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My Hero/Of Her I Dream - Katarina Gellin interview (exclusive)

Katarina Gellin

Interview by Rob Carnevale

ACTRESS, producer and director Katarina Gellin talks to us about her career to date, including her upcoming short film, Of Her I Dream, which also marks her debut behind the camera and why it’s such a personal passion project for her.

She also talks about the forthcoming crime drama My Hero, which will also be at Cannes, as well as her recollections of starting to act at the age of six, appearing in The Inbetweeners Movie and why she would like to show off her martial arts skills in a kick-ass action movie.

Q. So, tell us a little bit about yourself?
Katarina Gellin: Well, I graduated in the middle of the financial crisis as an actor, which was a challenge as you can imagine [laughs] but I got my first job on Doctors and then I progressed with a role in EastEnders and Hollyoaks and the usual run of soaps. Then, I got a role in The Inbetweeners Movie, which was great fun. They flew us out to Spain twice because the weather was so terrible the first time. So, it was like getting a free holiday and working with the lads was great fun. And then I did one of those cult US horror films called The Thompsons, which was actually filmed over here in Britain. But I got to know Sean Cronin on that, with whom I’ve since done some more roles with. And I founded a production company with my partner. I have four films out this year, including the forthcoming My Hero, and I’ve started to combine writing, directing, acting and producing. In fact, I’ve just directed by first short film…

Q. Is that Of Her I Dream?
Katarina Gellin: Yes, it’s doing the festival rounds as we speak.

Q. It also has the Norwegian name Mamma Ler I Skuffen
Katarina Gellin: Yes, it’s the only film I’ve done in my original mother tongue. It’s semi-autobiographical because I lost my mother four years ago. It’s something a lot of people go through with cancer, so I decided to make a film about the people around the person that’s dying – how each of them cope with it and each other… growing closer and growing apart as a family around the person you’re losing. It’s just entered into the festival circuit. It’s 24 minutes, so quite long for a short film. But I have an extremely talented Norwegian actress who plays the mum in the film, and she was pretending to be on morphine the whole time, which slows you down. But I’m very proud of it. And I’m taking it to Cannes next week…

Q. Will that be your first time?
Katarina Gellin: I went two years ago without anything, just to see what it was like. It was crazy!

Q. Will it be better this time now that you’re actually taking something?
Katarina Gellin: It will be better I hope [laughs]. But there are so many filmmakers there and people who are up for collaborating, so I’m hopeful. It is nerve-wracking to go there, especially as we’re promoting My Hero [another film] as well. But I’ll put on a dress and go and do all the meetings and publicity.

Q. Is that something you like? Or is it something you’re resigned to as part of the process?
Katarina Gellin: I think it’s the latter because I’m naturally quite an introvert, as a lot of actors are at heart. But you have to go out and promote yourself. Cannes is good because everyone there is a filmmaker, so it’s not a forced situation, which it often is in other situations. So, people are more likely to ask you what you do and then when they find out, they might suggest a collaboration. I hate those situations where you have to go “hi, it’s me!”

Q. Will you be trying for other festivals as well, like London or Toronto?
Katarina Gellin: Definitely. I’ve just entered it into Toronto and also the London Short Film Festival, Raindance and the BFI [London Film Festival]. All of the submissions have just gone in.

Q. How was directing a film for the first time? Is it something you’d like to do more of?
Katarina Gellin: I’m not sure I’d recommend it! It’s exhausting. But I’ve always loved being in front of and behind the camera and I love pulling the strings and seeing a story come together. But I have little experience of the technical side of things, so was very lucky to have a photographer who understood it and was really helpful. But writing takes a long time because you need a solid script. And it’s never finished – even when you’re shooting it then changes on the day!

My Hero

Q. You mentioned My Hero. That’s about a drug dealer who has to come to the rescue of a nine-year-old girl on a Margate estate. You play a character named Kim, who is dating the dealer. Is that right?
Katarina Gellin: Yeah, it’s a really heartfelt British indie thriller in the vein of London To Brighton and Leon. It’s low budget but everyone worked so hard on this and it was a really great team. It takes an enormous amount of effort to make a film like this but it’s worth it when you see the results. I’m playing a headstrong person who is the only character in the film not from the estate and that impoverished community. So, she knows that it [their relationship] might not be the best combination because she knows that he also makes his money illegally. But it all falls apart when he meets this nine-year-old girl that he ends up rescuing because Kim, my character, jumps to all the wrong conclusions and starts to think he’s helping her for different reasons.

