Eva Johansson Alive (2020)

Why actor Eva Johansson’s performance in Alive (2020) speaks to the heart of disability intimacy

If you’ve got a little over 20 minutes of time spare and want a thought-provoking experience brought about by compelling storytelling you could do much worse than Alive (2020). If you’ve got a few minutes more after watching it, check out our interview with the movie’s director and writer Jimmy Olsson.

This multi-award winning short film starring Eva Johansson in the lead role of Viktoria is a balanced and nuanced depiction of a woman struggling with a disability and trying desperately to lead her life as close to normal as possible, especially when it comes to matters of intimacy. 

It’s quite amazing how much Jimmy and his cast managed to pack into 23 minutes of this well-crafted indie film, and the director and writer owes much to the careful and convincing performance from Eva Johansson. Even just watching the trailer left me with goosebumps.

Alive with Eva Johansson, directed by Jimmy Olsson

The interview below provides a glimpse into the Swedish actor’s approach to this challenging yet rewarding role, whilst she also provides advice to aspiring actors and writers looking to get into the independent film industry.

FF:  You play the role of Viktoria in Jimmy Olsen’s short film Alive (2020)? Can you explain what the film is about and the part you play?

EJ:  Alive (2020) is about Viktoria who is a disabled woman and Ida, played by Madeline Martin. 

It’s about their relationship and Viktoria is longing for intimacy and, yeah, to have sex, like everybody else, you know? She’s longing for that and really wants to meet someone like we all do. 

So when Ida helps with her Tinder profile and she gets matched with this guy, there it starts. Ida really wants to help Viktoria, but there’s a conflict within her too: ‘Can I leave Viktoria alone with this guy? She’s never met him and maybe he’s a crazy guy? You don’t know.’ 

So, Viktoria really wants to meet him and is fighting for that, you know? This date is coming home to Viktoria, and it’s… a sex date basically.

FF: How did you prepare for the role of Viktoria? And did you find it very challenging to depict someone suffering from disability?

EJ:  Yeah, it was difficult. I had a preparation time of five weeks… Every role I have provides a challenge, you know, and, of course, it was a challenge to do this. But I really try to just think, to work in the same way…  If I do Desdemona in Shakespeare it’s the same approach. 

I was watching clips and interviews with the people that have this kind of brain damage, because it’s brain damage; she’s not born with it. So I thought that was more interesting for me as an actor, because it can happen to me. It can happen, you know… I can go out cycling and just be hit by a car. It can happen to everybody. 

I was listening to people that have this type of brain damage and aphasia, and I was struggling with talking; that was the most challenging thing; to have your words in you: ‘I’m gonna say this’ but you can’t form them in your mouth and get them out. You know, that was the most challenging thing to do, so that the audience believed me.

Alive (2020) starring Eva Johansson and Madeleine Martin

FF: It was certainly convincing. That’s the word I would use. I was completely convinced by your performance. 

Which actors inspired you when you were growing up and who inspires you now?

EJ: When I grew up I didn’t think ‘I’m gonna be an actor!’. It’s come late in the day for me. You know, I was maybe 19 – 20 years old. 

I liked Eddie Murphy when I was a teenager and watching Beverly Hills. Yeah, these kind of movies. 

When I was 20, I started theatre school and I was really interested in this, thinking:  ‘This is what I’m gonna do!’ 

I have been watching many movies from the 70s and 80s and, you know, Midnight Cowboy with Jon Voight I think; he’s so good in that movie; he’s so corny and wonderful. And yeah, I think it’s a really nice performance. And Five Easy Pieces with Jack Nicholson. I really like that performance and now I really like Olivia Coleman too, she’s really good.

FF: You’ve co-written a couple of short films. So, how does that actually work in terms of working together collaboratively? Do you write different scenes separately and bring the piece together? Or is there one writer who writes most of it and then the rest of you sort of write a little bit? I was just curious to understand the process. Can you maybe just explain how that works?

EJ: Yes, we write different scenes separately and bring the piece together and sometimes we improvise together on stage and then we write together based on that. Sometimes we record the improvisation.

FF: What advice would you give to aspiring actors looking to get into the industry?

EJ: Be yourself and try to find your own way. Go with that. Make contact with the people you want to work with and maybe go to film school, although you don’t have to always do that. But listen to what you really want to do.

FF: What advice would you give to budding writers looking to get into the industry?

Don’t try to fit in so much! Again, just go your own way. And if you try to fit in you’ll just get nervous and stressed. I think because there’s so many rules in this industry, it’s like ‘Oh, if I do that, maybe…’ Just listen to what you want to do and try to do that. Work with people that you really want to work with. And sometimes, of course, you have to do things that maybe are not the most inspiring thing but, you know, it can be good sometimes, too.

Madeleine Martin and Joel Odmann in Alive (2020)
Madeleine Martin and Joel Ödmann in Alive (2020)

FF: Yeah, that’s good. Be true to yourself, basically.  And finally, what are you working on next and has the pandemic made much difference to your opportunities given that Sweden hasn’t been in lockdown (as of September 2020)?

No, we haven’t been in lockdown. All the world has, but not the Swedes! Yes, it’s really relaxed. I was thinking now it’s going to stand still here but then I got a job in the theatre called to Turteatern because one actor left. So they called me and we are going to do Nibelungens ring  But not in the opera way; we’re going to destroy it I think! It’s experimental theatre. And, you know, Joel Ödmann (pictured, above) who is in Alive (2020) is in that too. So, we are going to work together this Autumn. I really like working with him, it’s really fun!

FF: That’s really good. Really good to hear that. I know that somebody I’ve interviewed before a couple of times, just finished filming a feature here in the UK (as of September 2020). So things are happening some in some places, not everywhere, but there I think there’s some hope, as long as things don’t get worse again.