Feature by: Jack Foley
SWEDISH director, Mikael Håfström, may be a relatively
unknown name to mainstream movie fans but he is certainly a man
His third film as director, Evil (Ondskan), emerged as Sweden's
nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2004 Oscars,
while his next project, Derailed, stars Clive Owen and Jennifer
So while it may have taken some time for Evil to finally arrive
in UK cinemas, the wait has been worth it, especially since Håfström's
star is very much on the rise.
Based upon the best-selling novel by Jan Guillou (published in
1981), Evil is a powerful study of the corrosive effect of violence.
It follows the fortunes of Erik Ponti, a troubled teenager prone
to physical abuse by his step-father, who is sent to a tough boarding
school in Stjarnsberg which is governed by a vicious school council
made up of senior pupils.
Erik is soon targeted by these seniors but begins a campaign
of civil disobedience rather than violence which eventually puts
his resolve to the ultimate test.
Håfström first became involved with the project while
working in television, for the Swedish equivalent of the BBC,
but decided he was too young to take on the challenge when it
first presented itself.
"There have been at least five or six attempts to make a
film out of this book because it is so popular," he told
me during a recent interview.
"It has become the most read Swedish book in the last 20
years. Everybody in Sweden has read it, especially young people,
so if you meet a teenager on the street, maybe he has read one
book in his life and this is it.
"We initially discussed the idea of making it into a mini-series,
but I wasn't ready for that, as I felt too young to take on such
Once he felt ready, however, Håfström enlisted the
help of a writer and polished off a script very quickly.
But he still had one more problem to overcome - finding the right
actor to play Erik Ponti.
The search wasn't easy but he eventually
selected a young, good-looking but relatively unknown model-turned-actor
named Andreas Wilson.
"I found everyone except Erik and it was two and a half
weeks before we started to shoot and everyone was panicking because
we still didn't have the right guy," he explained, with a
"But then I remembered a face that I'd seen at a birthday
party a year before when I was looking for people for a different
"I remember saying that this guy looked interesting and
talking to him, asking him what he was doing.
"And I managed to track him down from talking to people
who were at the party.
"So I called him up and said 'can you just come here'. He
asked why, but I said 'just come' and when he walked in, I saw
him from a distance and I remember thinking 'fuck, that's him'.
If he can act even this much [gestures a little], then I can make
Wilson went on to make the role his own and, according to Håfström,
is now a major star in his own right, travelling around the world
on various modelling assignments and securing himself a Hollywood
Evil went on to become one of the highest grossing Swedish films
of all time and received its world premiere at the 2004 Toronto
Film Festival which, in turn, helped Håfström to become
noticed by American film-makers.
The result of Evil's success is that the director has now made
the transition to bigger film-making, working with Miramax on
Derailed and placing himself firmly in line for a long and successful
Håfström is reluctant to get carried away, however,
having seem plenty of highs and lows in his career so far.
"I am in a good situation professionally," he admits,
"because Evil is very popular within the Hollywood community.
They love it over there, surprisingly so, and I get a lot of offers.
"But I have had a period of three years when no projects
that I worked on actually happened - and three years is a long
time. It gets very frustrating and you start to wonder if it's
worth it, or what you are doing with your life.
"But having had all these different periods means that I
don't take anything for granted and I'm happy to work.
"So it's great to have the opportunity to be able to do
what I actually chose for a profession."
Evil (Ondskan): Our verdict
Read the full interview
with Mikael Håfström
Derailed - Håfström
reveals more about his next project