Q. How did you go about creating the character of Kim? Did you research her, or was she all in the script?
Katarina Gellin: She was pretty much all in the script. Nate [Nathanael Wiseman], who stars in the film and wrote the script, made her so easy to identify with. For me, being Norwegian it was really interesting to get into the English character because from my birth country portraying someone like Kim is not my natural environment, especially the Margate jargon and accent. So, I suppose the accent was the bigger challenge. And I changed my appearance a bit for it. I look quite a red head and curly haired…

Q. A red head!
Katarina Gellin: I’m usually very blonde… and casting can be quite biased in terms of landing roles if you look a certain way. Anyone can see from my previous roles that a lot of them have tended to be blonde and Scandinavian – although not bimbos. But I really wanted to change that. Those roles are fun to do but you always want to be versatile as an actress.

Q. You got the acting bug at an early age, didn’t you? From six…
Katarina Gellin: Yeah, I went into a local theatre group in my small little home town in Norway and then my mum started directing the group and I started playing all of the villains! They were an all-singing, all-dancing group and I started directing them from the age of 14. I actually never really had anything to do with film until I was a little older. I went to a few auditions when I was 15 and 16 but it wasn’t really until I trained for drama school that my teachers said I had an acting style that really suited the camera. And then I moved to London.

Q. How was that? Was it a big decision to do so?
Katarina Gellin: I guess it was a natural step. I’d always loved London but moving there was an unexpected twist. But it was a necessary step if I wanted to further my career.

Q. Given your background in theatre, would you go back to it at any point?
Katarina Gellin: I’d love to go back to theatre but if you get TV and film work, you tend to continue doing that unless you’re a very big star who can pick and choose their roles. Theatre is an entirely different beast. There are a lot more nerves involved but it’s a skill set you need to keep brushing up on.

Q. But do you think it also gives you a good starting point as an actor given that you have to be prepared for anything when you’re doing it live?
Katarina Gellin: Definitely. Theatre is the real grass, it’s the real training, because it’s the foundation, as any actor will tell you, for real work. But the thing about the camera is that you require so much less because it picks up every single movement that you do. And I have big features – big eyes and a big mouth – and they tend to pop out on camera. So, it’s still all about being truthful but I also have to scale it down and trust that the camera can pick up any number of tiny little things that I do.

The Inbetweeners Movie

Q. Going back to the experience of The Inbetweeners. How was being a part of that film for you?
Katarina Gellin: It was fantastic. We had such a great team and nobody knew just how huge it was going to be at that stage because it was a complete punt. Film 4 were behind it, which was great too. I was initially up for another role but then I got the role of Donna, which was fabulous. So, I went out to Spain and filmed it and they were a really good team. All the boys are really lovely. I think Simon Bird, in particular, felt the most pressure at the time of carrying the film on his shoulders, but it was such an overnight success and no one dared to even dream of the heights it would reach.

Q. And what did it do in terms of raising your profile?
Katarina Gellin: I don’t know. I got a lot of Twitter followers [laughs]. It’s strange as an actor because you have to come in for a lot of casting and sometimes you make the steps you want, and sometimes you don’t. I think it created a buzz for me for a little bit of time. But since then, I’ve really moved into trying to make my own stuff because, unless you’re extremely fortunate, you have to do a lot of the work yourself.

Q. Are you happy with where your career is right now, though?
Katarina Gellin: No one’s ever happy with that because we all want to climb [laughs]. But it’s in a really good place. I’ve got four films coming out this year, which are all exciting. But the next step is landing a bigger role and using some of the skills for action and martial arts that I’ve never used before.

Q. Do you already have those skills then?
Katarina Gellin: Oh yes. My biggest career aspiration is to make a film where I can indulge those wonderfully kick-ass skills. I’ve done it for years but the blonde innocent face makes people think I can’t do it for some reason [laughs]!

Q. And you’d like to be in an action film?
Katarina Gellin: I think most actresses would. If you look at The Hunger Games and what Jennifer Lawrence is doing in those films. She is a huge inspiration. I think a lot of us would love to be doing what she is right now.