Award-winning Norwegian ‘Kids in Crime’ director Kenneth Karlstad talks to Nordic Watchlist about the chaotic coming-of-age series

The Kids in Crime TV series has been leaving a trail of destruction in the Norwegian TV Awards circuit. Having picked up an award at the beginning of the year at Goteborg, the series has been going from strength to strength. When the director, Kenneth Karlstad, reached out to Nordic Watchlist to share the new series and discuss it, I jumped at the chance.

I remember seeing some of the images from the series and my mind was taken back to the old days of The Face magazine and ID – these hazy, chaotic and gritty images, with the fashion of the time.

It is early summer and Kenneth is chilling at home before he does a DJ set in town. The set promises to be loud and much like the thumping soundtrack that will beat you almost to death during the course of his eight-episode series.

KIds in Crime is set in small town Norway in early 2000’s, a group of teenagers move in together to sell drugs and party, while their psychopathic roofie dealer breathes down their necks to get paid.

Trying to describe the series beyond this is tough, I don’t think many people are quite ready for it because there hasn’t been many series that are as hyper drug-fuelled, frenetic, and just plain crazy as Kenneth’s work. One dares you try and binge it because you will likely need some medication to bring you down afterwards – maybe even rehab.

Kenneth Karlstad: Its quite a gut punch isn’t it?

Gut punch is a good way of putting it – not in a way where films might leave you emotionally gut punched, no no, this you will make you feel like you have raved on roofies to hardcore techno dodging sword-wielding drug dealers kind of gut punched – no room for air.

And it is becoming a hit amongst the Nordic countries, where since January the series has been picking up awards and accolade. Most recently the series won Best Drama Series, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director, and Cinematography at Gullruten Awards – that is a pretty good reception for a debut series.

KK: I am disappointed we didn’t win more – we were nominated in nine categories!

The director is of course joking – winning Best Drama Series when it was up against some strong contenders was a huge success for him and the team. So what does he think has been the key to the series’ success?

KK: I have been very surprised by the audience as there are the 40 year olds who lived through those kind of times but then I have had people in their 60s loving this show. I started to wonder what we did wrong – this wasn’t the target audience, but they are loving it! So I was bit surprised with it being such a hit with the older audience and the way they have received it.

There were concerns from the director that the series might have distanced itself a bit given it is so full on but it seems that it had the complete reverse effect.

KK: I think that maybe people are more open to darker stuff these days.

As a series from the Nordic region you will be hard pressed to find many comparisons – the closest you will get is the Pusher Trilogy where the series certainly shares some DNA. There is perhaps the most recent series of Snabba Cash, but the way that is shot and the cast in it is very glossy – Kids in Crime is grimey, you will want to take shower afterwards.

Did the series ever have any difficulty coming to fruition?

KK: When it comes to the content of the scripts and how TV2 received it I was very surprised by their reaction – they just wanted more of it! So I remember printing out the first draft and giving it to the head of drama at TV2 in physical format.

On the day we had a meeting about the series I had got up at 6am to write down all the arguments to counter any complaints they might have had. It was a two page document and then the first thing they said – “can he do roofies in episode one too?”

The timing was perfect – TV2 were in a state of rebranding and looking for edgier TV series and content. They certainly found that in Kenneth’s series.

KK: Most of the difficulties we had was more with the budget – how much fake rohypnol we could produce or fake blood. We didn’t have a lot of make-up to create the bruises or black eyes so we just covered them in fake blood instead.

The director cites one scene where one of the bad guys, played by a transformed Jakob Oftebro (we’ll got onto that in a second), beats his stepfather and it was just grotesquely violent and hard to watch – especially when the stepfather is being played by who we last saw in the fluffy Home for Christmas (perhaps on the polar end of the spectrum to Kids In Crime).

But lets talk Jakob Oftebro. The Norwegian star won an award for his role in the series which sees him as the bad guy – Freddy. Jakob has been in a number of series’ and films playing very diverse roles but none have seem him quite like this – a tattooed, bleach haired, absolute psychopath. Was he ever concerned how playing the role might affect his fans? Could it harm his career?

KK: He was totally onboard with it, he was one of the first people who got involved with the project. I had no plan in casting him at all to be honest, I wanted Freddy to be played by a real Freddy, but then I told him about the idea and he just said: “I want the Freddy part”.

I thought he was joking but he kept on ringing me and showing so much enthusiasm for the whole project. He continues to insist on playing the role of Freddy because he wanted to break out of the roles he is usually cast in.

The pair had the same approach to the creation of the project, the director mentions how it felt like the pair of them were sat in the same sandbox becoming best friends. Oftebro’s performance in this is like nothing you have seen him in before; no suited and booted look or period drama costume – he legit looks like a full-on maniac.

So Kenneth had both the likes of Jakob Oftebro and Dennis Storhoi as the professionals on set working with him.

KK: I just put them in the room and let them have fun. I have worked all my life with young amateur actors and then here I was being a director to two Norwegian legends of the screen – it was amazing to have them involved.

On the flipside were some new faces and the younger cast who are the centre of attention for the series. Kenneth pulls out his phone and explains that someone had sent him the video of someone they thought should play one of the younger characters in the film.

KK: When I saw that I said to myself – I never want to work with that guy.

The video shows a wired up guy smoking a vape and dancing – Kenneth translates what he says: ‘My name is Martin and I just lost my driving license as I was on drugs‘. He begins to dance with various disco lights shining on him. He would eventually get the role as one of the main characters Pål Pot. That is one way to audition.

KK: What happened was we had such a hard time finding that character and then suddenly I remembered getting this video and realised he was the guy to play Pål.

Then there is Kristian Repshus who plays our main character Tommy Olsen who falls into the wrong crowd and becomes the wrong crowd at an very alarming rate. First he partners up with Martin Øvrevik’s Pål Pot and then is later joined by Lea Myren who plays Monica ‘Tatærn’ Larsen, a girlfriend to the Oftebro’s drug dealer who decides to befriend the duo, tripling the chaos.

Their performance are heightened by the thumping soundtrack (you will feel like you have been clubbing for three hours after just watching a twenty minute episode) – I kid you not.

KK: Music is the reason I make films – that was always my focus in the first few years of being a director. I would see the images in my head when I heard the music and create something from there.

Kenneth explains that he makes a playlist, then heads out for a walk or goes to the gym listening to it, then listens to the playlist to come up with ideas for the narrative. When it comes to Kids In Crime this would have involved a hell of a lot of techno.

The music budget was something the team didn’t want to scrimp on and in the end the series had almost 50 tracks used. If you do the maths there is a hell of a lot of music in it.

KK: A lot of the music we put in there was music you couldn’t find on Youtube or Spotify – turns out they’re done by Italians, they obviously liked to rave but a lot of them were dead now too which mean the tracks were cheaper but we had to get in touch with their relatives to try and get the rights to use the tracks.

To get a real taste of what to expect, check out the trailer below:

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