Sitting down after a Sunday lunch to watch a film is a great pastime. And so it was when I did just that to take in Mareld (2019) starring Swedish actress Hanna Oldenburg before my interview with her.
I’ve never seen a film quite like it and probably never will again. It’s brooding and chaotic, strange, and blurs the lines between reality and fiction.
Hanna discusses with us the unusual approach that the director took to create this movie (hint: there was NO script!). She also provides advice for budding actors looking to get into the film industry, and tells us which Palm D’or-winning director’s film she’ll be appearing in alongside Woody Harrelson.
Jumping from equestrianism to film school
FF: So, tell me who is Hanna Oldenburg? Tell me about your journey as someone in the film industry…
HO: So I’m an actress from Stockholm, Sweden. I also direct and produce. Originally, I was a professional equestrian, competing in showjumping. And then I was in the Swedish team, so I was competing a lot. And then when I was around 20-21, my interest in the film industry started and I realised I really enjoyed movies and acting. So that was a new passion of mine that I got and after that, I started working in different film productions and I went to acting school in Australia, and then I went to film school also in the States.
FF: You’ve really traveled to sort of hone your craft.
HO: Yeah, I have!
A Swedish psychological thriller: Mareld (2019)
FF: So, can you explain what Mareld (2019) is about?
HO: So it’s a psychological thriller. It’s about a group of people that go on a sailing trip. And I go with my husband and our relationship is not the best. And we go around to different archipelago islands outside of Stockholm visiting old lighthouses and one of the islands and one of the lighthouses is haunted. My character is schizophrenic and she has these visions and she feels and senses things.
But you don’t really know what it is…if she’s…if it’s actually happening in real life, or if it’s just in her head.
So they go onto this island and she starts experiencing different things and becomes a little bit mental. But, you don’t know if it’s actually true or not.
And then, yeah, I don’t know, weird things start to happen!
FF: Yeah, it was different, very different. Do you think audiences have found and will find the movie challenging to follow?
HO: It’s a very challenging movie. You have to be super focused. It’s a lot going on. It’s very fast paced. And it’s confusing, but that’s the idea of the film. It’s very meta. And the director wanted to create something that…it should be a little bit…uncertain at all times. So you have to kind of make your own perception of what’s going on. But you really have to keep your attention and focus when you’re watching the film.
FF: Yeah, I was a bit thrown when they started interviewing you within the film.
HO: I know!
FF: That’s when I realised… ‘What! Is this, like, something wrong with the screener?’ Like, the interviews with the actors afterwards but in between the film and it was really convincing. So yeah, that threw me quite a lot to be fair.
HO: I know, everyone that watches the film gets so surprised by it. And then you realise, okay, this is really ‘meta’. And there, it’s kind of like a documentary about the film itself. It’s like a ‘meta’ within a meta’.
FF: Very postmodern, I suppose. What was the director like to work with? And how did you get involved in the film in the first place?
HO: It was interesting, actually, because I got a phone call from a person, the producer, Viktor Åkerblom. I met him at a film festival, Stockholm Film Festival, and we just talked a little bit, maybe for an hour, so we didn’t really know each other.
Improvised screen acting: unscripted challenges
But then, six months later, he called me and he’s like, ‘So Hanna, what are you up to now?’ I’m like, ‘I’m not… nothing really I’m just at home. He’s like ‘Okay, because I have a director that wants to meet you for an audition for a film, can you come here now?’ It’s like, ‘Yeah, sure, give me 45 minutes!’
So, I just went straight there to audition and everything was improv. And we just played around for an hour or so quite a long time and just tried different situations, different scenes. So that’s how I got involved with the project in the first place.
The director Ove Valeskog, he’s really different to work with than any director I’ve ever met. He didn’t have a script. So he has everything in his head, and then for each shooting day, he explains quite er… ‘Okay, this is what we’re going to do today. This is the scene…’ but he doesn’t give us anything else. Then: ‘I want you to get to this conclusion at the end, so you have completely free rein…’ So, you can do whatever you want, which is really difficult! But fun.
