Haugesund: Rising Star Jakob Oftebro on ‘Gold Coast’

Daniel Dencick’s buzzed-up titles plumbs the horrors of the slave trade

©Michael Haslund / Dencik Entertainment

HAUGESUND — One of Scandinavia’s most talked-up actors, Jakob Oftebro is visiting the Haugesund Film Festival to promote ”Gold Coast”(“Guldkysten”,) an epic piece on the West’s responsibility for slavery that competed at Karlovy Vary last month. Set well into the nineteenth century, the Danish film, directed by feature freshman Daniel Dencik, tells the story of a Danish botanist, sent by the King to Danish Guinea to spread his European heritage, but who finds himself battling against slavery, despite Denmark becoming the first country to ban the slave trade, way back in 1792. Martin Munch lensed the beautiful cinematography; Angelo Badalamenti’s modern score lend fine atmosphere to the film.

Variety chatted with Oftebro (”Kon-Tiki”, ”Lilyhammer”, ”The Shamer’s Daughter”), the 29-year-old Norwegian star, who also speaks perfect Danish and Swedish, about “Gold Coast,” which still has to find a sales agent.

You’re not only the lead in “Gold Coast,” producer Michael Haslund-Christensen said you were also very much engaged in its development, collaborated during shooting and were also a dedicated creative collaborator during post. And an investor. It seems ”Gold Coast” is a very special film to you, right?

It definitely is. I found the project extremely ambitious, and both the character and script very compelling. I had never read a script like that before. And Daniel’s thoughts about the movie was very inspiring. It is not the typical historic piece. We had a lot of difficulties raising money for the project. So we had to invest as much as possible ourselves. It was an extremely interesting and demanding production. And I am really proud of what it has become. 

Talking to the director, he said it has been a personal journey for both of you, what have you learned?

I have learned a lot about myself. Self-discipline: as an actor it’s very demanding to loose that much weight, and at the same time to learn about the culture and botany. It was an interesting period. And I am really happy I did it, and that it’s over.

Do you believe you were taught enough in school about European colonialism?

No, not at all. And that’s one of the reasons this movie is so important. We didn’t learn anything about it. I don’t know if that’s because we don’t feel responsible. If we feel that others were worse than us. If we are ashamed? I don’t know. It has created a lot of debate back home in Denmark, so that’s good. Let’s see how it plays in Norway.

Your character Joseph Wullf is a true loner, please describe how you approached this character? 

It was difficult. I am a very social creature, so it was difficult for me to be a strange loner. But also very interesting. His journey with the locals, the way he discovers Africa and the plants was a wonderful journey. And being Wullf I automatically became a loner. I had so much to prepare and since I had my strict diet I mostly wanted to be alone. 

How was the shooting in Ghana?

Wonderful. The people where so helpful and positive. Seeing Christiansborg [the Danish castle built in Accra during the 17th century] and the slave prisons for the first time, was tough. It is difficult to realize what terrible conditions the slaves suffered unless you see them yourself. I am never going to forget that moment. 

There’s quite a few historical dramas in your filmography so far, by coincidence?

I don’t know. Maybe it looks like I am 200 years old… I think it’s just been that a lot of historical movies have been made lately and I have been very lucky to be in some of them.

Kay Pollak recently spoke very highly about your performance in his upcoming film ”Heaven on Earth”, the follow-up to his Oscar nominated ”As It Is In Heaven” (2004). What do you expect from that film?

The previous one was torn apart by the critics, but the people loved it. We’ll see about this one. I am crossing fingers.

You’ve worked with so many prominent Scandinavian directors just in a few years. How do you handle the success?

It’s such a privilege to have a lot of work as an actor. I am never totally satisfied with my work. A year has gone by and I always think that I should have done this and that different. So I never lie down and enjoy success. I just want to improve myself as much as possible. You haven’t seen the best of me yet. 

Haugesund is without doubt the most important film event in Norway. Are you happy to work within the local film industry?

The Norwegian film industry is very professional and a booming industry. I love working in Sweden, Denmark and Norway. But I think it’s a problem that more and more Scandinavian movies try to copy Hollywood, and make big blockbuster movies. We don’t have the market for it, nor the budget. The Americans have more money and experience. I think we should keep focusing on good stories. That’s where our muscles are.  

Any dream project?

“Gold Coast,” of course. And any Lars von Trier movie. 

Any ongoing projects? 

Right now, I am working on a NRK crime series. Very dark and surprisingly well-written. I love my character so I can’t wait to start. I hope it’s going to be the darkest of  Scandinavian noir we’ve seen so far.