Seasoned TV director Erik Leijonborg who has worked on a dozen shows such as Brotherhood and Thicker than Water spoke to us.
The Swedish thriller series starring Ola Rapace premiered last evening (March 9) on C More.
In Farang Ola Rapace plays a former criminal Rickard who has run away from Sweden and lives under a new identity in Thailand. When his 15-year old daughter (Louise Nyvall) comes looking for him, his self-imposed exile is soon under threat. The serial drama is produced by Eyeworks Scandi Fiction/Warner Bros in cooperation with Matador Film for C More/TV4 and support from Nordisk Film & TV Fond. Leijonborg is concept director and directed the first four episodes.
How did the project land on your desk?
Erik Leijonborg: Creator /writer Malin [Lagerlöf] and I knew each other and Matador Film’s producer Henrik Widman is a friend of mine. He told me about the project two-three years ago and already had Ola Rapace in mind. The entire package was very appealing.
What specific elements of Farang’s storyline did you like?
EL: I love character-driven dramas with a tense thriller element expanded over 8-10 episodes. Also, just like Ola Rapace, I have a teenage daughter so the father/teenage daughter angle was very interesting to me. I was also keen to put that father/daughter relationship in a totally new perspective, where they had to learn to know each other, like total strangers meeting for the first time.
How much did you contribute to the characters’ development?
EL: I always try to get involved in the writing process and invite actors to give their feedback. I do a lot of research. For instance I went to Thailand before the shoot and inserted a good dose of reality to the screenplay to avoid clichés about Westerners going to Thailand. I also suggested to change the nationality of one of the characters in the series, the lawyer who was originally a Swedish lawyer working in Thailand, but then I felt we needed a Thai person to make the story more interesting. So we hired Yayaying Rhatha Phongam who played in Only God Forgives. She is a famous pop star in Thailand.
Basically we all collaborated in the writers’ room, together with Malin, co-creator Stefan Thunberg, producer Anna Wallmark Avelin [Eyeworks Scandi Fiction] and it was very special to have Veronica Zacco on board who worked with me on Thicker than Water as script editor and who wrote four episodes of Farang.
How was your collaboration with Ola Rapace and the young Louise Nyvall?
EL: I had worked with Ola on the TV series Brotherhood(Tusenbröder) and we’re from the same suburb in Stockholm. We were looking for new material to work together and Farang was a perfect opportunity.
When we work, we always try to be honest, which means that we tend to have lively discussions!
Regarding Louise Nyvall, quite late in the casting process, we got her name and I watched her film Pojkarna (Girls Lost). I did a test with her on skype, then we did a test between her and Ola and we were pleased with her. We wanted a teenage girl that did not look too young.
Before heading off to Thailand we did rehearsals, then we took advantage of being abroad in Thailand to work evenings, weekends as well. It was very useful to have her as she was the only teenager on the team and she brought a lot to her own character. Ola can be demanding, but she could handle him. That created a great chemistry.
How was the shoot in Thailand?
EL: I’ve been to Thailand several times as a tourist and love the country and Thai people. I went four times to do recces before the shoot and got to know production experts who helped me to calibrate the tone to avoid stereotypes.
As I enjoy working on adrenalin, I was very pleased to collaborate with a Thai crew. The young generation are used to working on major international productions. We were 20 Swedes and were in very good hands.
The series shows the other side of the coin of Phuket, in sharp contrast to the paradise island sold to the thousands of Swedes who come by charter flights each year. Was that part of the attraction to you?
EL: Yes it felt natural to find locations off the usual touristic spots. Malin’s screenplay offered characters with depth, humanity, certainly not one-dimensional and the mixed Swedish/Thai couples in the series have strong balanced relationships.
What were your visual inspirations?
EL: I had just collaborated with cinematographer Calle Persson on Thicker than Water and we decided to apply some of that feeling to Farang. I watched some Thai and Hong Kong movies as well.
Usually, I use a basic rule. If something tragic or scary happens, I put it in an idyllic place and on the contrary, when there is an emotional scene, I set it in against a threatening backdrop to create contrast. In Farang dead bodies are found on the touristic beaches.
You’ve worked on TV drama since 1996 and on many landmark crime series such as Brotherhood, Maria Wern and Thicker than Water. How has the genre evolved since you started?
EL: When I started we were doing auteur-style TV series, with directors writing the stories, such as Emmy-award winner Lars Molin. He had his own group of actors and a unique personal style. Then a decade later, we started to make more formulaic dramas that we hoped would sell to German television. In the last three years, there’s been a new shift in the market, with audiences asking for more unique stories and complex characters again. Therefore I´m glad to see that writers and directors now are inspired and create more drama ‘outside the box’. Hopefully it will contribute to more interesting quality drama in the future.
Farang was your first drama shot abroad. Is this something you’d like to do again?
EL: Yes it was thrilling to try new things. Right now I’m getting ready for a new Maria Wern 2x90’ mini-series produced for C More/TV4 and I hope to do my first project in the UK as well.