In 1920, Swedish-born actress Greta Garbo first appeared on the screen in a short “Herr och fru Stockholm,” later also known as “How Not to Dress.” Little did the world know that it would be the beginning of a remarkable Hollywood career until she retired from acting in 1941, nor that she would be one of the most charismatic screen legends ever.
Garbo put her native country on the map when it comes to acting, even though she was preceded by Anna Q. Nilsson, who had emigrated to the U.S. at age 17 in 1905 and became a star during the silent era. Many Swedish actresses followed the same path and became renowned international leading ladies, including Ingrid Bergman, Signe Hasso, Viveca Lindfors, Inger Stevens, Bibi Andersson, and Liv Ullman. The latest generation includes actresses such as Noomi Rapace and Alicia Vikander.
You should add Josefin Asplund (b. 1991) to that list as well. After her screen debut in David Fincher’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo” (2011), she has appeared in front of the camera in both films and television series, including “Vikings” (2016-2018), an American-Irish co-production. Her latest screen effort is the crime drama “Snow Angels” (a.k.a. “Snöänglar”). Ms. Asplund plays the role of Jenni, a mother of two. Set in Stockholm during a snowstorm, her youngest child, a five-year-old baby, disappears one night, and in the aftermath, all eyes are on her. She doesn’t remember what happened that night. Is she guilty? Or isn’t she?
The six-part mini-series, directed by Anna Zackrisson, and created and scripted by Mette Heeno, is a crime drama and addresses motherhood in Swedish society by focusing on the different phases of becoming a mother, what it must feel like to lose a child, and, even more so, what if it is your fault if the child is missing.
Watching Josefin Asplund as Jenni, in a performance of outstanding bravery and at the highest level of acting in film and television today, she makes “Snow Angels” an intellectually and emotionally exhausting experience—a drama of the highest caliber. It’ll pin you to your seat. Thanks to her performance, the series finds its tone in its very first scene and holds your attention until the last frame. I told you so—we all need to add Ms. Asplund to the list of top-notch Swedish actresses. In her home country, she’s already a phenomenon, with 200,000 followers on her Instagram account. Career-wise, things are definitely looking up.
“Snow Angels” was shown on Scandinavian television to ravish reviews and is now available in several territories (TV, DVD, and/or streaming). Dutch-speaking audiences in the Netherlands and Flanders can also watch Ms. Asplund at work in her previous TV series, “Top Dog” (2020), as a lawyer, from Saturday, May 8, on the Dutch TV channel NOP3.
In this Zoom interview, Ms. Asplund talks about “Snow Angels” and the character of Jenni, her work as an actress, and shooting the series during the coronavirus pandemic.
Miss Asplund, what was your first impression when you read the script of “Snow Angels”?
When I first auditioned for the series, I hadn’t read anything. I only got like a tiny description of Jenni being very vulnerable. But the character of Jenni is taking sedatives to push her problems away, and she does have an addiction, while it’s not really out there; people never say it out loud in the series. At that point, she wasn’t described as a person who was addicted or had that kind of a problem. But when I read that short description of her, I felt that I knew her immediately; I realized that I had met so many Jennis in my life. I grew up in the suburbs of Stockholm, in an area where a lot of parents were struggling with economics, trying to keep it up, trying to take care of their kids, and I just realized that I met a lot of these moms when I was a kid. So I felt a deep connection to her immediately when I read that small description. And then eventually, I got to read the first episode, and I felt I had to do this, even though it’s very dark. It’s a very dark story.
For an actress, I’m sure it’s a very challenging part to play. Most of Jenni’s scenes are very dramatic, especially those when she’s in jail. What’s your mindset like before you start shooting a scene, and how do you decide what your face and body language will do to become Jenni?
It has to do with a lot of things. First of all, at that point, I had been shooting with Anna [director Anna Zackrisson] and the whole team for a month. So I was very comfortable with them. I had been with the character, with Jenni and this world of hers, for such a long time. In the beginning, it may be hard to find my character, and I always love it when I don’t have the most challenging scenes the first day because you’re in the beginning of the process. But the prison scenes, we shot all of them in one week, so that meant three episodes in one week. And my job is to try to understand another person, getting into her shoes, and I make up my whole world about Jenni and everything that she’s been through. But when it comes to certain performances, it just happens. It has a lot to do with feeling comfortable and safe, I think, to be relaxed and know that you can let go, and really allow your emotions and just be in the moment. It sounds like a cliché, but being in that environment, wearing those clothes, knowing the whole story that I’ve been through and that Jenni has been through, it does something with you. It really helps you to put yourself in her shoes and feel what she’s feeling. And sometimes, some shoots, it doesn’t happen. I think it also depends on how deeply you connect to the character and the story. And again, even from the beginning, I felt very deeply for the character and the story. But it also has a lot to do with Anna; I felt completely free and safe with her, and she genuinely said to us, ‘You don’t have to reach for anything, we don’t need tears, it doesn’t have to be dramatic. Just be in the moment, and we’ll see what happens.’ I think that allowed me—and all the other actors as well—to take everything in, and we had time to do it. I mean, we had so much time for takes, we took our time; her focus was on us, on the actors—it was not about getting a cool shot or something. She was very much an actor’s director, and that helped me in the process. And to come back to your question, it’s my job [laughs] to get the right emotions.
