Nordic Watchlist had the wonderful opportunity to speak to four of the stars from Netflix’s new Swedish series The Playlist. A six-part fictionalised account that focuses on the people who played key roles in the creation of music player Spotify – and how the tech changed how people listened to music forever.
Using quite a unique format, each episode is titled after the role of each character, who tells their version of events. The first episode is based on the founder and entrepreneur, Daniel Ek, showing some of his life from his first job experiences before coming up with the idea for Spotify. The final episode showcases the viewpoint of the music artists whose art is available via the platform, how do they feel and what do they get in return?
The four episodes in the middle star actors Gizem Erdogan (Caliphate) as Petra Hansson, a determined and talented lawyer; Ulf Stenburg (Beartown) who plays Per Sundin, the big cheese of the ‘traditional’ music industry and record labels; Christian Hillborg (The Last Kingdom) plays Martin Lorentzon as the live wire investor; and finally – Joel Lützow (Gåsmamman) who plays Andreas Ehn, a quiet genius coder.
We spoke to them all to find out more about their involvement and experience of making the show and playing fictionalised versions of real people and telling a fictionalised story behind such a famous company.
Nordic Watchlist: To all of you – how familiar were you with the true story of how Spotify came to be before the show?
Gizem: Well I didn’t know too much, I was of course aware of Daniel Ek who started it all – but nothing more than that, not even about the character who I play, Petra Hansson.
She was part of the group from the beginning so when I was discussing the role with Per-Olav Sørensen (the director of the series) and I realised she was this real person, he suggested I should meet her.
That was my first contact with the story – however The Playlist is more a fictional story, inspired by the real stories.
Ulf: I am little bit older than Gizem, so perhaps I was at an age where I was very much aware of what was happening with Spotify, as it was like a revolution with music then.
Getting to listen to music through a different way, other than vinyl or CDs – I remember this whole transition to the digital age. It was such a big thing but I had no idea about Per Sundin, the character I play in the series. But as soon as I got the role I researched him and found we actually had a lot of friends in common.
I have some experience with a musical background and friends who have a lot of experience – plus we also came from the same small town in Northern Sweden.
Through this project I got to know him really well.
Christian: For me I wasn’t too aware of Martin Lorentzon, but when I read the book that inspired the series I was just amazed. Not just about Martin’s role – but all the others as well – even all the research that went into making the series to deliver all these different perspectives that they all had. This is what Spotify is all about.
I even felt very proud of being Swedish, that we did all this, and then I realised we did Pirate Bay as well which wasn’t so good but you realise how much we take for granted now.
Joel: Well, I knew quite a bit about Spotify – I attended the Royal Institute of Technology where Andreas Ehn also went, so we basically studied the same thing, and Spotify recruited pretty heavily from the computer science students where I studied.
So I knew quite a bit, mainly about the tech and how it all works. I didn’t know what the other people themselves contributed, so that was fun to find out, then there was the vast amount of research done for the series itself, and it was so fun to take part in.
I think it was so fascinating to see how many people were involved and how hard they worked for this dream to come true – and it did come true – so many people might only know a few names behind Spotify, but there are others likes Andreas who devoted their lives to Spotify, yet weren’t given the same credit.
It was fun to bring that story to life and, I hope, do those people justice.
Nordic Watchlist: Joel, I was going to ask how you got into the mind of the coder and understand their world – but I guess you already knew?
Joel: Well I had to check up on a few old notes but it was there in my mind. It did become clear pretty quickly that there were technical things that we needed to fix, for example the language of the coders.
I also became a script consultant for the show. So it was the first time that I was not just acting but working on the script as well. I found myself working through a lot of material and even explaining the internet to the director and the people building the set. I was given a lot of responsibility and they let me do my thing with it, which I hope shines through.
Nordic Watchlist: They are depicted as a pretty wild bunch of people to work with in the series – is that a true account of them?
