Swedish director-actor Mårten Klingberg (“Cockpit”) will find out if his latest dramedy is as big of an audience pleaser as early test screenings predict when he presents “My Father Marianne” as the closing night of the Göteborg Film Festival on Saturday, Feb. 1. Variety chatted to Klingberg before the film’s bow.
How did you get involved in “My Father Marianne,” which is inspired by the prize-winning memoir “My Father Ann-Christine: The Memory of a Secret,” by Ester Roxberg?
I was asked to read an early version of the script in 2017, and I then started collaborating with the producer Charlotta Denward and the writers Daniel Karlsson and Ida Kjellin. The writers continued writing based on the feedback they got from me and the producer. Towards the end of the process, I took over the script myself. It was a dramedy from the start, though I might have pulled it slightly more towards drama.
It looks to be one of the Sweden’s big box office, feel-good titles of the spring. Is the festival closing night the very first time a Swedish audience is able to see it?
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We have had other kinds of previews, both towards the end of the editing process and of the completed movie. The response has, to my delight, been fantastic, both the things I’ve been told directly and what we have read in questionnaires and blogs. I really hope that we’ll keep getting the same kind of response, even now with a ticket-buying audience. We are of course very happy and proud to be the Göteborg Film Festival’s closing night film.
Please talk about the ways the film differs from the book.
The book is a close study of Ester’s relationship to her father, in which she contemplates her own life and her attitude to her father’s transition. But there are large parts of the story in the movie that don’t exist in the book, such as the daughter’s returning home after her failure in Stockholm, to seek the safety and comfort of her father. Our starting point was that the main character seeks refuge in the safe haven of home, without knowing that there is a storm brewing there. The entire thread about her work, girlfriends and the future boyfriend is fiction. We have created an entirely new family, with other characters than those in the book. The movie is definitely more comical overall.
I think you do a good job of making the film also from the father’s, mother’s and brother’s perspective.
Thank you, I’m pleased to hear that. I always think it’s important to take all the characters in a movie seriously, no matter how minor they might be. They should be psychologically believable, even if they are just in a single scene. The brother, as I mentioned, is fictitious, and that goes for the mother too, the way we portray her. The father and daughter are not identical with the characters in the book either, even though some essential traits of course come from the book.
Is there also humor in the book? Was it difficult to find places to insert humor in the film? Obviously you don’t want to make fun of the father.
Overall, the book has a different tone than the film, which is more humorous. As I mentioned before, it’s all about creating believable psychological portraits. If you do that, then you can allow yourself to take the scenes further, to let them run away in a comical way, without it becoming too unrealistic. I never feared that we would be poking fun at the father. You can laugh at him too, it’s okay. People react in such different ways to all sorts of things. I don’t judge. What makes one person laugh, makes another one cry.
What, for you, were the important themes you wanted to get across in the movie?
There are two main stories in the movie: [the daughter] Hanna’s and Marianne’s. The daughter’s story is about not being able to live up to your own principles, and about feeling defenseless when the person you love the most decides to go her own way. It’s a coming-of-age story. The father’s story is about what you’re prepared to put at risk in order to live a full life: Your entire family? Everybody you love?
Was it difficult to get Rolf Lassgård (“A Man Called Ove”) to star in the film? Could you find women’s clothes in a large enough size (he’s 6’4”) or was everything custom made?
Rolf followed the development of the script for a long time before he finally said ‘yes.’ My impression is that he chooses very carefully which projects he decides to be a part of. I really respect that. Most of Rolf’s clothes were created by our great costume designers and tailors: Marie Flycht, Hannah Christensson and Anna-Karin Cameron. Rolf being a fairly big guy is to the benefit of the story, I think. It makes him more vulnerable. It’s harder to be a woman under the radar if you wear shoes in U.S. size 13.
Any good stories from the set?
The author of the book, Ester Roxberg and her father Ann-Christine, on whom the main characters are based, can be seen coming out from the church in one of the last scenes in the movie. By the way, they have been extremely supportive through the whole process.
Please talk about the younger cast members, Hedda Stiernstedt who plays Hanna, as well as Vilhelm Blomgren, Nour El-Refai and Klas Wiljergard.
They all had to go through thorough auditions, especially Hedda. I knew that two things were needed to make the audience feel sympathy for a relatively selfish character. She had to be charming, but more importantly: the pain that her father’s transition causes her had to feel genuine. And Hedda has that capacity to make herself vulnerable. That is always the most important trait for me when you choose actors, but this time it was especially important.
The others were quite simply believable in their screen tests; they didn’t try to make it comical in any other way than by acting seriously in the rather peculiar situations. That’s how I want it. I don’t seek comedy in single expressions; I never want the acting to be over the top. The unusual situations should be believable. They become funny because they take place in the real world. If you achieve that, then you can combine slapstick with profound seriousness without things falling apart.
Do you usually play a cameo role in the films that you direct? Here you are just great as the annoying cameraman at the TV station where Hanna works.
I’m glad that you liked my “douchebag!” It feels just nice being a part of the ensemble I guess. It’s both a bit scary and very satisfying only having to live up to my own demands, not another director’s. I played a similar role in my feature film “Cockpit.”
Obnoxious characters are the most fun to do. They let me express my dark side, I guess.
Why did you set the story in the provincial city of Alingsås? Was it because of the potato festival?
We wanted Hanna to have tried her luck [as a journalist] in the capital before she is forced to return to her small hometown, which she looks down upon. This humbles her. It was also beneficial to the story that her father, the pastor, was some sort of local celebrity. That created more of a challenge for Lasse/Marianne than if s/he had lived in a large city. But Alingsås could have been any city of that size. I don’t think many people outside of Alingsås are aware of the potato festival, but it made for a fun addition. For an ambitious journalist [like Hanna], it’s of course a failure to have to dress up as a potato when doing live reports.
What’s next for you?
I start shooting my next feature film, “Off Track,” in a couple of weeks. It’s a drama-comedy too. In the fall, I will play the part of a chief of police that I’ve played before in the criminal series “Alex” for Viaplay, which is now in its third season. He’s a bit of a bastard too. Or perhaps rather just spineless. Fun to play nevertheless.
Do you prefer directing to acting, or do you like to keep a foot in both worlds?
I usually say that if I’d only get to do one thing, then I’d prefer to write. That’s my base. But if you want the result to become the way you like it, then you have to direct too. It’s hard work, but also very satisfying. The acting is mainly about vanity.
What do you enjoy more, directing a feature or episodes from a series?
Features. I love telling a story with classical film dramaturgy. I also have the most power over the final result if I’m responsible for the whole project. But I can direct episodes in series too – as long as the script is good. And the pay.