Norwegian film maker Magnus Martens talks about his influences
Following on from the success of Headhunters, a second Jo Nesbø story has been adapted to the big screen, as Jackpot prepares for it’s cinematic release this coming Friday – and The Fan Carpet‘s Stefan Pape caught up with the film’s director Magnus Martens to discuss the upcoming feature.
The Norwegian film maker had once lived over here in Britain, studying film in London, and British cinema influences are clear to see within this brilliant comedy thriller – based around four men winning a large sum on a football bet, before escalating into chaos as they ponder the idea of killing each other to raise the winnings shared.
We discussed with Martens what his key influences actually are, the difficulties in combining both the thriller and comedy genres, whilst he also tells us of his appreciation towards Headhunters, admitting that Jackpot may not have been released in the UK had it not been for the Morten Tyldum production.
As Jackpot is an adaptation of a Jo Nesbø story, I was just wondering how involved Jo was? Did he have any say in what went on, or was this really your project?
It really needed to be my project in a way. In order to actually make the film I needed to make it my own. Jo realised that he’s an author and we are film makers so he just basically said okay it could be whatever we wanted to be, but he was there to help all the way, ready to come with suggestions and everything, so basically he was more like a mentor in a way, and that put me in the ideal position really.
Did you feel any extra pressure taking on a story based on an idea from one of the most successful Scandinavian authors in recent history?
Not really, but that’s because it isn’t based on a book or anything because this idea of Jo’s was never released anywhere. It’s just one of the stories that he wrote that he wanted to become a film – what he gave me was a big document that looked more like a film script. So it’s a combination of a script and a short story I guess. So in that sense, because the material was not familiar with people I didn’t feel any pressure at all. Quite the opposite actually, I knew that Jo would be so helpful when I was writing the script – so no, I didn’t feel any pressure at all.
Of course Headhunters came out earlier this year in Britain, and did brilliantly well. Have you been encouraged by that films success?
It certainly has paved the way for our film to be made I think, although of course this is a lot smaller film, it’s grittier and not that slick at all. But I think without Headhunters I don’t think Jackpot would have had its release in the UK at all, so I think we have a lot to thank Headhunters for.
You came to film school here in London – do you think that helps you understanding the British audience and knowing what works, and what doesn’t?
I certainly didn’t think about other audiences outside of Norway when I was making the film, but I always look to England for inspiration, especially for comedy and humour. And I think also the UK is so close to Norway that we kind of share the same kind of comedy I think, so basically I wasn’t that surprised that it would work in the UK. There are a lot of good, dark and black comedies coming from England so I wasn’t really surprised at all.
Talking of which, there are definite influences I can see in Jackpot – the likes of Shallow Grave, Fargo and The Usual Suspects – but was there one particular film or film maker that really inspired you?
Obviously the Coen brothers have inspired me a lot, I think that is clear to see in my work. There are a couple if aspects that I see as more of a homage than anything else. But all of the films you mentioned have been in my horizon of films that I do like and are inspirations to Jackpot in one way or another. But when it comes to directors then it’s the Coen’s. A lot of people mention Tarantino, but I’ve never been that great of a fan of his, I remember being in London when Pulp Fiction came out, and although it made a big impact, it’s just the Coen’s for me, it really is. I find their characters, their humour much closer to home.
Within Jackpot there is a brilliant combination between both the thriller genre and the comedy one – just how important is it to maintain a light-hearted, humorous atmosphere within the film?
It was so tricky to do, to try and find that balance. The moment that you introduce comedy and humour into something that is a thriller, it’s so easy to get lost in a comedy, it’s so easy to do more gags and it’s definitely easier to do that on set because that is so intuitive in a way, and so fun to do. So I needed to be really careful when we were shooting not to do too much comedy and especially during the editing as well, trying to find that balance was so hard to do. Jackpot could be a clean-cut thriller as well I think, or a crime film. But I was working with comedies and that is where my heart is so I really wanted to see how I could try and balance those two worlds into this film, but obviously you don’t need comedy here, but in my world there needs to be.
Was the comedic side to the film more your input then? Or was the original story Jo presented you with already funny and quirky?
There was definitely a lot of comedy already in there from the beginning by Jo, he likes the same things as me and all of the comedy basically comes from the characters, and in the original story there were already quirky comedies, so all of the comedy comes from them really. I just had to add my own style to it and we had to throw away loads of gags and jokes and replace them with something else, but I actually think this film remains in Jo’s universe, absolutely.
Kyrre Hellum is great in the film as the lead role Oscar – how did he come to be involved in the film, was he always the man you wanted for the part?
For the main cast I pretty much knew exactly who I wanted to work with, and I liked Kyrre, because he had a tough job to do as the only character who isn’t playing too much with being funny, he needed to be a straight face and he needed to act as though he was in a film, which is a hard thing to do. But I have seen him in things before and I definitely knew I wanted him in the film.
The character of Oscar represents the ordinary man as everything mad that happens goes on around him. How important is it for the audience to have a character they can relate to, as we see things through his eyes?
Well everything is told through him, so the part is very important, the most important character in the film. We need to either trust him or not trust him so he is the most important character and that’s why it was so hard for Kyrre to do the role an he needed to find a way to balance his acting as well, as he needed to be something of a criminal, and something of an innocent man which I know is a really hard thing to do.
Scandinavian cinema has been huge in Britain for a number of years now, what with the Dogme 95 movement, and more recently with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series and A Royal Affair; what do you think it is about Scandinavian cinema that makes it so accessible o a British audience?
I think it’s several things but one of the things I think definitely is that Scandinavians have always been very good at doing crime, with very good crime authors, so when it comes to that we are very good, especially the Danish – especially TV crime. When it comes to films it seems like it’s been easier to get financing for more genre films than before, and I don’t think for example that Troll Hunter or even Jackpot would have been made five or six years ago, and we are all born and bred with American films and we’ve come to know genre, and since we’ve been enabled to we put something extra in there I think, and I don’t know if that’s an attempt to just wanting to be seen, but we aren’t afraid of adding something extra to the genre which I why I think that Troll Hunter has been really successful for example and that’s what makes it stand out, because it’s not only something very familiar but also something very, very special, and I think that goes for Headhunters also, and perhaps to a certain extend Jackpot as well.
So what’s coming up next for you?
More crime comedy in Norway, I am working on a script with Henrik Mestad. But there is interest from the States because of this film so hopefully I will do something over there quite soon.
JACKPOT IS OUT ON FRIDAY AUGUST 10