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“Atlantic Crossing,” the prestige Norwegian period drama starring Sofia Helin (“The Bridge”) as Crown Princess Märtha, and Kyle MacLachlan (“Twin Peaks”) as U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, is competing at Canneseries and is being shopped by Beta Film as part of Mipcom.

Directed by Alexander Eik (“Cold Feet”), “Atlantic Crossing” tells the riveting and relatively unknown story of the Norwegian Crown Princess who became an influential figure in world politics during World War II, after Norway was occupied by Nazi Germany in 1940. The show follows Märtha’s journey from Norway to the White House where she was given refuge and became close to U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Swedish star Helin, and Silje Hopland-Eik, who produced “Atlantic Crossing” at leading Norwegian banner Cinenord, spoke to Variety about the genesis and making of the series which will premiere on Norwegian broadcaster NRK later this month and has already been pre-sold by Beta Film in multiple territories.

How female-driven is “Atlantic Crossing”?

Silje Hopland-Eik: The idea was to tell a story about the war from a female perspective. Sofia came on board early on to add to the character’s role. We had many women in front and behind the camera. We had four or five female producers, a female designer who gave the series its unique look, and a female screenwriter.
It was truly unique for me as I have produced lots of Nordic Noir and it tends to be very male dominated. It was a great opportunity to work with so many talented women, from the actors to the crew members in Prague.

Sofia, how did you get involved in this show? What triggered your interest?

Sofia Helin: Alexander got in touch with me about the project in 2018 and I instantly knew that I needed to tell this story with these people. Among the fascinating things about “Atlantic Crossing” is the fact that Martha was a hero who did big things for democracy in Europe and in Norway, and yet her story was forgotten. I had never heard of her story. As I see it, Märtha had to develop to become an independent and strong person because of the war. That’s my favourite heroes, the once who just does what it takes even if they’re scared. Like the fact that she hated to talk in front of cameras and did it over and over again anyway. This part was something very different from my previous roles and interesting to express the emotions Martha was keeping to herself while she had to be so pleasant and so nice to everyone all the time.

Some people have described the project as a Nordic twist on “The Crown,” is it accurate?

Helin: I think every royal family is unique. In “Atlantic Crossing” we’re telling the untold story of this royal family from a Norwegian perspective. The British have a very different relationship with their royal family and there are also big differences between the Swedish and Norwegian royal families. In Sweden, for instance, the royals are very secretive. But what they have in common is that within every royal family, things are often much more mixed up than they seem. It’s fascinating to get to understand just how connected the European royals are. They’re all cousins or close relatives. Like the fact that Martha and Olav were cousins and that Olav’s mother Queen Maude was an English princess who was the grandchild of queen Victoria, and the Norwegian king Haakon was her cousin. So they are more like a whole European royal family that have to relate to the country they are currently royals in.

How did you get into the character?

Helin: I tried to contribute with what I understood about the character. I watched a lot of documentaries about the royal family and accessed photos of Martha. I got some small clips from her life and then I also practiced behaving like a royal, how to speak, move and seat at a table. I went to the Swedish palace and I was trained there.I also used princess Diana also as a role model for Martha. There is so little moving material so I researched all royal material I could find. I watched them both and saw how alike they behaved, how they related to the camera, that shyness combined with a humour and the deep compassion. One could say that Martha was an early version of Lady Diana in the sense that she didn’t care about royal rules. She acted from her heart and with compassion. For instance she invited homeless people to live with her in her house during the war. So she was a modern and brave person.

Hopland-Eik: I was totally impressed that Sofia learned to speak Norwegian for “Atlantic Crossing.” The Norwegian and Swedish language have a common root but they are still very different languages so it took a lot of dedication on her part. She also speaks Swedish and English in the series.

How did you manage to learn Norwegian so fast?

Helin: I had a teacher, and we spoke for months. We were just talking, talking, talking all the time, while I was shopping, running errands, etc.

What was it to work with Kyle MacLachlan?

Helin: Kyle is a very professional and a fun person to work with. The way he transformed into Roosevelt was fascinating to watch. And we had a very good chemistry.

Hopland-Eik: From a production standpoint, it’s a big deal to bring in a high profile actor like him. We got the green light only three weeks prior to the shoot and it made everyone a bit nervous but then when he arrived he was so prepared and was so professional around the cast and crew. Like Sofia, he watched footage to get cues about how to behave, and I was impressed to see how he transformed. And we all saw the dynamics and chemistry between him and Sofia. From the get go, I could feel that spark between them. He was so perfect for this role because he has a charming style and that’s what we needed. He had to look presidential and we also needed him to be charming and friendly enough for someone like Martha to like him in real life.

Why do you think Martha’s story and her relationship with Roosevelt remains so little known?

Helin: Martha was the target of a lot of gossip as was her relationship with the U.S. president. The royal family wanted to silence what happened because of the gossip. Also, there was no tradition in honoring women.

Hopland-Eik: During the research we came across so much material about people around her, piles and piles of archives that had been consulted. And then we saw a box with lots of dust on it, and it was one about Martha. It was the only one that hadn’t been opened because no one was interested. It’s a shame because her story and the way she overcame the challenges are still very inspiring for women.

Helin: Martha was a strong and independent woman who traveled alone around America during WWII. I think a lot of women can relate to her today.

“Atlantic Crossing” boasts a high production value and looks highly ambitious. How expensive was it to make?

Hopland-Eik: It has the highest budget in Scandinavia for any series as far as I know. We put all the resources we had into it, including a significant investment from Beta Film as a sales agent, and a big collaboration from the public broadcasters, including NRK, as well as regional, local funds, Creative Europe funding… We had 15 different partners, with many countries involved. Basically, we vacuumed all of Scandinavia’s funding resources to make it happen! We took a very different route from “The Crown” with Netflix, but it was important for us to work with local broadcasters, like NRK which is increasingly strong in the Nordic region. There was also tremendous interest around the show due to the creative package — the story is fascinating and it showcases two important actors, starting with Sofia, who is such a classy actress, and then Kyle MacLachlan of course!

Was the production impacted by the pandemic?

Hopland-Eik: Thankfully we shot well before the start of the pandemic, as the series finished last year, but the post-production did get delayed due to the lockdown. We just recently completed it so the series will premiere in October on NRK!