The last time I spoke with Icelandic star Olafur Darri Olafsson, we were chatting at a live online event with Barnet libraries one evening in spring 2021. But it was 06.30 in the morning for Darri, and he was in quarantine over in Australia.
“Let me just grab a coffee” he has said before the event kicked off.
Fast forward almost a year and we’re talking again, but this time he’s back on his home soil in Iceland and speaking to me from his car – parked of course:
“My daughter is doing a dance class so I thought I’d wait here and we can chat – how are you?!“
It is incredible that he still remembers me from that event back in March, tired from jet lag and bored from hotel quarantine. Although it did go on for two hours, and as Darri put it: “I’m happy to talk all day, I can’t go anywhere!”
In the last few weeks the penny dropped as to why Darri was in Australia all that time ago – he was filming drama comedy The Tourist – his third outing with writers the Williams Brothers.
Darri starts off telling us a bit about his involvement in this new BBC iPlayer hit that was released a few weeks ago:
“I don’t really foresee any time where Jack and Harry [the Williams brothers] might reach out and I’d decline them. I think they are incredible – their writing is quite unique and what they offered to me in terms of parts have been so different in shape and size. So I have really enjoyed them.
I loved being part of The Missing, which I thought was one of the best series I have seen in a long time; then playing a man who ends up blind in the The Widow, to The Tourist where I am playing the lovely Billy Nixon“Darri on working with the William’s Brothers – writers of The Tourist.
For those that haven’t seen The Tourist yet, currently available on BBC iPlayer, there is slight bit of sarcasm shining through on Darri’s grin. Billy Nixon is far from lovely. Our first encounter with him is in episode one where he chases a confused Jamie Dornan in a truck across the outback. The moment made me think of Spielberg’s Dual and the it kind of goes down a No Country for Old Men route from there.
Darri agrees and adds:
“I got strong Hitchcock feels from it too – this premise of someone waking up and not knowing who they are.
What drew me to it was, firstly, the fact that they wrote it and that I had never been to Australia – it was an interesting time to go to Australia and travel round the world because of Covid. I hadn’t been on a plane for about a year and even since then I have only ventured out twice and that is about it.
So I loved the script but I have this weird thing where I don’t finish them, I don’t want to give too much away so maybe it would be better not to say anything – only that I am watching the series as we speak and I am up to episode four!”
The cast is a really interesting collection of stars which Darri cites as one of the best things about the series. Jamie Dornan takes the lead (currently also in movie Belfast), supported by a great Danielle MacDonald (Patti Cake$), and Damon Herriman (Mr Inbetween/The Serpent).
Other brilliant performances come from Alex Dimitriades, who plays Kostas, and Shalom Brune-Franklin playing Luci.
“I have to shout out to the women in this – they do an absolutely incredible job“
Steering away from the story there was one striking feature in the series that I picked up on and that was Billy Nixon’s cowboy boots! How on earth did Darri manage to get by walking in those all day?
“Well you know what, cowboy boots are kind of nice, they aren’t that hard to wear and actually they are really comfortable. One of the things they had written into the script was the cowboy hat and boots – I put on that hat and there he was, there was this character, and with Billy that happened really fast.
Anything and everything I was trying to do with Billy was to make everyone around him uncomfortable, all the time…even I was uncomfortable! There were some scenes were I was thinking – what the?! What is going on with this guy – he is such a weirdo.
I enjoyed that but it sounds weird when it is coming from the guy playing the character but maybe it is because you see what he is capable of. “Darri discusses his character Billy from The Tourist.
Billy is not the only bad guy that Darri has played – just the mention of a character he plays in the adaptation of Joe Hill’s NOS4A2 makes him almost visibly terrified.
“Oh god, yeah”
But for those that have mostly seen Darri as their Icelandic hero Andri from the TV Series Trapped, they might get a bit of a shock when watching The Tourist. Fans of the actor have been rattled by his brilliant performance and he is clearly having so much fun as the character.
Darri talks about some of his acting heroes who have been given some of the best villain roles and cites two of his favourites as the great Gary Oldman in Leon and then Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada:
“She never raises her voice once in that film but you are terrified of her!“
Of course one question on most of our minds is when will season 3 of Trapped be released and what can we expect? The full series has aired in Iceland now with practically the whole country gathering round their televisions every Sunday night to watch it, but over in the UK we are still waiting for some news, any news, of its release.
Unfortunately this is something that even the detective himself can not answer but I at least manage to coax a little bit more information from him:
“I obviously don’t want to give too much away but what I can say, I think, is that this season deals very much with the past.
We get to find out more about what happened to Andri and the reason he shows up in this small town for Season One of the series – from being this detective from the big city and why he really had to start living in the north of Iceland. We get to watch him go through the progress of living the past and trying to come to terms of the past.