Joel: Well, yes, we are definitely a nutty bunch but we are also showing this generational shift, almost a paradigm shift when big tech started emerging. There have been critiques on this – on ways of how to keep people working in the office and how extremely creative people can get a release.
I have worked with people who are insane and normal people like you and me – the main thing to understand is that coders are very creative. That doesn’t come across so much as part of the stereotype, but they are.
Christian: I found your episode so interesting with the coders because it shows how much effort these guys made working away in this cellar for hours and hours. We are all visionaries who have one goal and sometimes need to be limitless with that.
Nordic Watchlist: Gizem, you have a very unique episode in the series – tell us a bit more about how that came together?
Gizem: I see it as quite a theatrical episode, it made me think of Brecht (the German theatre practitioner) as it doesn’t follow the standard psychological journey a character might have.
So there is this corridor and one of these doors says Spotify – from here is all starts. It unfolds like a play, as if you are in the theatre in a way, which I found really interesting.
I think with Petra’s character she really felt like the only grown up in the room and that was a fascinating journey for her in this episode and her story arc. There is a great tempo to it and I had a great time with it.
Ulf: I think it is such a key episode because everything leading up to that has been quite straight forward but when it comes to Petra’s episode you realise that this could go in any direction.
Technically it is such a fantastic episode from the cast and camera crew – there are these shots all done in one take, and so brilliantly choreographed.
Nordic Watchlist: And what about your character Ulf? Tell us about your dynamic with Daniel Ek?
Ulf: My relationship with Daniel Ek – well – I think that as soon as he actually listens to what he has to say, he understands that he has this meeting with the future.
Whether he likes it or not – so that is like a key moment for the pair of them.
If you look into Per Sundin now, he has gone completely from this analogue music industry, he is still the CEO for Universal music but is also into all the digital side of it. Just the other day he bought all the Avicii catalogue and also Swedish House Mafia – all based on making it accessible.
The Playlist is where everything changes for him, the start of it all.
Nordic Watchlist: Christian – you brought this incredible energy and enthusiasm to your character, it’s hard not to smile along. Yet you also brought fragility too – how much fun was it to play Martin?
Joel: He was like this on set!
Christian: Oh it was great fun – I think the biggest challenge was to give him heart as well. The work that Christian Spurrier did with the script was really amazing.
It is always fun to play a bit crazy, in a way that gives you this little spark of crazy inside you that you can use. When we did the research about Martin we realised that everyone had their own stories to tell you about him which was interesting, and there was one who had said: ‘Oh he is crazy’ – so I kept that in mind.
It’s great that you saw that fragility within his character – he was kind of like the shepherd, the old guy, with these young guys.
Joel: I met Martin once at Spotify – he had this initiative at the Spotify studio and we would let artists just turn up and play some music. Some friends and I were there but we were young so the most exciting thing for us was this fridge that was full of Red Bull and Cokes – we were pretty sure we weren’t allowed them so we have bought our own cans of soda of whatever we were drinking.
Then this guy walks in with this classic air of confidence but still this nice older gentleman feel about him and he asks: ‘What are you guys doing?’
We panicked and started to apologise, but he told us to stay and asked us to play some of our music which we had been working on. He was just so excited that we were there and enjoying his project. I think you definitely showed that energy too, Christian.
Christian: He was a very generous guy at Spotify, that’s what I heard, and this character Martin which is loosely based on the real person – you get inspired by that hearsay. There is a reason why the two of us are sitting together here.
Nordic Watchlist: If you were introduced to Spotify for the first time today – what artists or song would you search for first?
Gizem: It would have to be Nina Simone, not the same song as Petra chooses though.
Ulf: Boring answer but I would choose Guttersnipe, that is my old punk rock band and I would love to see if they still have them on there because that is proof that they truly have ALL music!
Joel: J Cole, that would be who I would look for first. I am big hip hop fan.
Christian: I think it would have to be This Must Be The Place by Talking Heads.
We very much enjoyed this fast-paced Swedish drama and recommend you check it out when it comes to Netflix on Thursday 13th October.
Interview by Alex Minnis