Danish star Ulrich Thomsen is something of a household name when it comes to Nordic film – but we first discovered the Danish star as Kai Proctor in the seriously underrated American series Banshee, which remains something of a cult classic TV series which is well worth seeking out.
Ulrich’s name crops up whenever we do a deep-dive into Nordic film and series’ – he’s worked with a host of famed directors, including Oscar-winning Thomas Vinterberg in his debut film Festen and stars such as Mads Mikkelsen.
You will find a whole host of these films on Viaplay including the likes of Adam’s Apple, The Good Traitor, In A Better World, Flickering Lights, The Marco Effect, Erna At War, and soon to join all these is the Faroe Islands-set TV series, Trom.
We spoke with Ulrich before the sad news of Viaplay pulling out of the UK, US, and Canada – this is heart-breaking news for all those Nordic TV and film fans, as the platform had the perfect choice of series and films both old and new.
Speaking to Ulrich over zoom, I regale the story of how I tried to get ahead of the game upon hearing about Trom and that it was loosely based on a book, I tried to track a copy down to read. It was not easy and the one I finally found was second hand and travelled all the way from Hawaii!
Ulrich Thomsen: “I actually never read the books because I talked to Torfinnur Jákupsson and he said that the series was going to be so different from the books. So I said that I didn’t want to be confused by that, but also there was the practical side of things, as I arrived straight onto set from another job so I didn’t have a lot of time“, the star explains.
“Sometimes I wonder, why bother reading them? You are going to be doing something different. But every now and again there are descriptions that help with certain scenes or characters.”
Having read the book I was certainly able to see how much they had strayed away from the book – for a start, the character Ulrich plays was much younger, there was a lot more to do with the culling of whales and the politics that follows that too. I wonder whether there is still any pressure felt when bringing adaptations to life?
Ulrich: “There is always a pressure to deliver something – a performance that will fit the premise of the whole story. I do find that over the years it gets a little easier as you become a little more familiar with the craft, but I don’t feel the pressure, no.”
Ulrich started his illustrious film and TV career in 1993 when he graduated from The Danish National School of Theatre picking up a debut role in the acclaimed Danish thriller Nightwatch in 1994. His ascension to stardom comes from hard graft, working all over the world in various films and TV series’.
Ulrich: “I see it in the same way, whether you are in awe when you see someone famous and they have been in a James Bond movie or worked with Robert De Niro…but after a while it becomes more noticeable that everyone are just people at the end of the day. I mean that in a good way and not in a lazy way – it means that you can stayed focused on the story.”
There are pitfalls with this, Ulrich goes on to explain: “A director might be happy with a shot and be ready to move onto the next. You might watch the shot back and think to yourself, I wish I asked for another take. If a scene doesn’t work you don’t always get the opportunity to go back and fix it, which is so important. Go with your gut instinct.“
Some wise words from the star for all upcoming talents.
So what is it that has driven people to watch Trom and give the series such praise? One hates to keep using the phrase ‘Nordic Noir’ as much as it might be a great way of describing or tagging a particular series (or film for that matter).
“With Nordic films and series’, they are driven by strong characters and sincere stories – we don’t have the budget for those big action films. Denmark has been so good with their family dramas but if someone mentions making an action movie it’s a case of someone saying: ‘We got enough to flip a car and that’s it,’ and you can’t compete with that.
When you got Tom Cruise hopping out of planes or riding bikes up mountains, it certainly is very hard to compete, so when it comes to us doing our dramas- we became very good at it.”
Ulrich talks about the filing location as one of the key draws behind Trom:
“There is this dark ruggedness featured in Trom, with the Faroe Islands, it’s a very dramatic place that is so magical. That is proper Nordic Noir you know – you really want to go there when you watch it“.
Ulrich mentions that when he saw that the series was based there and realising he has never been to the Faroe Islands before and wanted to go there – here was a perfect opportunity.
“After four months you definitely feel like you have been there – that is for sure!“
Perhaps what makes it so appealing in the series is that it is based in a location that one would never really consider visiting. We have had series’ set in Iceland, such as Trapped, and all over various locations in Scandinavia. But here was somewhere a little more unknown.
“I was captivated by it, it is so different, there really is nothing like it.”
And from one island and character to another, I ask how Ulrich has got on with his next feature which is based on the Danish island of Bornholm as he returns as Carl Mørck in the follow up to The Marco Effect. The film will be released in 2024 and sees the star team up with director Ole Christian Madsen again, who had shot 10 episodes of Banshee over the couse of the series.
Here, Ulrich had switched from filming in the Faroe Islands to this hidden gem in Denmark – but how did the two locations compare?
“It certainly was very different from the Faroe Islands. The Faroe Islands had that weather thing where you could be wrapped up in five hundred seasons in a day, so there was a lot of waiting around, perhaps that’s why they don’t shoot so much out there, so if you had a couple of hours to shoot a scene you might be sitting around for some time.
Bornholm was a lot more normal, they call it the ‘sun island’ so that was a much different experience!”
The big question is – will Ulrich be returning to battle the elements in the Faroe Islands and film a second season of Trom?
“I have read an early draft for a pilot but we’ll have to wait and see!“
With such an incredible career and so many achievements one has to wonder what is left on the actor’s list of ‘things to complete’?
“Well, I am directing my third film now so that is something. I don’t know why I signed up for that as it is so much easier being an actor“, the star jokes. “I just want to keep on doing what I am doing though.”
One film that we are getting excited about that will be coming to Viaplay in the near future is Stockholm Bloodbath, a funny and bloody take on a certain time in history with an incredible cast onboard.
“Of course, as you get older, which is the fun part of being an actor, the characters change. Now you become the grandfather or the guy dying in bed which is part of the reason why I started to direct!“
We don’t have any idea yet when Viaplay will no longer become accessible, so for those of you subscribed to the streamer we encourage you to finish all those series, check out those films you have always wanted to see, and if you haven’t seen Trom yet (or any other of Ulrich’s work) then get watching!