You said that you were free with her. Does that also mean that you had the opportunity to improvise or try new things out?
Yes, totally. Acting is a lot about getting impulses and go with those impulses, and not plan anything ahead when it is difficult because you have to be in the moment. Then you will have to see where the scene goes. Sometimes when you film, you have to hit your mark; you have to be in a certain spot, so you can’t do whatever you want. But we had Anna, and [cinematographer] Andréas Lennartsson always followed us, even when we decided, ‘You should end up here, or you should go there.’ In some of the scenes, I didn’t feel like it, and I would go the other way or react differently. And that’s what it’s all about. There’s no right or wrong, we were trying out these different things all the time, both with Anna and Andréas, and that definitely allowed me to do whatever I felt in that moment and do what felt right for the character of Jenni.
Are you able to check the news on your phone like ten minutes before you have to be on the set?
I can do that, but I don’t prefer it. I like to stay in my focus; I tend to get distracted if I am reading something else or if my mind is somewhere else. So I don’t usually do that. In between takes, I hang out with the rest of the team. You grab an apple, or you look at the scene you’re about to do. That’s how I work. I am addicted to my phone [laughs], so I was very keen not to have it on me the whole day.
There are a lot of close-ups of Jenni. Does that make you more vulnerable as an actress because your expression and the look of your eyes are all that we see on the screen?
I am very grateful to have many close-ups because you get a better look at my character and what she is feeling. “Snow Angels” is a lot about close-ups and movements close to the characters, and that is so grateful. You come closer to the character—naturally—when the camera is upfront. I used to be quite nervous when it came to close-ups because I knew, ‘Now you see everything, I can’t fake it.’ [Laughs]. But now, I don’t feel that, I just try to be there with every take. If it’s a long shot or a close-up, I want to be ready.
Jenni is a mother of two; there’s Lucas, the missing baby, but also her daughter Nicole, played by Nikole Baronas. I suppose it’s a big difference when you’re working with a child, compared to working with adults?
Completely, and I’m not that experienced with working with children. I’ve done it once before, that was ages ago, and that was completely different. That was a sitcom I shot in Belgium, in Liège. But it’s very different, and Nikole was so amazing; I felt she knew what she was doing. She could really put it on and off. When we were not shooting, she was running around, jumping, being very happy, and as soon as the camera went on, she got into her deep low sense of emotion. Anna had worked with children a lot, so she gave us tips. But it’s more difficult because you don’t know what you will get; when you’re working with an adult, you know you’re on the same page. Working with a child is more challenging; I had to take more responsibilities for the scenes, but that was also a team effort with Anna and Andréas. And Nikole was adorable, she’s really a wonderful kid, and I got quite taken by her. She also got more and more comfortable around me and Ardalan Esmaili, who played my husband Salle. I got quite emotional after we had done all of our scenes; you become so close. We had been shooting for almost half a year together; it’s odd to say goodbye. So, yes, it was different, but it was fun.
“Snow Angels” is a very emotional and absorbing drama, but was there also fun on the set?
[Laughs]. Yes, of course! It’s a heavy story, with emotional and heavy scenes, and that affects you, whether you like it or not. As a human, it does affect you. But despite that, we had a lot of fun on the set. I feel that I can hop in and out of emotions, so when the camera was off, we could joke around, especially when Nikole was there. And you have to; if you’re telling this kind of story, you have to be able to laugh between takes. I remember that from shooting “Call Girl” , also with heavy scenes; it was about prostitution and men abusing kids. You have to joke between takes. I think the most challenging projects and shoots—and, character-wise, “Snow Angels” has definitely been the most challenging for me so far—have also given me the most fun parts. You need to step up; you need to step up your acting game because it’s such a difficult character; that makes it so much more fun because it’s a challenge. Everybody wants to do their best, and that’s the best feeling when you shoot something. Everyone wants it to be the best show ever, and now, I’m so happy that it has gotten so many great reviews.
We know the Swedish government had chosen a different path in terms of the coronavirus pandemic, but how difficult was it during the shoot? Did you have to wear a mask during rehearsals, or were you tested all the time, for example?
Well, we started shooting last year in February, so that was in the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in Europe, and it wasn’t until March that it really got to Sweden, I think. Everyone was like, ‘What is this?!’ Because no one knew anything. And talking about not looking at the news at the same time when we were shooting, we were all living in our little bubble; I remember being quite distant from what was going on in the rest of the world. So we kept on shooting, and we kept hearing about so many sets that were closing down, and then, eventually, I think we were one out of just a few in the whole world that was shooting at that point. Sweden didn’t have a lockdown as other countries had; of course, restaurants were closed down and everything, but we didn’t have to be inside for a long period of time. So we kept on shooting, but every day we didn’t know if we would be able to continue the next day. That brought a different kind of vibe into the whole process; everyone was so happy that we were shooting, so every day, it was like, ‘Okay, cool, we’ve managed to get through today, and hopefully we can shoot tomorrow.’ And then, when everybody understood what it was all about, we had to cancel certain scenes, with babies for example. We shot some of those scenes several months later, and a lot of scenes that we were to shoot in Denmark were canceled, too, because we couldn’t travel between Sweden and Denmark—Denmark was in lockdown. We had Danish actors that couldn’t come to Sweden. It was very problematic, and, schedule-wise, everything just went up and down. And then, eventually, it became like you just said: masks, gloves,… Of course, we actors can’t wear them when we are shooting, but off-camera and behind the camera, we certainly had restrictions. And that was every day until the end, and we have even been working on “Snow Angels” until a week before it aired in Sweden.
