Stars of Copenhagen Does Not Exist talk to us after Rotterdam festival premiere

It’s early on a Tuesday morning and Jonas Holst Schmidt is looking a little tired on our video call, as last night he witnessed the premiere of his debut role in new film Copenhagen Does Not Exist. His co-star, Angela Bundalovic, is yet to appear.

They aren’t the only ones who are a little drowsy, as a bad night’s sleep in a noisy hotel has left me also in desperate need of a coffee and I have not had one yet.

It was our premiere in Rotterdam yesterday, so it’s been a long night” Jonas says as he sits in his hotel room with the Dutch sunlight beginning to rise. “Seeing the film on a huge big screen was really quite something“.

Jonas hasn’t done anything like this before – the film festivals, the premieres – this is a whole new world for the actor. Though Danish music fans might well recognise him as the singer from the band Blaue Blume.

Both Jonas and Angela star alongside each other as lovers in this psychological drama from up-and-coming Danish director Martin Skovberg. An absorbing mystery, the story centres around Jonas’ character, Sander, who has agreed to be locked in a room and questioned about the disappearance of his girlfriend, Ida (Angela Budalovic), by her father.

As the viewer you feel disorientated and lost at first, before Sander starts to tell the tale of the couple’s love affair through his own memories, and we begin to piece together the complex emotions and tension underlying every-day encounters.

Nothing is at it seems, creating a suspenseful, winding story which as as it unfolds and you become more involved with the characters, you are gripped to find out what is really going on and how it all ends. It is only January and the bar has been raised to a considerable standard with this film.

When I previewed the film, I had gone in completely blind, with no idea of who was in it, who it was written by, not even having seen a trailer. Jonas Holst Schmidt was a name I had not even heard of, but I can promise you now, that is all about to change after he puts in one of the most emotionally charged performances we have seen since Paul Mescal’s role in Aftersun.

Seeing yourself on a screen in the cinema was pretty overwhelming, especially an IMAX one, my face spread all over it“, the film features a lot of close ups. “It was so nice to see all of the emotions so close up on the screen too“.

With this being Jonas’ debut performance he talked about how he had to tell himself that he was capable of doing the role and throwing himself into.

It took a couple of takes before I started to realise this was something I was able to do” the actor explains. “The process was long, espcially getting into this character. I had no acting tools with it being my first ever role so I had to invent that for myself to get into the role“.

He explains how it was just as hard actually trying to then get himself back out of the role; “I was still left with this dude hanging around me and my family, it didn’t cohere with the way Sander was living so that was very challenging“.

Hearing Jonas explain his method for bringing his character Sander to life only strengthens how good his performance is in the film.

Angela appears clasping a cup of coffee; “Sorry I am late guys“.

Where Jonas is a new face on our screens, many might well recognise Angela. Most recently she has appeared in Nicholas Winding Refn’s Copenhagen Cowboy and before that, in The Rain (both of which can currently be seen on Netflix). The star is having a great start to the year!

Though her character in Copenhagen Does Not Exist is similarly mysterious to that of her role in Copenhagen Cowboy, that is as far as the similarity goes for the two characters.

The film is an adaptation of the Norwegian novel Sander by Terje Holtet Larsen, which not a widely recognised book, even from its own country in Norway. Angela cites the screenplay, which was actually written by the great Eskil Vogt, who co-wrote The Worst Person in the World and wrote and directed supernatural thriller The Innocents.

Eskil’s script is quite incredible to read because there are so many details in it, I found myself reading his script many, many times. You get so much out of these character’s minds even from these small situations“, the actress explains when we discuss preparing for the role.

He is one of the greatest writers of our time“, Jonas adds. “I understand that this was actually one of his first film projectsI think he wrote the script about ten years ago and left it in a drawer. Then through Snowglobe, the production company, he came back to it. In many ways this script started his journey and I think he felt he had to see it through with these characters – I still believe it is something very special to him“.

Her character, Ida, secludes herself from the world and the actress said how she tried to imagine what that might have been like to isolate yourself in such a way: “I took a lot out of my life – I came off the internet, went off the grid, slowed everything down, and tried to live a bit like the way Ida decides“.

As far as building the characters’ chemistry, the pair had to build that out of extraordinary circumstances, given that the film was made in the height of covid. The actors had to build intimacy and an intense, all-consuming relationship when almost everyone else in the world were not allowed to have physical contact with each other.

Ida and Sander have each other and are so very close during a time when people could not be with each other, I felt that comes through with the chemistry of the two characters, that they long to touch – there is that electricity between them“, Jonas explains. “Everyone on set couldn’t hug – so being so close to another human being, on and off screen, during this difficult time was very special at that moment in time“.

The timing of when the film is set is quite extraordinary, and you really feel when you watch the film how intimate it is, like it was made in this bubble“.

Nearly 3 years on from the start of the pandemic, and the film is now getting its anticipated released; “I think the timing of the film’s release is great – a time where many people are discussing love and what a difficult time it is for love to grow – perhaps the film might remind and inspire us about that“.

Copenhagen Does Not Exist is a special film, largely in part thanks to the incredible performances from its leads, and its support for that matter – with the likes of Zlatko Burić (Triangle of Sadness) and Vilmer Trier Brøgger (Where Were You?).

The director has created a haunting mystery about love and loss that will not leave you. Danish cinema has got off to flying start in 2023.

Leave a Reply