Interview: Birgitte Hjort Sørensen talks Greyzone, Friends and Midsomer Murders
Ivan Radford | On 20, Feb 2019
This month sees Birgitte Hjort Sørensen head into new territory, as Danish thriller Greyzone arrives on Walter Presents. The whole show is now available on All 4’s Walter Presents, following its premiere on Channel 4 last week, and it sees the Pitch Perfect 2 and In Order of Disappearance star play a drone engineer, who’s taken hostage by an old friend to help carry out a terror attack. (Read our review here.)
Produced by TV2 (Denmark’s answer to ITV), the show is more reminiscent of Homeland than Nordic Noir, marking both a departure for Danish TV and Sørensen. The latter, in particular, has made a point of crafting a diverse CV, doing everything from Coriolanus and Chicago on the stage in London’s West End to Vinyl and Game of Thrones for HBO. She recently reunited with Adam Price, creator of political drama Borgen (which starred Sørensen as Katrine), to launch Greyzone and Price’s new series, Ride Upon the Storm, also available on Walter Presents.
We sat down to hear her talk breaking new ground, jumping between US and Danish TV and appearing in an episode of Midsomer Murders.
Greyzone, a modern espionage thriller, feels different to other Danish series. Was that part of the project’s appeal?
I always try to do something I haven’t done before, whether it’s a different character, medium or genre. And whenever there’s good writing, I want to be a part of it. I don’t know if I thought too much about it being a thriller doing Greyzone, I try to see what is the story I’m telling, what is the character, what is the journey she goes through, so the thriller just comes from the situation she’s put into.
Do you notice a different between working on Danish and US TV programmes?
I think sometimes Danish actors take too much liberty, but it also means we have great ownership of the material and it’s a great vote of confidence that we’re allowed to contribute. I had so many meetings with Adam [Price] in the writing process [of Borgen], and I was asked after a while, I think the writers felt that I knew Katrina better than they did, and that was a wonderful way t collaborate, to be trusted. Because everything is bigger in America, you need the greater sense of heirarchy. It’s a bigger ship. But it gets a little ridiculous at points. I did a show for HBO called Vinyl, and, at one point, I had this idea that my character changed her clothes during the day, because one of the other characters, a man, was coming to the door, and she’d put on a bit of show for him. I had a costume fitting and I talked to the costume designer and my idea was put through 20 exec producers and it took a week and I got a ‘No’. They were like, it’s the same day, you were the same outfit. That would never happen in Denmark. I would probably just change the clothes! Or I’d have direct access to the director or producer. So there are pros and cons.
We have this perception of Scandinavian shows as being Nordic Noir. Is that something you’re aware of in the Danish industry?
I’m not quite sure I have an answer. I think it’s thrilling that the writers of Denmark continue to explore and challenge themselves and the audience. I think for a while, it’s so easier to ride the Nordic Noir wave that it’s easy to do what you’ve already done. But thankfully, the writers of Greyzone and Ride Upon the Storm have steered clear of that and tried to push the limits more. Maybe it’s also to do with the topics. Naturally, a series like Ride Upon the Storm has a different setting and questions that they ask from, say, The Killing or Borgen. I think it’s to do with Greyzone’s writers and the producer, who is always interested in doing complicated material, so in the end, it’s all a matter of character of the people who are in charge.
What was TV like growing up in Denmark?
Well, I watched a lot of TV! We have probably the same shows you do. We have a lot of American, a lot of British. I grew up watching 90210, The Bold and the Beautiful, Melrose Place and probably all the same shows you watched. I watched Friends probably 50 times from beginning to finish! When I was in high school, when I had a hungover, I could put on a tape of Friends, and I didn’t have to have my eyes open, because I knew it so well, I could just be half asleep and go ‘Oh yeah, that’s funny, and that’s when Ross, yeah yeah’. They felt like my friends! I’m not sure that was an answer to your question! The thing is in Denmark, we have it subtitled, so we hear a lot of English and American, so for me, it served as a way of learning English.
Did you want to be on US TV or Danish TV?
The first DR TV series that I remember clearing the streets Sunday nights at 8pm was called Unit One, which is a police show, a crime show. They move around the country, solving crimes. That was a massive hit and I remember that was when I was starting to apply for drama school, I remember saying to the woman I was studying with that I was sad it was ending now, because I so wanted to be in it. And she said ‘You know what? There’ll be another series you can be in.’
You were in an episode of Midsomer Murders. What was that like?
Midsomer Murders was a lovely experience from start to finish! It’s very popular in Denmark and then they did this Nordic Nori special, I think it was Episode 100, and there were a lot of Danes in it. It was good fun and the crew were so excited to get out of that tiny spot here where they’d been shooting forever! The crew were like ‘That was great, where are going tonight? Which pub are we going to?’ It was a very social and lovely experience.
How did Greyzone go down in Denmark?
The thing was it was the first time that TV2 went up against DR. They premiered it when Liberty was on and that has never happened before, it was a big scandal, almost like a fight, and sadly, I think both series lost, because viewers had to split. But the people who saw it were positive.
Are you much of a binge-watcher?
For a while, I was all into bingeing, but now, I kind of have a soft spot for the discipline of having to sit down at the same time every week and waiting!
Greyzone is available as a box set on All 4’s Walter Presents.