A/V Room









Evil - Mikael Håfström interview

Interview by: Rob Carnevale

Q. Are Swedish schools really like that - or were they?
Well this specific school was like that. It was in the Fifties. And the school closed down in the mid-Sixties. So yeah, that specific school was more or less run in the way that's described in the film.

Q. Even the student council and the fact that the teachers seemed to ignore most of what went on?
Yes, that's how the system worked. When the main character, Erik, grew up he became a very famous Swedish journalist. But actually one of his first gigs as a journalist was to write about this school that he went to when he was a teenager. His articles, together with other people's articles, actually brought the school down.
So in the late Sixties, the government said the way this school was run was too old-fashioned so they closed it down. The school is still there, it's now a recreation centre for golfers.

Q. How much of the school is based on that reality? Is it actually that school and that environment?
Well it's based on a book and the names are changed from the actual school and it's not shot at the actual school. I've seen it and it's not possible to shoot there; it's all been renovated.
But the book deals a lot with Erik before he ends up in school - the years before. That's a very interesting story in itself but we decided to concentrate the film to the school and make that the basic arena for the film.
So it didn't look exactly like that. But obviously there were a lot of photos from the school and we tried to make the dining area look like it did.

Q. When did you first become aware of the book and decide that you wanted to make a film?
The book came out in the early 80s and has become the most read Swedish book in the last 20 years. So everybody in Sweden has read that book, especially young people. If you meet a teenager on the street, maybe he has read one book in his life and this is it.
It's also used in schools by teachers. So I read the book when I was quite young. I worked in Swedish television, the equivalent of the BBC, and we discussed the idea of making it into a mini-series quite a few years back.
But I wasn't ready for that, I felt too young to take on such complex material. So I did a lot of cop shows and stuff and grew up.
There have been at least five or six attempts to make a film out of this book before because it's so popular. If you're a smart producer then, of course, you're going to say 'let's make a film and make a lot of money from this'.
But all of these attempts failed for some reason. Even the author himself, Jan Guillou, wrote the script from his own book but he read the script and he said to me it was quite shitty, so it never came to anything.
So I was asked by my producer friend to try to write the script from the book and I took in a guy that I'd worked with before - a writer of short stories. So we wrote the script pretty quickly and financed the film pretty quickly and shot it pretty quickly, so after we started it was a short period of time.

Q. What about the actual title of the film? Were you tempted not to change the title for UK audiences, given it doesn't translate exactly to Evil and might suggest a horror film?
I kind of like the title, Evil. It's kind of creepy. But Ondskan in Swedish is a word that has more dimensions in Swedish than the word 'evil'. Another English word would be, maybe, menace, or something like that.
We looked at a lot of words but there was another film called Menace out when we came out, so it wasn't a good idea.
Of course, if you hear the word you might think it's a horror film but it's good because it means we get that audience as well.

Q. How do you think it will be received over here?
The film has now been sold to 100 countries or something and it's been received very well in lots of places. England is very close to home when it comes to this film. It's a boarding school drama which we have seen a lot of from this country. It's an environment that people in this country can relate to strongly. So I think maybe critics will have something to say about that, which will be different from what critics have to say in other countries. I hope people like it.

Q. How was it received in Sweden?
It was great because everyone had read the book, so that was a good starting point for us when making it. But it was also scary because of the fact that everyone had read it and had a strong relationship to the book and everyone had a point of view on who Erik was. So if we fucked that up, people would come down hard on us.
So I realised I had to do a film that stands on its own legs and had the heart and soul of the book. It worked very well in Sweden; I think most people accepted the film as a film. Of course, some missed bits from the book, but there wasn't a lot of that and the film was one of the biggest commercial successes in Sweden ever, so we can't complain about that.

Q. It was released in Sweden in 2003 and now two years later it's due in the UK....
That's the case with foreign films, though. I think it takes a while for distributors to find foreign films, so it doesn't matter, it's great to get the film distributed here.