So we just get thrown into something and then we have to make…make up the lines. But we know where the scene should go or where it ends.
FF: Did you find that easier or harder? Because I guess if there are no lines to learn, you haven’t got that ‘brain space’ to take up but, at the same time, if you’re not sure what you’re going to say, then, is it a bit stop-start? Did it kind of fail quite a lot of times and you had to cut and start again, because it didn’t quite work or did it just flow?
HO: No, it was really difficult. But after, like, about three days, you kind of kind of get into it. And then you’re…you’re… You are the character. In the beginning, the first two days, you’re like, ‘Oh my god, what’s going on? What should I say? I don’t know!’ I didn’t know that director from the start, so I wasn’t sure what he was after. Then, after a while you… you get into it, but it was, like, for sure, very difficult. And you want to say something, you want to have lines that are good, but if you can’t prepare yourself for anything, you really have to be present in the now.
FF: An interesting exercise, one you may never experience again, I guess. It’s good that you did…
HO: No, well, some films have a little bit of improv, like my last film that I did with Ruben Östlund. He had quite a lot of improv. But then again, you have this script that you can read months ahead, and you can prepare yourself for… ‘Okay, this is the scene and this is my mental state of my character that I’m going to do.’ But at Mareld (2019) we didn’t know anything. We didn’t know the ending of the film. We didn’t have much at all. So that was really an improv exercise.
An actor inspired: from Hollywood to Sweden
FF: Which actresses inspired you when you were younger and who inspires you now?
HO: I get inspired by Nicole Kidman. I love her. Also, I love Tilda Swinton and Alicia Vikander I think is great too. And, like, when I was growing up, maybe more classic actresses like Meryl Streep. But that’s so obvious! Who doesn’t get inspired by Meryl Streep?
FF: Are there any other Swedish actors or actresses that inspired you at all?
HO: Also, Rebecca Ferguson. She’s, like, very hot right now. She’s also Swedish. I think she’s great. I think, also, Joel Kinnaman is really good. But he’s a male actor; for me, I get more inspired by actresses than actors since I can relate to them.
Aspiring actor? Work as much as possible
FF: What advice would you give to aspiring actors looking to get into the film industry? And what do you wish you’d known when you first became an actor?
HO: I would advise people to work as much as possible, even if it’s a student production or if you’re behind the camera, just do as much as you can. In the beginning, just to get experience on set, and to get to know people, because it’s so important just to have your network of filmmakers, and one thing leads to another. So I guess that’s my best advice to just try and do as much as possible. Commercials, stills, student films or anything really.
FF: If you could choose one director to work with in the future who would you choose and why?
HO: One! Ah, there are so many! But I guess I’d choose Wes Anderson. I think he’s amazing. His films are like stories, tales. It’s like opening a book, a children’s book, and reading with pictures in it. I think they’re great.
FF: I can see that you’ve written and directed some short films. Are you now focusing on acting or do you think you might return to writing and directing one day?
HO: I’m planning on directing and writing some more. I’m writing a feature film right now. And a TV series. So yeah, for sure. I just want to make movies and being a director and a writer that’s kind of taking control over your own fantasy world, and you get to use your imagination and just create what was in your head. And I think that’s fantastic.
FF: Yeah, that was going to be my last question… What are you working on now/next? Can you maybe tell us a little bit more about that? As much as you’re able and willing to at the moment?
HO: So, my next film coming up that we’ve shot this year is Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness (2021). His last film was called The Square (2017) with Elisabeth Moss and Dominic West; he won the Palm d’Or at Cannes with it. So this is the biggest Swedish production this year [speaking in 2020] and I’m so grateful and excited that I got to be a part of it.
It takes place on a yacht cruise and I play one of the crew members who’s really flirtatious and sleeps with my boss and stuff like that!
Film lover. Coffee hater. Raising a newborn during a global pandemic and interviewing indie filmmakers in between nappy changes.