We have my wonderful co-star playing Hinrika and some other recognisable faces too – who you have met before. I think people will really enjoy this one – I hope they will“
As Darri confessed to us earlier, he tends not to read too far ahead in his scripts and prefers to act out all his scenes and then watch the shows (or films) when they are released – he hasn’t got round to seeing all of the third season yet and is admittedly hesitant to say anything more on the show for fear of spoiling anything.
The Icelandic TV & Film Industry
Upon conversation with podcaster Rob Watts (from the excellent Kvikmyndapod), he had a burning question for Darri about the Icelandic film and TV industry and their collaborative process between the actors, directors, different crew roles; as everyone seems very much involved and working very closely together, both in front and behind the screens.
Quake is a great example where you have the actress Tinna Hrafnsdóttir getting behind the camera and directing. I asked Darri for his thoughts:
“I think the Icelandic acting environment, and I have probably said this before, that one of the greatest things about working in Iceland as an artist is that you have such an easy access to other arts.
We have agents here, but we have like two agents, so you’re either with this agent or that one, if you even want to have one. This means that if you have a project or you want to collaborate on something it is going to be easy to get the number of Jonsi for example, or even Bjork – you will probably know someone who is able to reach out and ask them.
I think that it is kind of unique – you can look at Björn Hlynur Haraldsson who plays Trausti in Trapped – a great actor who now has a show on Sundays called Vesturport (Blackport) which is a show made by our old theatre group and he is one of the directors of that show which he also stars in.
So you go from one day working with someone as an actor to the next where they are the director and so on – that is quite common here. We can have very honest conversations with each other about scenes or scripts while we are working on them and there is lot of value in that, along with the cooperation.
Darri goes on to explain that Iceland doesn’t have a lot of money to put into their film making and therefore they don’t have the luxury of developing scripts and letting them go through the process of being read by many people. It has become better and better there, but it used to be that you would write a script and you would just produce that script and it would become a movie.
“In the UK, US, or really anywhere else in the world, you would have ten scripts and maybe one will be produced if you are lucky, but I think having said that, Icelandic film makers are becoming more professional and more have gone through an academic process. I think it is getting better and better here!”
One thing that is noticeable is Darri’s return to do more Icelandic television and film. Where you might have seen him appear in such things as True Detective, The Meg, and Lady Dynamite, you now find him in series such as The Minister, the upcoming Vegferð (Journey), and there are also two more films on the way.
The first is Summerlight and Then Comes The Night, which is an adaptation of Jón Kalman Stefánsson‘s novel, and the second is called Beautiful Beings.
Darri tells us more:
“I am really looking forward to people seeing that, Elfar Adalsteins is the director of that and one of the main producers – along with me and three others. We bought the rights to the book around 8-9 years ago and it has been a bit of a labour of love – but it such a great book! I actually just saw it a couple of weeks ago and it is pretty much finished – I absolutely loved it! It touched me very deeply and I really look forward to when people can see this.
Last summer I also did a film directed by Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson called Beautiful Beings, his previous movie was Heartstone. It is a really interesting film which you could say is about growing up as a young man and toxic masculinity – it is just so beautifully acted by these young men who are taking their first steps as actors. It was such a pleasure to be involved in that and it is a really important film.“
What has Darri been watching?
It is clear that Darri certainly likes to watch a lot, as do we! So we thought it would be interesting to hear what he has been catching recently:
“Well I was at this family gathering recently and someone told me off for not watching enough Icelandic television and they were absolutely right. For some reason I have not gotten too caught up in it but I am such a binger when it comes to shows – I like to wait for them to all come out and then binge through them.
I am really looking forward to watching Blackport and Black Sands – but I want to wait until it is all out. There is just so much great stuff out there I just want to put all the focus into that one show and finish that story.
I saw Mare of Easttown – that was great – and what about this Great British Bake Off?
I was not expecting to hear that Darri is massive fan of the Bake Off of all things!
“So when I was filming Lady Dynamite with Maria Bamford about five or six years ago, Maria kept talking about this British baking show and I was wondering what the hell she was talking about. Then I caught an episode and got absolutely hooked.
There is something to be said about the kind hearted, nice, lovely, competitiveness of it, but yet everyone wants to try and help each other which is awesome to see. You get heartbroken if someone’s cake doesn’t rise! It is universal and we can all relate to it“.
Both Darri and I then trail off into a very long conversation about TV series including I May Destroy You, Succession, The Wire, Fleabag – a lot of names are bandied around and it is very clear that Darri has impeccable taste in television which might explain his brilliant script choices.
The Tourist is currently out on BBC iPlayer
Trapped we are hoping for a release in early 2022!
Interview by Alex Minnis