‘Where Were You?’ director Nils Holst-Jensen discusses his new Viaplay series

Alex Minnis
Alex Minnis

Alex is the Founder and Content Creator for Nordic Watchlist. He has a passion for all things Scandinavian as well as for film and TV, and has more than 12 years of experience working in the travel industry for the Nordic region.

We are almost a month into having Viaplay UK and one of the first series we decided to dive into was Where Were You? We spoke to the show’s director Nils Holst-Jensen about the teenage drama from Denmark.

Nordic Watchlist: Where Were You? is a new series on streamer Viaplay UK – tell us a little bit about the story

Nils Holst-Jensen: In short, Where Were You? is a crime story about the aftermath of a rape.

What was interesting to me was this angle that is not so much about the crime itself. I remember how me and Julie Budtz (who created the show and wrote the screenplays) talked a lot about this, and how we agreed that this should not be a story about what happened that night – it was a rape, plain and simple, Monica isn’t lying about it or anything.

No – the story should be about how people REACT to it – all the suspicions and difficult emotions that the rape sets in motion. How it tears that group of friends apart. How people react differently to Monica after it has happened, like she has somehow become a totally different person now.

When trying to tell this particular story, I think it is a stroke of genius by Julie to make Monicas best friend, Louise, the main character rather than Monica. Louise sees herself as a very moral girl, who knows what’s right and wrong. She really tries to do the right thing and help her friend find out who did it. But in reality Louise is just a teenager, full of desire and emotion, and she is the clumsiest detective ever.

She is basically suspecting friends on the basis on her own private feelings about them, and when her secret crush, Thais, becomes the main suspect, it becomes extra hard for her to separate emotions and desires from reason and logic. This was my way into the story: I could not claim to know how it feels to be raped, but I can relate to Louise and everyone around Monica – trying to do the right thing, but ending up being clumsy, confused, awkward, and not always knowing what is the right thing to do. We were trying look at every character as a person who is basically good and normal, and to investigate what makes such good and normal persons do wrong things.

Nordic Watchlist: You got to work with a fantastic cast including Filippa Navarana, what was it like getting to direct this talented cast especially with the subject matter being a tough one?

Nils Holst-Jensen: It was a total joy. They were all so sweet and very professional, even though they were so young!

In regards to the tough subject, I’m still amazed how brave they all were. I think especially at that young age (and maybe even more right now) it takes courage to take on a role of someone who does “the wrong thing”… someone who is not cool all the time. Filippa was incredibly cool and professional about it. Without talking much about it, I think we just really tried to make it about the work we were doing and let it not mix too much with our private selves. That was how I thought about it at least.

The boys deserve credit too. They were asked to portray some bad behaviour and do things and say words that could be considered pretty embarrassing. It takes more courage than you would think to do that stuff in front of a crew and a camera and for all your friends to see when it comes out. Respect!

And of course I have to mention Maja Thiele too. She was 16 when we shot the series, playing the victim of rape, and she obviously had to portray a lot of really difficult emotions. We knew we had casted someone good, but we actually didn’t know she was THAT good until we were filming. She was very professional, and still everything she did in front of the camera felt real.

Nordic Watchlist: The series is filmed in short segments making it very easy to watch in one or two sittings – what was the decision behind that?

Nils Holst-Jensen: When I came on board the format was kind of decided already by the producer and the writer. I think the honest answer is the practical one: we are all young and unknown – I am at least – so we would not be able to finance a show of 7 x 50 minutes.

Personally, I must say, that it was a joy with the short running time, because it meant that I could direct every episode myself. And that Julie could write every episode. So rather than a big production with a big writer’s room and many different directors, it was like an intimate feature film production – just a little longer. I liked that.

Nordic Watchlist: What is coming up next for you? Will you return to doing a series?

Nils Holst-Jensen: I’m developing a feature film and maybe another tv-show. The feature is a story about the mother of a kid that goes missing – a pretty twisted satire on parenthood. I’m reluctant to talk too much about it, though, because you never know if it will get made until you are actually shooting it. So I’m trying to have many things cooking.

Nordic Watchlist: And finally what series should we also be checking out?

Nils Holst-Jensen: Lars von Trier was my hero as a teenager. His films meant so so much to me and the way I wanted to make stories – as a kind of “realistic fables” you could say.

Very recently he released the final season of his TV-show “The Kingdom” and if you haven’t seen it already, you should – it is so funny and so dark. Very Danish and at the same time very unlike anything else in Denmark. To me it is one of the best TV-shows ever made.

You can watch Where Were You over on Viaplay UK now – why not take the opportunity to get a free month with Nordic Watchlist?

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