Aníta Briem: Vildi fjalla um það þegar ég málaði mig út í horn

Aníta Briem er tilnefnd til Norrænu sjónvarpshandritaverðlaunanna fyrir handrit sitt að þáttaröðinni Svo lengi sem við lifum. Verðlaunin verða afhent 1. febrúar á Gautaborgarhátíðinni.

Svo lengi sem við lifum er framleidd af Glassriver fyrir Stöð 2 í samvinnu við C More. Nordic Film and TV News ræddi við Anítu af þessu tilefni:

Briem was trained at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and worked on the West End. After several English language productions (Journey to the Centre of the Earth, The Tudors, Doctor Who), she has worked most recently on Icelandic content such as the series The Minister and the films Quake, Beautiful Beings, and A Letter to Helga.

Her screenwriting debut, the six-part As Long as We Live, in which she plays the title role of Beta, is inspired by her personal experience. Playing opposite her are Martin Wallström (Mr Robot, Beck), Mikael Kaaber (Fractures, Manners) as well as Ólafur Darri Ólafsson.

Once a promising musician, Beta finds herself in a marriage at a breaking point, achingly lonely and struggling to be the mother she wants to be to her toddler, attempting to live inside the neat little box she thinks societal norms require of her. When their new au-pair- a young man- starts to propose little ‘flirting-assignments’ for them to do, Beta is in for a roller coaster ride.

The series directed by Katrín Björgvinsdóttir (Trapped), was produced by Arnbjörg Hafliðadóttir and Hörður Rúnarsson for Glassriver, Channel 2 Iceland, in association with C More, Sweden and Lumiere Group. Eccho Rights handles sales.

What does it mean for you to be nominated for the Nordisk Film & TV Fond Prize with your first drama series as creator/screenwriter?
Aníta Briem: It really has been one of the greatest honours of my career so far. I found the writing process to be incredibly empowering but no less raw, exposing and vulnerable. So to be recognised by my peers for this work is a huge encouragement and honour.

Why did you decide to turn to screenwriting? Have you always been tempted by the art of storytelling, or is it the specific story of As Long as We Live – based on your own experience – which made it necessary for you to take full control?
AB: The core of the story, the core questions came out of sheer need, a sort of an act of desperation when I found that I had really painted myself into a corner as a human being in my life. Questions on love, marriage, parenthood, social norms and expectations were bubbling up in me. Questions of dreams that don’t serve us anymore and how hard it can be to let go of them. Curiosity about the phenomenon that is the 7-year itch and why it is undeniably a pattern in relationships all around us…

I started to put these questions down on paper and it developed into a novella-like a little piece that ended up composing the first two acts of my series. I then had to live another few years before I was able to write the final act. In that process I was insecure about my writing abilities, and always assumed someone would write this for me or with me.

This is a pattern I notice with young creative women. I think generally we want our work to be somehow good enough before sharing and showing it to others, while the young men seem more fearless to take chances. It wasn’t until five years into development that Glassriver came on board to produce, and they really pushed me to complete the piece as a solo writer. For that I am very grateful.

What did you find most challenging and most rewarding in the writing process?
AB: I had attempted to write with others, and I learned a lot from that process, but somehow it wasn’t quite right. As soon as I found the confidence to commit to writing on my own, it was incredibly empowering. And from that point, I wrote more or less in isolation. I ran new ideas by my producer Hörður Rúnarsson and that was always inspiring. I really see it as such a gift when these kinds of big questions land on you, demanding to become a story, so the writing process was really about honouring them. Honouring the mission of the story – to put difficult issues on the table to let people know they were not alone, like I had felt. Subjects and feelings on love and lust and connection that are too often clouded in shame and therefore not talked about.

How would you describe the core of the story and for you, what makes it a unique and relatable to viewers in Iceland and internationally?
AB: The core is this idea of the 7-year itch in our long-term relationships. I became obsessed and so curious about these patterns I was seeing more and more as I started researching and talking to people. They showed up in the stories of people of all ages and all walks of life. And when I opened the dialogue, these people seemed to be bursting to want to talk about it.

I think we all dream of somehow ‘succeeding’ in our love stories, whatever that means. And we generally present a pretty shiny image of ourselves to others. We post the best parts on social media, how in love we are on our anniversaries etc. But most of us experience so many colours and dips and valleys. And we generally don’t talk about those. We are surrounded by stories about the first part of falling in love and riding into sunsets. And that’s all wonderful. But for me, the echoing absence of those stories about what happens next, when you’re deeper into your relationship, made me feel like I must be the only person in the world experiencing these feelings. Feeling like I was failing because I was experiencing darker, and what I considered shameful thoughts.

