It’s five in the afternoon and it’s pitch black in Copenhagen when I start my call with Danish actress Maria Erwolter, and even though she looks snug in her hygge spot, she’s not a lover of winter:
“Some people are okay with the dark here but I can’t stand it – give me the sunshine!”
We spoke about two series that she has recently worked on that have been released on Netflix – 1899 and Copenhagen Cowboy.
Here she has got to work with two masters when it comes to direction, with 1899 being helmed by Baran bo Odar, the director behind Dark, and the great Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn creating the other.
“1899 is so dark and Copenhagen Cowboy is so colourful and twisted.”
1899 is a Netflix series you might well have heard of by now, as despite the mind-boggling series’ popularity, it was recently cancelled after its first season, for reasons still unknown.
One thing is for sure though, just because this series has been cancelled by Netflix, doesn’t mean you should throw it off your watchlist. It is an absolutely fantastic experience and manages to have a conclusion that will feel sufficient enough, yet admittedly make you pine for more, and fingers crossed that might happen if another streamer or network picks it up.
Marie filmed the series in Berlin during lockdown, and all of the cast were living in different studios and having to adhere to all the covid restrictions. Her first day was a little marred when she lost her keys within thirty minutes of getting her apartment:
“There were about 7 or 8 of us staying in the same building – we were all locked away, but were still causing trouble knocking on the walls – it felt like we were at a boarding school or something“
It was hard work being separated from everyone, and Maria talks about missing her family:
“It was difficult not being able to see my family – usually you could travel back and forth in-between breaks but this was not possible to do during the shoot.
I have been to Berlin many times before but when I arrived I couldn’t believe how empty it was – there was no one on the streets and it was such a weird experience“
We discuss that opening scene to Vanilla Sky in Times Square and how once upon a time it would seem impossible to think that a shot like that could happen but after Covid it became very possible.
And what about actually working on the set of this series? Based in the year 1899 on a huge cruise ship I was fascinated to learn how the experience was working on set:
“I remember going to the set and discussing the script with Bo, and they asked me if I wanted to see how it all looked with the screens. It just totally blew my mind and I was so excited to be part of all of this – I hadn’t even met the amazing cast at that stage!“
Marie was a fan of the creators previous series Dark, a show she described as something you couldn’t binge – where you had to let each episode settle in your mind to try and fully comprehend it.
“The first time we were all together as a cast we read through the first three episodes and we tested what it would be like with us speaking all in English or in our different languages.”
The show features actors from across the world; German, Danish, Icelandic, Japanese, and British – it shares a stunning, eclectic cast.
“We all just fell in love listening to the different languages, which ended up being the direction the directors went with.”
1899’s story is such a complicated one which gave me strong Lost (season one) vibes. Rather than a plane crash, this is a group of people with interesting backstories all aboard a ship that runs into some difficulties when the Captain responds to an SOS call. From magical bugs to secret time-travelling passages – there was a lot to process, which we laugh about:
“I have so many questions I want to ask Jantje [the creator of the series], sit her down on a chair and go through a list of questions with her. I
remember going through the script and I was just trying to figure the puzzle, then I just stopped trying to figure it out and go with the flow. Reading the scripts just got me even more confused.”
Some of her questions were answered by watching back the full show rather then reading the script – and that is why we were such fans!
My first experience of seeing Maria was in her debut film, Pusher 2. Here she was being directed by upcoming Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn; her character snorting coke and hurling abuse at a very young Mads Mikkelsen (who himself made his first debut in the first Pusher film as Tommy).
Flash forward almost 19 years later and Maria is back in another Nicholas Winding Refn feature – Copenhagen Cowboy – available on Netflix. Where we have been discussing bugs that unlock doors and mystery puzzles; Copenhagen Cowboy takes things to another level of weird- perhaps some never really seen before on Netflix.
“Pusher 2 was my debut and funnily enough I hadn’t seen Refn ever since – so we had never met since the film. When the role came up for the series I had no idea who was behind it or anything – all I got was a description that read: ‘Do you want to be the mother to a psychopath?’ My immediate answer was ‘yes!'”
Maria explains how much fun it was to get to work with Refn again after such a long time since she last saw him.
“He has not changed, it is crazy, 18 years have passed and he is the same man. He has developed his finesse and detail when it comes to sharing stories and that has been a great journey to witness and then be a part of.”
“He is so into all the details – observing what was going on when he was shooting on set I just felt so honoured to be part of that. I have learned and experienced so much myself and it was great to watch how he has developed his style – his eyes are everywhere“.
Maria explains how the director likes to work a lot with the same people, even her costume designer was the same from her time on Pusher 2;
“The costumes in this series are beautiful and I would arrive in the morning with some options which we would try out. Refn would take a look at them and see which worked best. Not because of how they looked but how the colour looked for the right lighting.”
Maria waxes lyrical about the great director but her favourite story she shares with me about working with him was that because they were shooting her scenes within an old medievial castle and they all had to wear slippers – including the director himself:
“It was so funny seeing him do all these masterful shots and takes wearing a pair of slippers!”
What is coming next?
With some fantastic series’ under her belt we discuss what is coming next for Maria and she explains she will be involved in both a feature film and six-part series called Hagen, based on the German poem the Nibelungenlied and apparently where Lord of the Rings
“I am playing a servant to the Icelandic queen, who marries the German king. It is currently being filmed in Prague but then we will be shooting in Iceland too, there is an international cast involved but as it is German production is is predominantly a German cast.
I have been riding on a horse, I have been fighting, I have a sword – it is great!”
There is no doubt Maria is loving life at the moment and it was a joy to catch up with the actress and all the fascinating work she has been involved in – we can’t wait to see her next projects come to life!
You can watch both 1899 and Copenhagen Cowboy over on Netflix now – but don’t miss out on the Pusher Trilogy which you can find on Viaplay UK!