Join the Fund's newsletter!

Get the latest film & TV news from the Nordics, interviews and industry reports. You will also recieve information about our events, funded projects and new initiatives.

Do you accept that NFTVF may process your information and contact you by e-mail? You can change your mind at any time by clicking unsubscribe in the footer of any email you receive or by contacting us. For more information please visit our privacy statement.

We will treat your information with respect.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp's privacy practices here.

Prisoner’s creators and co-stars on the making of the DR series and Nordic drama


Prisoner’s creators and co-stars on the making of the DR series and Nordic drama


We spoke to actors Sofie Gråbøl, David Dencik, writer/creator Kim Fupz Aakeson, co-directors/creators Michael Noer and Frederik Louis Hviid on the Canneseries entry.

On Tuesday, some of Denmark’s most celebrated actors on the world stage - Sofie Gråbøl (The Killing, The Shift), David Dencik (No Time to Die, The Chestnut Man), as well as Charlotte Fich (Borgen, Manslaughter), Youssef Wayne Hvidtfeldt (Borgen, Yes No Maybe) and Laura Christensen (The Kingdom, The Investigation) walked up the pink carpet of the prestigious Theatre Lumière of the Palais des Festivals for the world premiere of DR’s event series Prisoner (Huset) at Canneseries’ main competition.

Next to them were seasoned writer and Prisoner’s main creator Kim Fupz Aakeson (Welcome to Utmark, In Order of Disappearance), co-creators and co-directors Michael Noer (R, Northwest, Papillon, Before the Frost), and Frederik Louis Hviid (Follow the Money 3, Shorta).

“The reception from the Cannes audience was amazing - they watched silently and their jaws dropped in many places,” Sophie Gråbøl told us straight after the official screening.

Gråbøl plays Miriam, one of the four main characters and prison guards, with Henrik, Sammi - the new idealistic recruit, and the head of unit Gert. We follow their daily lives and challenges in the rough and hostile prison environment, as well as at home, where their routine is also filled with conflict, secrets, and loneliness. The secrets soon resurface, with great consequences not only for the four prison officers, but for everyone inside and outside the prison walls.

The 6x58’ series was produced by Rikke Tørholm Kofoed for DR Drama, with support from Nordisk Film & TV Fond. DR Sales handles global sales. The show will premiere on DR1 in September.

We sat down in Cannes with Kim Fupz Aakeson, Michael Noer, Frederik Louis Hviid, Sofie Gråbøl and David Dencik.


Prisoner’s creators and co-stars on the making of the DR series and Nordic drama

Prisoner / PHOTO: Adam Wallensten 1

What was the starting point for the series?
Kim Fupz Aakeson:
I did a film several years ago with Anette K. Olesen, the Dogma prison drama In Your Hands (Forbrydelser), which was shot in Nyborg state prison. I got increasingly interested in the job of prison guards. Who is willing to take such a job? To walk unarmed, in a hostile environment?

When I heard that the Vridsløselille prison [on the outskirts of Copenhagen] where we eventually shot this series, was going to close down, I felt-now is the time. We have an empty prison. I went to DR with the idea for the show but they said-no. “It’s too dark”. So I wrote a novel instead. Then a new management arrived at DR and I went back with the idea for the show. This time, they said YES. Then very early on, Frederik and Michael came on board, in my writers or discussion room. Michael had done the prison drama R, and Frederik the hard-hitting realistic cop drama Shorta.

Michael you had done not only R, but also a remake of Papillon…So why another prison drama? And how was it to collaborate with Frederik?
Michael Noer: When I was approached for the series, although I felt I had done enough prison dramas, here it was like a Chinese box, that you could open in many different ways. It was a new way to look at the prison system, which is mirroring society as well. I thought this is interesting!

Then Kim and I saw the movie Shorta. We thought-shit! This is a brilliant cop movie! I was even annoyed at how good it was😊. It had the vibe that Kim and I were looking for. At the same time, DR mentioned Frederik’s name for the show. It felt like our collaboration was meant to be. It was great to be 2 against 1, sometimes, in the ‘discussion‘s room’, which is a better word than writers’ room, to describe the way we worked.

Frederik - what was your initial reaction when you were approached by Michael and Kim?
Frederik Louis Hviid: It was a blessing because ever since I was young, I wanted to do a prison drama. So when Kim and Michael came to me, it felt like a great opportunity to do something a bit different to what’s out there on Danish TV. We could tell a darker story - still very human - about what’s life like behind bars, on both sides. That really spoke to me. I’m also a big fan of genre movies, which don’t have strong roots in Danish cinema.

We can also see the prison as a metaphor for being trapped in one’s inner life. It seems like the four main characters are trapped in their jobs but also in their private lives, with tough realities that each one has to face…
KFA: One of the things that we discussed is the sense of freedom and lack of freedom for the main characters, even at home. Sofie’s character is a mother, with commitments, therefore not really free. Charlotte Fich’s husband in the show [played by Bjarne Henriksen of Cry Wolf] is fading away into dementia. We discussed all this, the character’s sense of imprisonment and how their private and public lives kind of clash. It felt right and we went for that.

Could you explain how you managed to stay as true to reality as possible, and created this strong sense of authenticity in the show? Did you have a prison guard as consultant?
We had several prison officers helping us from the writing process, and even acting in the series. One of them, still working as a prison guard, was extremely helpful. Having someone on set, giving us the directions, guidelines, on how to make each scene as truthful and authentic as possible was an invaluable help.