But the truth is, that some of those darker colours in our love stories I find to be so beautiful. We are for instance not really supposed to find other people attractive when we are in love, but almost everybody does to some degree. We just don’t talk about it. Having doubts of resentment or grievances or feeling boredom in your relationship isn’t bad, it’s perfectly normal, and sometimes just by saying things out loud, our issues often become way smaller then they are in isolation in our heads.

My deepest wish is for the series to inspire truthful and interesting conversations between people. It is a story of hope.

At what stage did director Katrin Björgvinsdóttir board the series and how was your collaboration? Were you able to let go of ‘your baby’ during shooting?
AB: Katrín came in a few months before filming. She had recently finished her studies at the prestigious National Film School of Denmark and her graduation piece just blew me away. She is incredibly smart and gave very good notes as we were preparing, and we have been collaborating on this side-by-side as director and creator. Every collaboration is different and it was always clear this relationship was going to be unique and close. Filmmaking in a collaborative process. And that´s what I adore about it. Katrín is a wonderful director and I’m sure you’ll be seeing more of her in the future.

How would you describe your character Beta?
AB: Beta is a musician who had real success a few years ago but now has found herself as the main care-giver to her toddler, in a deep crisis with her husband while they await a kindergarten space as if it where Godot. Her husband’s risky business ventures have put a great financial strain on the family. She is achingly lonely and desperate for a connection with another human being which she doesn’t share with anyone, but instead creates little fantasies in her head where she experiences some version of closeness. Until a young man enters their home as their new nanny and turns their world upside down.

Were you involved in the casting of Martin Wallström and Mikael Kaaber and how did they contribute to their parts?
AB: Absolutely. I had originally written the part of the husband as Icelandic. Maybe in part because my husband is not Icelandic and I didn’t want people to think it was literally my story. It’s not. The questions I am raising along with the themes are deeply personal but the story is fictional. Then when Martin Wallström came into the conversation after he read the script and was very interested, I made him Swedish. Both steps in the process were important for me, but making him be a kind of an outsider in a culture that is not his own, allowed us to explore themes that are both close to my heart and I think very relevant as people are more frequently relocating and dealing with those issues.

I could sense that the story was personal for Martin in many ways and that really meant a lot to me as the nature of the story is intimate and emotionally raw.

When we were casting the role that Mikael Kaaber played, there was a point when we got very worried. It’s a part that requires an ocean of emotional intelligence, which is unusual to find in 22-year-old boys. So when Mikael came in, he just blew us away. Our relationship also developed during the course of filming and I remember a moment when we were doing a scene, and his emotional state just really got to me. We were both suddenly fighting back tears, in a scene that wasn’t necessarily written like that. And that’s just gorgeous. When the characters really take on a life of their own and fly above the page.

How was the exchange of notes with Channel 2 and the various co-financiers?
AB: We were allowed a lot of creative freedom. Channel 2, C More, Eccho Rights our distribution company as well as our co-producer Lumiere really believed in the story. Deciding that the husband character would not be Icelandic was perhaps the biggest piece in that regard. That meant that the story would be half-English and half-Icelandic, which everyone involved was excited about and considered current and relevant. We have had a very wonderful collaboration with everyone involved.

What’s next for you as an actress and screenwriter?
AB: I have a series in the works that I will star in, which is based on my original idea. I will also film the second season of the tv show The Minister, which I just love. But maybe it’s a bit of a chapter break in my career, and once I’ve gotten a little rest after post-production concludes, I feel I will want to write more.

Could you cite two of the best shows you’ve watched in 2022?
AB: This is Going to Hurt. Absolutely beautiful piece of work. Both a deeply personal and emotional story as well as being a potent piece of social commentary, tackling big issues of mental health. And I May Destroy You. I know it’s not 2022 but I watched it for the third time in 2022! I am just blown away by this story and Michaela Coel’s talent on all fronts. Deeply moving and raw. Ms. Coel is a bit of an idol of mine. So brave and bold and a just a beautiful storyteller.

Klapptré er sjálfstæður miðill sem birtir fréttir, viðhorf, gagnrýni og tölulegar upplýsingar um íslenska kvikmynda- og sjónvarpsbransann. Ritstjóri er Ásgrímur Sverrisson.