The Bridge was one of television's great success stories. The co-production was hugely popular in its home countries of Denmark and Sweden, but the show went on to great success internationally. The show was soon adapted for other markets, with the US creating its own version set in the US and Mexico, while the UK developed The Tunnel with a murder mystery set in the Channel Tunnel.
Series creators Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein have a new project, Midnight Sun. Ahead of its October broadcast in Sweden, the show has already been hugely successful overseas with multiple international broadcasters all wanting to broadcast the show. It also won the Audience Award at the SeriesMania TV festival in Paris following an advance screening there in April.
With Midnight Sun now streaming on SBS On Demand, we spoke with Mårlind & Stein about the new series and how it compares to The Bridge.
The concept for The Bridge was incredibly clever and very original, with a highly unique murder-mystery propelling the story. Was there a lot of pressure on you to be as clever with Midnight Sun?
Mårlind: The pressure was from within. We are the hardest judges on ourselves, more than the external pressures. An internal pressure, of course. But that’s what we live for.
Stein: Canal+ came to us because of The Bridge. We said we don’t want to do this because of The Bridge. We didn’t want to do the same thing all over again. But then when we came up with an idea, we realized that while there are similarities between The Bridge and Midnight Sun, but they are kind of superficial because the characters are different, the themes are different, and the way you want to tell the story is so different. So we said “Let’s do it. Let’s plunge into this adventure”.
How deep were your concerns about the similarities? Was it surface issues like a muder-mystery genre, or was it deeper issues like the crossing of borders and the cross-cultural elements?
Mårlind: Two countries, a crime story, there’s a man and a woman
Stein: The two countries is the strongest thing – two different countries and their legal departments working together.
Mårlind: If it’s the same, people would ask “Why am I watching this?”
We were nervous that people would say “here we go again”, but we’re very happy that nobody has picked us up. Everybody wants to talk about The Bridge and Midnight Sun, but not from a negative point of view. That makes us very happy because that was one of the fears we had while writing.
It doesn’t feel like you’re repeating yourselves, rather you’re building on an idea. Taking it to the next level by introducing a third language and magnifying the scope of the cross-cultural elements.
Stein: Elevating the idea? We’re happy to hear. For us, it’s different. It’s another. If it’s elevated, that’s good, but we just didn’t want to repeat ourselves, so we tried to find another path. If that path elevated it, we’re very happy.
Mårlind: One thing I think is similar, which I hope reflects on how we see the world, is one of the main ideas in The Bridge was to show that people are the same – Swedes and Danes. They have different systems, but the main idea was that we’re all people. Hopefully people find the same thing with Midnight Sun. People we are all the same.
Stein: I think there’s a… I don’t know if you call it a responsibility… but it’s a point we like to make. And especially after the last few weeks in America with Trump saying the opposite and that “people should just fuck off – we’re this and they’re not”, we’re trying to say the opposite. Learn the similarities of your surrounding people instead of finding the differences.
A common ground in the show is characters speaking English to one another as a meeting ground. Was that a nod to English-speaking audiences that you know you have for the show now, or was that just being true to the show’s premise?
Mårlind: When France and Sweden work to collaborate, we speak English. It’s just a fact.
Stein: Few people in Sweden speak French, but every Swede speaks…I wouldn’t say perfect English, but we can all understand English very well.
Mårlind: In France, it’s not quite the opposite, but there are fewer English-speaking people. Leila (Bekhti), for example, she had to learn English. She knew a few single words. Yes, no, hello. That was it. She learned it in three months. To get the job, to get her to sign on, we had to translate everything to French.
In crafting the show, are you thinking much about the international audience?
Stein: We think about the story. To make an international story you need to tell a local story. Local stories have heart in it if you do it well, which can then appeal to a larger audience. You can show people from any part of the world in any situation, if the story is there and intriguing, you can have it take place in a northern part of Sweden, Australia, or Japan.
There was tremendous interest in the show internationally before the show had aired anywhere. How do you feel as show creators? Are you nervous about the show when launching to meet the expectations of everyone?
Mårlind: You don’t work in a black room, so you want people to see your work. That’s not about making a buck, but it’s because you feel proud about what you did. You’re that kid in school who did the good drawing and want to run around the school to show how good it is.
This series is bathed in daylight. It felt to me like an evolutionary step for Nordic Noir. Instead of playing in the dark of night, you’re working against the genre. Was that to challenge yourselves to create something new?
Stein: It was one of the reasons we wanted to do it. In the beginning we thought about doing it in Winter where it’s complete dark in 25 below temperatures. You have 2-3 weeks of complete night up there. We thought that’s scary. That’s horrific. It will make shooting horrible, but maybe that’s really cool. Then we realized we’ve seen that before. No, let’s turn it around and do it in Summer where there isn’t the usual stuff to rely on, the darkness and shadows. Put everything in broad daylight. It also served the premise well as it is all about secrets and lies that need to be brought into the daylight. So, it also worked with the theme of the show.
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Midnight Sun is streaming now exclusively on SBS On Demand: