Swedish film ‘Tigers’ examines mental health in elite sport, based on real-life experience of footballer Martin Bengtsson and portrayed by actor Erik Enge

We first heard about Tigers back in 2020 when on a phone call with Liv Mjönes. At the time she was promoting the release of her series Stockholm Requiem on Walter Presents and when asked what else she was up to, she mentioned appearing in Tigers. Flash forward to 2022 and finally the film gets a UK release!

Tigers is based on former Inter Milan Swedish soccer star Martin Bengtsson’s own experience of dealing with mental illness. At just 16 years old, his dream came true when he is bought by the top Italian club. But what is the price to pay for pursuing your dream and being top of your game?

Nordic Watchlist speaks to actor Erik Enge (Black Crab) about playing this character in the film, how he prepared for the role, and what important message the film conveys.

Nordic Watchlist: I wanted to ask about your fitness and physique in the film – how much work did you have to put in physically for the role?

Erik Enge: It was a completely different level. So I was working on the project like a year and a half before we started shooting as we had to postpone it multiple times due to financing.

But I started to work out with a personal trainer, with the only goal being to make me look like I had the body of a professional football player. Because I am quite thin, the audience wouldn’t believe that I was a professional athlete, so there was this transformation that I needed to make and we achieved that after a little over a year where I gained like ten kilos of muscle. It was pretty brutal; I had to eat something like 5000 calories a day!

It was such a good way for me to get into character because the physique, the workouts, and all of that stuff is such a huge part of Martin and his life. It was a very good way for me to to get to know Martin a lot better.

Photo Credit: Cina Mon

Nordic Watchlist: How much was Martin (Bengstsson) involved? Did you get to spend time with him?

Erik Enge: Not really no, but he was obviously aware about the project from the very beginning.

Both he and Ronnie Sandhal met when they released their first novels around the same time – they met during the launch of Martin’s book and Ronnie said that he wanted to make this into a movie.

So he was very involved in the thought process and that kind of stuff but he didn’t really do any writing or anything like that and I always felt like I was doing a character that is based on the real Martin Bengtsson. I’m not portraying him. We do a lot of things in the movie that didn’t happen in real life and vice versa. So, for me, I didn’t feel like I had the responsibility of making him the way he is.

I do remember meeting him one time and asking him what it was like playing on the big stage with all these people chanting your name and whether he ever heard it or are you so much into the game that you can’t really.

So we just thought we could talk about those kinds of questions more than character based questions.

Nordic Watchlist: And what about football? Is that a sport that you play? I’ve heard from Adam Berg (director of Black Crab) that you’re very good at ice skating?

Erik Enge: Well, I had done some football before, but I never played in any team or anything like that, more with friends in school and stuff like that. So I wasn’t terrible at football, but equally I wasn’t anywhere near the level of Martin because obviously he’s brilliant!

What I worked on more was how do I move without the ball and how do I walk like a football player – working out how I scan the pitch and stuff like that. The way we shot it was that you always follow Martin and you don’t really know what’s happening in the game – whether they are winning or losing it doesn’t really show as we are seeing everything through eyes of Martin.

It had to feel genuine when you see me on the pitch, you kind of had to believe what I was really seeing, but when it came to the ball and some legs? That doesn’t have to be my legs, I had some brilliant body doubles who were really talented.

Nordic Watchlist: You are also speaking three different languages in the film! Swedish, English, and Italian – how was that?

Erik Enge: Yeah, I mean, English wasn’t a problem but the way I usually speak English is more like I’m speaking to you now – it’s more towards the British way. However with Martin we wanted him to speak English like a normal Swedish youth would do, which is more to us the American way – so I just tried to copy that.

Then with Italian, I felt like me and Martin kind of had the same journey in a way because we were in Italy for two months shooting and most of the cast were Italians. So I heard it quite a lot. I could pick up stuff eventually – the same with the training. We kind of had the journey together. So when he got better in Italian, I also got better.

Nordic Watchlist: There is a very important message coming from the film. What do you hope that people take from Tigers?

Erik Enge: As you say, it’s a very important movie, and I think it touches a subject that you don’t really hear too much about. When you think of football, you think of these wealthy guys who drive fancy cars and they’re living the the dream of every young boy.

So you don’t really see the dark side of it and I think that it is important to be able to show that as well, because there is so much pressure.

When you are in an Academy team, like Martin’s character, you’re not really playing with each other – you are playing against each other. So if you are not tough skinned or if you can’t shut it off, it will affect you for sure – it definitely did affect Martin in a very bad way.

So it raises this question; who is the sick one? Is it Martin? Is it the the industry? Or just the circumstance?

Nordic Watchlist: What things have you been watching, reading, listening to at the moment?

Erik Enge: Right now I’m watching Succession – that is brilliant. I don’t have as much time as I would like right now, and there are so many movies to watch! I want to see The Power of the Dog and Hand of God – I’m really looking forward to watching those.

TIGERS will be released in UK cinemas July 1st 2022

Interview by Alex Minnis