Crime time - Monocle, Feb 2018
Screenwriter and novelist Hans Rosenfeldt has popularised Nordic noir with ‘The Bridge’. We follow him into the woods.
”Let’s go down to the water. There’s a jetty here, although I don’t imagine anyone is swimming today,” says Hans Rosenfeldt as he leads us down along a narrow forest path. Frosty leaves, fallen from the surrounding trees, crunch under his feet and a pale winter sun casts its rays through the spruces. We’re only a 30 minute ride from central Stockholm, but here, the rush and commotion of the city seem like a distant memory.
Rosenfeldt finds a bench by the waterside, draws a deep breath of the crisp winter air and starts unpacking his picnic, or fika in Swedish: sandwiches, buns and steaming hot, black coffee.
”My wife doesn’t let me make coffee anymore. She thinks it’s too strong,” he says, takes a big sip from his mug and gazes over the lake, covered with thin flakes of ice.
”I know this place very well. When my children were small, we used to come here and swim every summer. They’re all grown up now, so these days I come here to walk or pick mushrooms,” he says, listing an impressive amount of mushrooms he can recognize. ”I love to be in the nature, and I like to be alone. It’s great way to unwind, get new ideas and mull over old ones. If my writing comes to a halt, I don’t want to sit in front of the screen and wait it out. I come here instead.”
For a man who’s made an international career out of crime, Hans Rosenfeldt is surprisingly down to earth and mild-mannered. He laughs a lot and drinks his coffee from a worn out, plastic Donald Duck-mug – a souvenir from a family trip to Disneyland years ago. Despite his success, he has no interest in expensive clothes, boats or other status symbols. Even the backpack he’s carrying today’s fika in is, according to him, ”bought on sale”.
Nevertheless, with several successful tv shows and books under his belt, Rosenfeldt has a career most writers would kill for. Nearly all Swedes, and millions of people abroad, have seen or read something he’s written. The Bridge, originally created for Sweden’s and Denmark’s public service channels SVT and DR and later shown in more than 100 countries, is probably his most successful piece of work. Its international success opened other doors, and currently, Rosenfeldt is working on the second season of the Netflix crime drama Marcella, which he’s also producing.
”I think the second season will be very good. The first one had some problems, but this time, I’m really happy with what we’ve done,” he says.
His career in the industry started, however, on the other side of the camera. As a teenager, he wanted to be an actor. Despite failing to get into drama school – he tried five times – he didn’t give up and worked as an actor for several years.
”In the end I, probably as the last person out of my friends and family, finally realized that I completely sucked at it,” he says. ”By that time, my colleagues had already started moving me away from the stage and giving me other jobs, like writing scripts.”
In the early 1990s, Rosenfeldt got a break writing sketches for the Swedish radio, and a few years later, he landed a job as a screenwriter for Rederiet, one of Sweden’s most popular and longest-running soap operas, set on a cruise ship. After that, he worked as a host for the comedy show Parlamentet and as head of entertainment at SVT.
But his career hasn’t always been a smooth ride. In fact in 2009, it seemed to have come to a halt.
”We had initiated The Bridge, but didn’t manage to get financing for it. At the time, nobody wanted me to write anything for them. Then, suddenly, the financing came together and things started to look brighter again,” he remembers.
In the past decade, Scandinavian crime dramas have been an exceptional international success. Rosenfeldt puts this down to the new age of television, with streaming services like Netflix, C More and Viaplay needing content in volumes that were unheard of in the old days of traditional television.
”When more series get written and made, a bigger percentage of them are good, too,” he says. But he also thinks Scandinavians have a style of storytelling that appeals to audiences abroad. ”We’re good at being subtle, we have an austere, bleak style, and we’re good at creating multidimensional characters. Plus, we’re perceived as exotic.”
Rosenfeldt looks at his watch and decides that it’s time to head back home. An episode of Marcella needs watching an commenting. After the series is out, he’s going to focus on writing a new book, and then, another tv-series. What it be about? Nobody knows, yet.
”That’s what I need to figure out. So, this coming summer, I’ll be making quite a few walks here in the forest.”