Did you have the four main actors Sofie Gråbøl, David Dencik, Charlotte Fich, Youssef Wayne Hvidtfeldt in mind from the very beginning?
We sat and discussed who we would approach for the various characters. We agreed on those four actors and thankfully they all said YES immediately. We had the dream team.

David Dencik: I was approached perhaps 6 months before shooting. I had a coffee with both directors. The funny thing is that in my ‘previous life’, I had worked in a supermarket near the prison where we shot the series. I had been intrigued by that environment. Then this project came up. It was kind of meant to be. I felt I knew the place. Then my role is brilliant, very complex.

Sofie, this is the first time since The Killing (Forbrydelsen) that you’re wearing a uniform and representing the law. How was that experience?
Sofie Gråbøl
: I wore a uniform in The Shift, but this is indeed a role where I represent the law. There is something extremely fascinating about wearing a uniform. What does power do to people who hold the keys? Do you have hopes to make a difference, a positive change to people under extreme pressure, with great strains in their lives? How does the system erode your initial empathy? It was all very interesting to explore.

How did you prepare for your roles that are very physical?
To play our characters, we had access to different trainings, including from the correctional facility. In Denmark, there is a huge need for prison guards - and no wonder - as they are poorly paid and have a very ungrateful job. The people from the correctional facility maybe saw this series as an opportunity to recruit, so they were super helpful. They taught me how to position myself, how to walk, how to enter a room. There are many rules to learn, and as an actor, we love this as we often look for frames. But-then the keys! Handling keys without looking was so hard!!

KFA: Yes the officer who advised us said if I see a prison guard in a series or a film who looks at their keys - I’m out!

DD: I liked the idea of playing a hard masculine aggressive type. This is something I used to do when I was younger, but I don’t do this so much nowadays. It was good to have prison guards as consultants, but only to some extent. The script in itself was just great. My part didn’t require too much preparation. The acting challenge was more of a mental one.

Michael and Frederik, what inspired your visual style?
MN: Frederik and I share a deep fascination for genre movies. Entertainment is the first entry point for genre movies, but you can also do something artistic - not in a pretentious way, but by stirring up discussion, awakening emotions.

To go back to your question about the visual style, we wanted the prison to be chaotic, shot in a documentary-style.

FLH: One of my all time-favourite films is R. What Michael does, is that he brings out a lot of love for realism, authenticity. I share that love but perhaps I bring a bigger love for heavy genre. I guess our combined styles creates a good cocktail.

How did you share the directing duties?
MN: Frederik did the first three episodes and I did the last three but we discussed all the way through. We also created a system of rules, a bit like the Dogma rules.

Could you expand?
I’m a big fan of rules, because it sets boundaries and makes me more creative. We therefore created a booklet with a set of rules for how to set the light, move the camera etc. We did break the rules when needed, and it was part of understanding how it feels when you’re outside the prison or inside the prison. It is also fun to bend the rules.

MN: We need to mention that we had the same cinematographer across all episodes. It was a true team effort.

Sofie, you were the iconic Sarah Lund in The Killing, that opened the doors to foreign language TV drama in many territories, such as the UK. What are your views on Danish/Nordic TV drama today? (You can all dip in and comment)
We’ve always had in the Nordics a strong storytelling tradition. It’s in our roots. With The Killing, Borgen, we gained confidence and felt we could create something of very high quality-perhaps something we weren’t so aware of in TV, although we had a sense of this perhaps in film. I think that generated a phase where we became too aware, and maybe lost the centre, which is the key to success.

I’m personally extremely proud to be part of this project. It shows that we are still creating TV shows that are not safe, calculated to reach an audience. It has a strong Danish/Nordic tone and authenticity. I believe in the reality of the series, which also has a larger epic scale.

MN: We’re all under the shadow of Dreyer, so when Lars von Trier came and started experimenting, that set everyone in Denmark free. When we realised we could do genre in TV, and combine it with other traditions, such as documentaries which is where I come from, it was another liberating step.

DD: We have a formidable drama heritage. I don’t watch so much TV stuff, but there are so many good creatives out there, and Nordic noir is a genre in itself, imitated everywhere in the world. This series is cutting edge, brutal, authentic, gritty. It’s like the Pusher trilogy, stuff from the Safdie brothers. It links to a history of movie-making that I really enjoy-high pulse!

FLH: At the moment, some of the most cinematic experiences you can have come from TV drama. With this series, we were lucky to get the full support from DR. We had a lot of freedom to create the show the way we wanted-with the cast we wanted. They trusted our vision, and that trust is perhaps why it was such a great experience for all of us.

Are you going to do a season 2?
KFA: We don’t know yet.

What are you all up to next?
KFA: I’m working on a play the Royal Theatre. It will be an outdoor play, with 50 extras and horses, about Norse mythology.

MN: I have a new film with Trine Dyrholm, called Birthday Girl…I’m excited about it. Then I’ll have a great vacation.

FLH: I am preparing a second feature with Zentropa, called The Quiet Ones. A true story about the biggest money heist committed in Denmark. I will start filming in September.

SG: I will next do a play which I’m looking forward to, as I haven’t done a play in at least six years. The last thing I did was Scenes from a Marriage.

DD: I will do a TV show in Sweden this autumn, based on a true tragedy. It’s under the radar as the content is explosive.
(The interview was edited for clarity and publication purpose)


Prisoner’s creators and co-stars on the making of the DR series and Nordic drama

Prisoner team Canneseries 2023 / PHOTO: AP