As Swedish thriller series Blue Eyes hits British screens, we talk to the show’s creator, Alex Haridi, and one of its stars Karin Franz Korloff.
Walter Luzzolino is the man behind Channel 4’s much touted foreign-language drama division, Walter Presents. A TV-obsessed Italian who used his period of unemployment to watch countless boxsets from around the globe, it’s thanks to Walter that the phenomenally successful Deutschland 83 came to British shores. Soon though, we’ll have another addictive drama to thank (or curse, depending on how much free time you’ve got) him for. Blue Eyes is the gripping Swedish political thriller that was a runaway critical and commercial success in its homeland when it aired last year. Nevertheless, it also attracted its fair share of controversy too; unsurprising given that its focus is Sweden’s escalating refugee crisis and the concurrent rise of Nationalist groups and parties in a country renowned for its open egalitarianism.
Tense and brutal, the show is a pacey ensemble piece that establishes and sustains multiple narrative strands – the family of a local anti-immigration party politician, the Chief of Staff in the Justice Minister’s department and a neo-Nazi terrorist cell are all key players in this densely plotted series – and explosive action whilst never losing sight of some of the wider ideological issues framing and surrounding its disturbingly prescient events. The programme may be located in Sweden, but in an increasingly turbulent and troubled Europe, Blue Eyes has true international appeal with the edge-of-your-seat thrills to boot.
During a wide-reaching conversation with the show’s creator Alex Haridi, and actor Karin Franz Korloff (who plays a young mother sympathetic to the Nationalist cause), Wonderland talks global media, Swedish politics, and the powers and limitations of drama.
Wonderland: What inspired you to make the series?
Alex Haridi: It started out with the 2010 elections in Sweden where we, for the first time, got an extreme, right wing party in Sweden which was a really big shock. Especially for me, growing up in Stockholm – not seeing that much of the racism and the rage that a lot of people have more in the country side. I felt, ‘is this my Sweden?’ Raising my gaze and seeing this big European trend towards right wing parties. It’s very traumatic for us Swedes because we have this image of ourselves as the conscience of the world and a moral superpower and now we realise that we’re not better than anyone else. That there’s racism and sexism and homophobia here.
W: So do you think that Sweden’s reputation for openness and equality been lost irrevocably?
Karin Franz Korloff: Maybe we didn’t deserve it to start with. Definitely there has been a change and I didn’t even know we had had that kind of reputation before. But we definitely don’t deserve it anymore!
A: One of the things I wanted to explore with this show is how the power structure of politics and global power….in a sense benefit from this and keeping people in conflict with each other. And if there wasn’t a financial impetus for that I don’t think it would exist. There’s a bit of a conspiracy theorist in me coming out! My personal view on drama is always to let the viewer make their own judgements so I wanted to make characters that were carrying their own ideas and that the show itself isn’t passing judgement on them but leaving that to the viewer.
W: So what do you think drama like this can, or should, be achieving in a political sense?
A: I don’t think any kind of art can change the way people think…the only thing that can actually change your mind is the interactions you have with people around you…So, what drama can be is a conversation starter: a starting off point for actually having those conversations and not closing your eyes to the problems of the world. So that’s what drama can do…but then the heavy lifting of actually creating change, I really don’t think drama or any art can do that.
W: How influenced is the story by actual events?
A: There’s been a weird give and take between reality and what we’ve been writing. We started writing this back in 2010 – six years ago, a whole different world – but now that the show is airing…it started out as a “what if?” proposition: if this continues, what could the world possibly look like in a nightmarish, dystopic vision of the future? But now it’s almost realism. When it’s airing it’s basically the world we live in…We seemed to be in some kind of Stephen King short story where we were almost writing the news.
W: Karin, what attracted you to the project?
K: The first thing that I noticed and that struck me when I auditioned for the part, when I first saw the script, was that I was shocked and happy to audition for a character who wasn’t a victim, who wasn’t a femme fatale or just a girlfriend. It made me really interested and I really wanted the part! And when I came in and discussed the project and heard about the intentions of the show I was like, “oh my God,” because these are questions that circle around my head as well.
W: Is your character based or inspired by anyone or was your process very interior?
K: I did do a lot of research and read a lot of literature on racism and neo-Nazism…as well as women in the right wing movement. I met with a girl, and had a deep conversation with her, who was a “Naturalist”, as she calls herself. And that was really interesting. That gave a lot of perspective and flesh to my character. To just sit down and talk to her and realise she was just a normal girl. I would never in a million years spot her on the street and think, “she’s a neo-Nazi”. And that’s what scary. That they can be just like you or me.
A: There is a false comfort in fiction…that kind of very well-defined stock character – we can relax in that. We can relax in the idea of, “that’s what a Nazi looks like. I can spot them right away.” No, it could be the person sitting next you who looks completely normal. And that’s what scares the shit out of me.
K: She was really proud of her opinions…Racism is politics. It’s not just opinion, it’s real and a way of ruling the country. So it was really interesting meeting her.
W: There’s a chilling atmosphere in the show; does that feeling translate to the vibe on set?
K: It was really hard shooting some of the scenes…especially when my character’s mother [who is a local candidate for the anti-immigration party depicted in the show] is making her speech. We were shooting it in a small town…it was a sunny day and lots of people were out and about and I was on the “wrong” side of the fence and I didn’t like that at all! There were so many people passing by shouting, “boo!”…I often go to protests (but I’m usually on the other side) and this is the first time that I didn’t like it.
W: Do you think we’re coming into a new era for international, non-English language shows like this one?
A: I do think that the whole defragmentation of the media landscape is going to continue and hopefully we’ll have a world where you can finance very niche shows on the basis that even though only 20 people in Britain who will watch this show, you can put those together with the 1000 Italians and the four people in the Czech Republic. So hopefully that’ll happen and it will make the TV landscape more exciting.