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Evil (Ondskan) - It's great to have the opportunity to be able to do what I actually chose for a profession

Feature by: Jack Foley

SWEDISH director, Mikael Håfström, may be a relatively unknown name to mainstream movie fans but he is certainly a man to watch.

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 Aniston.

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 complex material."

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 wry smile.

"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 project.

"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 it work."

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 agent.

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 future.

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


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