Q. You've already had a lot of international success with the film, especially in light of the Oscar nomination, so did that help to lead on to your next directing job, Derailed?
Well the Oscars was a fun thing and a bonus, but Evil was shown at the Toronto Film Festival, where it received its world premiere. A lot of Americans go over there and saw it, so it was after Toronto that I started getting scripts and so on from Los Angeles.
Derailed was very much on a go when we got the Oscar nomination but it didn't really change anything when it came to my adventures overt there.

Q. So how does it feel to be making the leap to American films now?
Well, you know, when you stand there with your actors and your camera, it's not much different. It's other areas. It's the pre-production, it's the casting, it's more people involved. Now it's Miramax, which is a good studio.
The casting is the biggest difference because it takes a lot of time, and actors have agents, so it takes for ever to get everything on paper.
You have more time and more money and all of that, but there's also more people, so it's a slower process.
In Sweden, we had small crews so we moved around very quickly. Here, we have more days but it takes a much longer time to move all these people around, so it evens out. But I enjoyed it.

Q. How long did Evil take?
Evil took 30 days to shoot; on Derailed I had 60. But I didn't feel, when shooting Evil, that I had a lot of time. It was the same problems as back home - too little time, too little money.
But I enjoyed it and I've enjoyed working with Clive Owen who was totally unknown when I hired him a year ago. So we were very lucky to be working with him.

Q. Going back to the issue of casting, you mentioned how popular the book is in Sweden, so the casting of Erik Ponti was crucial. How did you arrive at Andreas Wilson?
I found all of the actors before Andreas. I started to look at 16-year-olds, which they are in the book, and I looked them in the eyes, but I couldn't believe that they had the experience that was required - because it's very different to be 16 in the 1950s as opposed to now. Then, you grew up faster, whereas now everyone is trying to be a teenager til they're 40. So it's very hard just to find this.
The first thing I did, therefore, was to put the age up to 20, 21, and then I started to believe that this guy had been through this.
But I found everyone except Erik and we were two and a half weeks before we started to shoot and everyone was panicking because we didn't have the guy, you know?
It was just extreme luck. I remembered a face that I'd seen at a birthday party a year before when I was looking for people for a different project.
I remember saying that this guy looked interesting and talking to him, asking him what he was doing. He was just a kid then.
But I managed to track him down from talking to people who were at this birthday party. 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 it work. But it was so obvious.
Obviously, I had to some tests with him to show the producers, but I hired him the day after and sent him to a swimming school. Now he's all over the place and has a Hollywood agent.

Q. He hadn't acted before then?
He'd done little theatre things but no film. He was very inexperienced.

Q. Did you have to teach him how to act?
No, I couldn't find someone who could act the character of Erik. In a way, you have to be him a little bit. You have to have these little secrets. I'm a director but I'm not a magician. I can direct actors but there's certain things you can't put down and Andreas just had this thing, whatever it is.
So I didn't spend more time with him than the established, grown-up actors. He's a natural.

Q. Having discovered him will you be working with him again and will you stay in contact with him?
He's here. We had a premiere yesterday, so I met him. He's also a very popular model now all over the world, so he goes around and we see each other as much as we can. But yes, I feel I have a lot of responsibility for him and so I try to see that he behaves himself.

Q. On the subject of Derailed, can you tell us a bit about it?
It's a thriller. It's much more of a genre film than Evil is. It's a sort of Hitchock piece about a married man who meets a married woman and they start a relationship. From that point on, everything goes pretty downhill.

Q. What are your immediate plans for the future? Have you finished Derailed?
Well, I've got to finish Derailed, it's in post-production. I'm going to do another film for Miramax. And I've worked on a couple of other projects for other studios, so we'll see. You need to have three or four projects up in the air because there are so few films that actually happen.
But I'm in a good situation professionally. Evil is very popular in the Hollywood community. They love it over there, surprisingly much. And so I get a lot of offers. I have said no to a lot of things because they're things I don't think I should do.
But it's great to have the opportunity to be able to do what you actually chose for a profession. In Sweden, I'd been lucky enough to do a few films before I had a period of three years when no projects that I worked with actually happened. Three years is a long time and it's very frustrating; you start to wonder if it's worth it, or what you are doing with your life.
But having had all these different periods I don't take anything for granted and I'm happy to work. I try to do that as much as I can. But this business is so weird.

Evil (Ondskan): Our verdict


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