Nominated for YJR Best Nordic TV Drama Screenplay Award at Sweden’s Göteborg Film Festival, a second season of “Happily Never After” is already in the works – a clear indication of a shift in audience tastes, in what was just a couple of years a Nordic Noir dominated market. It’s also a sort of rarity as it received funding from the Icelandic Film Centre and public broadcaster RUV after a quite successful short film from its showrunner.
Written, produced, directed and starring Nanna Kristín Magnúsdóttir,“Happily Never After” turns on Karen a couples’ counselor whose ideal life starts falling apart after she discovers her husband’s cheating on her. Suddenly, with a broken marriage and three kids. Karen, aged 38, has to face a new prospect of life and re-invent herself.
A heart warming portrayal of the complexities of early mid-life that from the get go picks apart the whole mirage of an ideal life, with a perfect, functional family where a woman has to be professionally successful and yet take of three kids, be sexy at will as if time didn’t, and endeavor to sustaining a functional marriage. And this, for decades, has been called emancipation. Variety talked with Nanna Kristín Magnúsdóttir about her debut show
Several years ago we started adopting the formal convention of onscreen text to depict mobile interaction and yet still the question of how to depict our interaction through the internet is a broadly open question. Your series tackles it fully on, given that so many areas of the characters’ life happen on the Internet. How did you face that challenge formally? What was your main interest in that exploration?
True, this is always an important issue in contemporary storytelling. In the case of “Happily Never After,” the full frontal approach to onscreen text and pics is in sync with the comprehensive artistic overview – the dialogue, acting, music, cinematography etc. The main interest was to show the new world our main character, Karen, steps into where communication on the Internet has become normal whether it’s dating or bringing up your children. Then we leave it up to the audience to judge if this world is ideal. Karen, however, sure has troubles adapting to it.
There’s a vague echo of Bergman’s “Scenes from a Marriage” very early on which disappears as soon as the music enters and establishes a far more energetic pacing that manages to mix very well light hearted scenes with the deeply cutting moments of a divorce. What was your design when choosing the music and was this change of pace already envisaged in the screenplay?
I’m so pleased that you notice this emphasis. My cooperation with music composer Gísli Galdur was delightful. We are very true to the script and yes, the change of pace is thought of in advance. The intention being to express the sudden change in Karen’s life where every new information comes as a gust of wind in her face that sweeps her of her feet. That being said music is essential to move the storyline forward and add to the emotional state of the characters. I loved having the music in contradiction with the dialogue. We rarely say what we are thinking in complex conversations where ego or shame are intertwined with circumstances.
The series manages to pull off an emotional comedic tone that doesn’t rely entirely on dialog but also on the behavior of its characters, and feels immensely intimate: It’s spangled with small details that we as the audience recognize with an empathetic smile. How was the work with the actors on set? Was there room for improvisation or was everything pretty well also anticipated by the screenplay?
As an actress myself I know how much it means to be well prepared on set. Instead of improvisation, we had several read throughs, rehearsals and constructive discussions. Afterwards I made changes to the scripts based on this preparation work with the other actors. When all of us showed up on set there wasn’t room for the unexpected. This series had a tight budget where time is the keystone.
What are you working on now?
I’m actually in development for the sequel to “Happily Never After.” As the series was very well received by the audiences, continuing a successful cooperation with the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service was easily attained. My next directorial work, now in post-production, is episodes in the TV series “The Minister” premiered in fall. Then my focus will shift to a totally different genre, a family musical film, which is in pre-production, with children in all the leading roles. 2020 starts of with all kinds of exciting challenges.