vang, Mathilde Arcel and by its creator/writer/director, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, in his first venture behind the camera and away from acting.
Just before his series’ world premiere, Kaas who wrote and directed the full eight episodes admitted: “It’s been amazing to be in competition in Berlin. I didn’t think a slapstick comedy had the potential to go to an A festival. That said, there is a strong drama narrative that forms the basis for the show,” he stressed. “Although the comedy element was the starting point for the idea, it is actually a layer put on top of the drama, and when I started writing it, I was keen to have the drama stand on its own, so that, beyond the comedy take of the entertainment world, the audience could still relate to the characters and follow them.”
Kaas said he had the idea for the series several years ago - even before the French series Call my Agent was made - because he wanted to share with audiences the ‘crazy’ world of talent agents. “I felt audiences would be fascinated by this circus”, he told nordicfilmandtvnews.com. “From the talents’ perspective, It’s a bit like being at kindergarten, having someone taking care you, of your calendar, telling you what to do, where to work. It’s a small universe that few people know about, and I felt the urge to unfold it. It was also a great opportunity to have celebrities [such as from Ulrich Thomsen, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau] play themselves in extreme versions.”
The star actor turned director said most of the stories in the series come from real life situations -taken from his own experience, his peers, and stories from his own father -actor/writer/director Preben Kaas.
He was also interested to portray the young talent agent Joe as an immature, hectic and almost unlikable character. “He makes stupid calls all the time and it’s hard to relate to him, but that was my thrill. As an actor, I love the challenge of playing antagonists. It is my responsibility to tell audiences this might not be a person you relate to, but hey-watch where he comes from.”
Discussing his experience behind the camera, Kaas said taking full responsibility of the show wasn’t the biggest challenge. “This is what good actors do, so that wasn’t that big of a leap for me,” he reckoned. However, defending this pet project for a long time and keeping the motivation was the hardest part.
“Sometimes I would lose the drive, but then I had many people depending on me. When I started shooting, I was literally drained. But I found the energy again to motivate myself and everyone else. I wanted to keep the dream alive of taking this project to fruition.”
Producer Louise Vesth of Denmark’s powerhouse Zentropa, credited for Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, The Kingdom Exodus, and the Department Q film series, underlined that comedy isn’t really her genre. “I had worked only on the situation comedy Klovn, not scripted comedy before. But I knew that Nikolaj could deliver the very funny and dramatic elements in the series.”
She still insisted on going slowly to understand how he would work as a director, and to let Kaas finalise the writing of the full eight episodes, with the support of script consultant Maya Ilsøe (The Legacy, Margrete-Queen of the North). ‘I’m very proud of Nikolaj and impressed by what he’s achieved,” said Vesth.
For Ulrich Thomsen, boarding the series was a no brainer. “Nikolaj approached me while he was still writing. I said sure I’ll do it! I thought it was a great idea to do a comedy about this world that hasn’t been shown before in Denmark.”
“Having directed myself the comedy Gutterbee, I know how much more difficult it is than doing drama. But Nikolaj has done it brilliantly,” he added.
Esben Smed who has appeared mostly in dramas (A Fortunate Man, Daniel, Follow the Money) said he warned Kaas when the latter came to him with the main role of Joe. “I said I’m flattered but I’m not funny! I wasn’t so sure I would have the right timing to play a comedic role, but then Nikolaj gave me his trust.”
Smed said it took him some effort to try to understand his character. “He is irresponsible, immature, but tries hard to be good at his job, helping his clients, and being at the same time a good dad. But he isn’t there most of the time for his daughter, which is where the drama comes from.”
Love & hate relationships with agents
Discussing their own relationships with their agents, the actors had different experiences to share although most said they couldn’t be without one. “It’s good to have someone whom you can talk to and who can discuss money with producers. I would hate to do that", said Smed.
Julie Agnete Vang who plays Hanna in Agent and appeared earlier in The Commune, Into the Darkness or When the Dust Settles, concurs with Smed: “Agents can be pushy and at the same time understanding. I would not be good at talking money, so you need ‘a bad guy’ when negotiating a contract. I wish [having an agent] was something you could choose to have, not something you need to have,” she observed.
Seasoned actor Thomsen who is repped in L.A., London and Germany, summarised the complex interdependent relationship between agents and talents. “First you try to get a job, and if it’s successful, then agents want you. Then when you’re big enough, you feel you don’t need an agent anymore. So you fire the agent and get a lawyer instead to negotiate your salary because it’s cheaper. But there is a point where you’re dependent on the agent to get access to all the auditions, especially around the world. I have had agents all my life. I know the drill,” he said.
The series which was executive produced by Pernille Bech Christensen for TV2 Denmark, is due to premiere on TV2 Play and TV2 later this year. TrustNordisk handles sales.