Published March 22, 2016
After hitting UK shores earlier this year in all its subtitled glory, Baltasar Kormákur’s Trapped (Ófærð) has quickly become the most internationally successful Icelandic TV show in history—with over one million Brits tuning into the finale on BBC4 this month.
Trapped represents Iceland’s first foray into serialised Nordic noir, ticking all the right boxes in terms of its scope, sweaters — and spooks. Produced in the isolated environs of Siglufjörður, it’s a classic whodunit story with a twist: the cops, the suspects, the murderer and the Danes are all trapped by the deadly Icelandic climate. It’s a Twin Peaks-style stylistic twist on traditional Nordic noir conventions, with Ólafur spending much of his time stumbling through blizzards after criminals, torchlight swinging across the snow.
Now a heart-throb for millions of middle-aged, middle-class British women, Trapped’s burly, stoic, lactose-free male lead, Ólafur Darri, has skyrocketed to fame — and not just as “the hottest man in Iceland.” He has seen murder, smelled murder, and solved murder, all within the confines of the small screen. Grapevine caught up with Ólafur to talk crime, the weather, sex, and milk.
Trapped is an international hit. What’s it like being the lead character of the show?
Let’s be honest. The weather is the lead character of the show. It drives the first 6 or 7 episodes of the show and it’s what living in Iceland means – even more so in the north. You have to be aware of the weather.
It was a lot of fun. It’s always fun to get work. It’s even more fun when you get something substantial like that. It was really enjoyable. I remember that meeting with Baltasar and he was talking to me about this project for the first time and it sounded really interesting and fun. When we actually were going to do it, starting rehearsals and reading the scripts, it seemed like a dream come true.
Why do you think the show has had such an effect on audiences around the world?
It’s such a good premise for a show. Some of my favourite movies are The Thing or Alien. I’ve always been fascinated by nature or things people can’t control. I think this set up is one of my favourites. The winter is outside, so you have to deal with everything locally.
It’s like a family village drama dressed up as a whodunit. The crime pulls you in and hooks you, but you stay because you want to see what happens to these people and the weather makes it more interesting.
What was it like working in such a remote location?
It was interesting for me on a personal level because my mother was raised in Siglufjörður. My grandparents lived there. I actually stayed in the apartment where my grandparents raised my mother and her siblings. It was lovely. A really good vibe in that apartment. I’ve only heard stories about how it was. Nowadays there is a tunnel that goes from Siglufjörður to Ólafsfjörður to Akureryi. You can drive that in like an hour. That didn’t used to be there. When my grandmother was there with all the kids and my grandfather was a captain, he would be away and she would be alone with all the kids. The only way to leave the town would be by ship, by boat. Everything was closed off. They were really trapped. I remember my mother saying that my grandmother was not a fan of that. It really freaked her out being stuck there.
The part of Andri was written with you in mind. What was it like being him?
For any actor to hear that, that someone thinks of you, it’s incredible. It makes me feel trusted. He’s such a fantastic character to play. His experiences from his life and his work make him hold his cards very close to his chest. He doesn’t show a lot of what’s going on.
He’s Trapped on the inside?
Yes…[chuckle] The title of the show is great, even better than I originally thought. “Trapped” as a title applies to so many things: it applies to this village being trapped by the weather and it applies to the people in the village. They are all trapped. They are all there together.
Andri’s marriage is breaking up and his family is breaking up. He’s working in that small town and as the series progresses you realize it might not be the easiest thing for him to go to Reykjavík and work there. He has a history there. So, yes, he’s trapped, as well.
When you see Andri with the torso at the beginning. He’s almost too fascinated by it. He smells the body. You would have thought anyone would have been disgusted and I think in many ways he was, but he’s also excited that something has happened that he can sink his teeth into, a means of escape.
How much like Andri are you?
I think I show much more how I feel than Andri would ever. People don’t ask me to get out of bed before 11 am because I’m really grumpy, but I think Andri would not allow himself to be as grumpy as I allow myself.
As with any character you play, you find parts within yourself and use them. You might add more of this and less of that, but I think, again, it came down to great writing. When I watch Andri, I understand where he is at. He’s dealing with a lot of things most of us deal with or will deal with at some point. He’s failed at work and dealt with the politics of that. While at the same time he’s having troubles with his family.
I’ve worked with Baltasar quite a few times and Baltasar, to me, he’s pretty much a genius when it comes to casting. He’s one of my favourite directors. He will cast you for something and then he will trust you to just go. He’ll talk to you only a few times when you’re shooting. He’ll say two things to you and you’ll be like ‘Oh yes, of course! You’re right.’ And that’s exactly what he does. When he casts you, he knows what you are strong at and what you’re weak at and he knows what little piece of information you need to do what he wants.
It wasn’t difficult for you to get into character then?
It’s well written, that’s the first thing. That really helps. Also, as I remember, Baltasar, Sigurjón and myself all pretty much agreed on the type of person he is. I think he really benefits from being unique. He’s not an alcoholic, for instance. He doesn’t have that.
I distinctly remember Sigurjón getting drafts from Clive Bradley in the UK where Clive had written, ‘Andri sits down with a glass of whiskey…’ and Sigurjón was like ‘This is not Icelandic. We don’t do that.’
Instead he drinks big glasses of milk?
[Chuckles]…We had that discussion that the glass of milk is a really good thing. It’s the last thing he does before he goes to bed. In many ways, it childish, but at the same time it reminds me of the countryside in Iceland. People eat dinner and drink milk fresh from the cow.
We chose that brand because the main milk company was getting a really bad wrap. There was talk about them cheating the market. I remember saying, ‘Why isn’t he just drinking the usual blue carton stuff?’ because I had been abroad and didn’t know this was the latest Icelandic scandal. Someone said ‘No, No, No! We don’t want to advertise them.’
So I’m drinking lactose-free milk. It makes it more interesting. He’s drinking lactose-free milk? Why is he drinking milk at all? It’s like when people drink decaf. I mean, you’re not doing it for the taste. I like how weird it is. That’s the greatest thing about this character: the contradictions.
I think that’s what drives him. The idea that someone has seen and done so much but, lactose-free milk would be his drink of choice before bed? It’s just lovely.
You’ve become a bit of a sex symbol in the UK. How do you feel about that? Receive any interesting fan mail?
I haven’t received any letters. I’ve received an overwhelming amount of…response from this role. I don’t know what to say. I honestly…it’s funny. I think that’s great and I hope I get to enjoy that even further. I have a lovely wife and she seems to like my look. My older daughter is sometimes like ‘You need to clean up,’ and I like that too.
Is there any word on a second season?
Nothing has been confirmed yet. We got the response we hoped for and there seems to be a following with the show. I think if it makes sense to RVK Studios, I think everyone would really like to. I love my character and would like to see him again.
Interview introduction and additional reporting by Ciarán Daly.