The Norwegian Film Festival in Haugesund interview: Tommy Wirkola answers What Happened to Monday?

Tommy Wirkola talks about working in the US, Orphan Black and directing Glenn Close.

How does it feel to go from a small-budget zombie-film in Norway to directing Willem Dafoe and Glenn Close? I talked with director Tommy Wirkola during The Norwegian Film Festival in Haugesund about working in international productions.

What Happened to Monday is available on Netflix in the US and other territories, while in Norway the film premieres the 8th of September 2017.

You went from working on small productions in Norway to being able to make bigger budget films with actors like Willem Dafoe, how different is it to work in Hollywood?

What is different is the politics involved. In the US there is a lot of money involved, and there are a lot of people working together, as well as the studios. It is more about the business and not about creativity, while here in Norway you can make whatever you want.

Of course in the US you get bigger tools to work with, and you can make a lot more. There is no limit to what you can do, except your imagination. With What Happened to Monday I felt like we had a mix of both. We had the bigger tools to work with from Hollywood, but with a smaller budget, and we also had the freedom to make what we wanted like in Norway.

What interested you about the project?

It was as simple as I fell in love with the script, I liked the idea and the world. It was my friend Morten Tyldum who was supposed to direct it, but then he talked me into doing the job. I grew up on Paul Verhoeven films like Robocop. I wanted to make a film like that, with big ideas but a serious setting with lots of action and humor in it.

You decided to change the protagonists from a set of brothers to sisters, why? Was it difficult to accommodate the script to that change?

I just thought the entire project would be different and more interested if they were sisters. The dynamic between them would be better if they were sisters, you know? We have seen men in these roles before, in many action films. We are sort of used to that. A journalist told me he felt uncomfortable with the amount of violence towards women, but that’s not what it’s about. The film is about characters. No one would care for even a second if the movie was about men.

When we decided to change that, we got a new writer Kerry Williamson who did a fantastic job rewriting the script. She grew up with 5 siblings, so she has experience on that front. We had to not only change the protagonists from men to women, but the world of the film was way bigger and we didn’t have the money for that. Kari came in and we had to scale it down and make a story that we could actually film with the budget we had. We used around 8 months to rewrite the script.

Willem Dafoe in What Happened to Monday.

In the film you work with big actors like Willem Dafoe and Glenn Close, how do you approach directing them? Do you do anything different?

I don’t really think about that. Filmmaking is a collaboration, and Glenn Close specially had lots of ideas. She has worked for over 40 years so she knows a lot. You understand quickly after meeting them why they have worked for so long and in big projects. They are not only great actors, but they are super professional and kind. They had ideas and we tried to incorporate them in the film.

How was this collaboration? What kind of ideas did they have?

Glenn Close was particularly interested in the themes we explore in the film like overpopulation. She is very well-read and knows a lot. She brought a lot with her that we unfortunately had to cut because of time. We had a lot more scenes with her and we explored her character’s background a bit more. The most difficult part of the film was cutting scenes out.

In the film, we follow seven sisters who take turns living in the outside world and share one identity because there are not supposed to be any siblings. But that is kind of a cheat for the characters Saturday and Sunday.

It is kind of funny that neither Saturday or Sunday work, so they have more fun. Saturday maybe takes a client to lunch or dinner, but as we see in the film she does party a lot. Sunday gets the shortest straw, she doesn’t work but she can’t party, she doesn’t get a lot to do. We actually filmed a scene where she goes to church, implying that’s the biggest thing she does every week, but we had to cut it for time. Many would say that Saturday won the sister lottery, and I would sort of agree. But the film is about how no one is happy with the role they play, with work and routine.

How was it to work with Noomi Rapace and her seven roles?

That was the biggest challenge we had ahead of us. If we did it quickly it would become a gimmick and we of course wanted to avoid that. We didn’t want people to think of it that way. Of course the first time you see that they are seven sisters you think “wow, that’s the same actress”. But the idea is that you forget about it as quickly as possible and you start thinking of them as different characters.

As for the technical aspect, we used many different techniques from the bigger high-tec, face-replacement technology to the old use of light and camera angles. We used all techniques and hopefully it feels natural. It was a tough film to shoot with the budget that we had, so we had to be effective.

And before you say anything, I haven’t seen a single episode of Orphan Black. I didn’t want to be influenced by it, but we did talk with some of the crew about tips on what to avoid.

What are you working on now?

I am writing a lot. I wrote a script for a superhero film called Irredeemable, based on the comic book by Mark Waid which Adam McKay will direct. It’s a lot of fun and Adam is a big fan of the comic book. It will be something different than what we are used to.

I am also working on making a TV-show about my film Hansel & Gretel, but we are still negotiating it. I am otherwise reading a lot and writing a couple of things for myself. But you never know in this industry, we’ll see.

Can you tell us anything about Dead Snow 3?

I am working on it. We are definitely going to make it. We are planning on finishing the trilogy, but I don’t know how long it will be before we make it. We have a part of the story ready, and we will show zombie Hitler.

 

 

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