You are very passionate about your craft. Have any actresses inspired you to become an actress?
The funny thing is, I’ve been more interested in how movies are being made like I’ve always more admired directors. For example, I like Lukas Moodysson, who did “Fucking Åmål” [1998, a.k.a. “Show Me Love”]. That became huge in Sweden. I remember seeing it when I was young, and I was just knocked; I was blown away. That is where my love for movies started. And I’ve always loved Julia Roberts, but I don’t know why; I don’t like romantic movies that much. I’m more of a “Snow Angels” person who loves these dark, emotional thriller movies. But she has also done so many different, wonderful things. So Julia Roberts was one of them because as a kid I loved “Notting Hill” . That movie made me feel like, ‘I want to be her, I want to be an actor.’
You have also done many different things in the meantime. The wide range you have covered so far, from playing Astrid in “Vikings” to Jenni in “Snow Angels”—from a big-scale epic adventure to this very intimate crime drama—in such a short period of time. That’s quite an accomplishment.
I’m happy to hear that because in this industry, our job is so hard, you know. There is competition all the time; there will always be actors who are better or who look better. So I think it’s important to step back and look at what I’ve done. I don’t know if it has been conscious, but I love to play completely different characters all the time; that’s what I like to do. Like you said, from a period drama during Viking time in an American-Irish production to this small, almost indie crime thriller, I love that. I love those changes, I love challenges when you get to play various characters. That keeps me going, to try new and different things. I hope it will continue that way.
And we can see that in “Snow Angels,” from the very first scene: you keep surprising the audience. I don’t think anyone will ever be able to typecast you.
That’s your goal as an actor; I know that—in Sweden at least—I’ve done a lot of thrillers and crime, but I also feel that my characters were always very different, and that’s important to me. While, on the other hand, it’s almost common that they typecast you, and I don’t understand why. I don’t know how many offers I got after “Vikings” to play a Viking or a lesbian Viking. Come on! [Laughs.] That can’t be interesting for the viewers either, to see the same person playing the same character over and over again. You must mix it up, use your imagination, and play different parts. That makes it so much more interesting for everybody, I think.
April 27, 2021
“Snow Angels” (2021, trailer)
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOO (2011) DIR David Fincher PROD Scott Rubin, Ceán Chaffin, Søren Stærmose, Ole Søndberg SCR Steven Zaillian (novel “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”  by Stieg Larsson) CAM Jeff Cronenweth ED Angus Wall, Kirk Baxter MUS Atticus Ross, Trent Reznor CAST Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgård, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Yorick van Wageningen, Joely Richardson, Josefin Asplund (Pernilla), Julian Sands
CALL GIRL (2012) DIR Mikael Marcimain PROD Mimmi Spång SCR Marietta von Hausswolff von Baumgarten CAM Hoyte Van Hoytema ED Kristofer Nordin MUS Mattias Bärjed CAST Sofia Karemyr, Josefin Asplund (Sonja), Ruth Vega, Pernilla August, Simon J. Berger, Sven Nordin, David Denick
CIRKELN, a.k.a. THE CIRCLE (2015) DIR Levan Akin PROD Benny Andersson, Ludvig Andersson, Cecilia Norman SCR Levan Akin, Sara Bergmark Elfgren (novel “Cirkeln”  by Sara Bergmark Elkgren, Mats Strandberg) CAM Neus Ollé ED Gustav Wachtmeister MUS Benny Andersson CAST Josefin Asplund (Rebecka Mohlin), Helena Engström, Miranda Frydman, Irma von Platen, Hanna Asp, Leona Axelsen
CHAMPION OF THE WORLD (2021) DIR – SCR Aleksey Sidorov PROD Aleksey Sidorov, Nikita Milhalkov, Leonid Vereshchagin, Anton Zlatopolskiy CAM Mikhail Milashin ED Dmitri Komm CAST Konstantin Khabenskiy, Yvan Yankovskiy, Vladimir Vdovichenkov, Viktor Dobronravov, Viktor Sukhorukov, Diana Pozahrskaya, Josefin Asplund
ARNE DAHL: EFTERSKALV (2015), 2 episodes
SEPT NAINS ET MOI (2016), 24 episodes
VIKINGS (2016-2018), 18 episodes
CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE (2019), 8 episodes
SANCTUARY 52019), 8 episodes
TOP DOG (2020), 8 episodes
SNOW ANGELS (2021), 6 episodes
PISKA EN MATTA (2013)
WOODLAND CEMETERY (2019)