Traditionally the tide of talent in television and movies flows directly to Hollywood. It’s not just Australia that’s used to seeing their best and brightest actors heading overseas for fame and fortune; many of Europe’s biggest names have headed over to Tinseltown for the chance to make it big. But television is now a global business, and increasingly American actors are turning up in European series – including Scandinavian drama Veni Vedi Vici.
When the latest film by Danish arthouse movie director Karsten (Thomas Bo Larsen) turns out to be a box office dud, his whole life is turned upside down. Faced with having to get a real job – or at least, a job that pays real money – he quickly takes up an offer from his somewhat sleazy film school friend Vincent (Rafael Edholm) to direct porn. And that’s where his real troubles begin.
That’s also where he meets Georgina (Michael Wincott), a transgender former porn director who’s fallen on hard times and is now working as a camera operator. She’s not exactly thrilled to be working with “an idiot with a Bergman complex”, and her contempt is just the fuel Wincott needs to steal every scene he’s in.
Wincott’s been a Hollywood fixture for 30 years, though he’s probably best known for his run of impossibly deep-voiced bad guys in the 90s, where he added threat and menace to films like The Crow, Alien: Resurrection, and Strange Days. Before that his television career included appearances on Crime Story, Miami Vice and The Equalizer, while more recently he was in the miniseries 24: Live Another Day and had a cameo in the recent Ghost in the Shell movie.
He was the guy you hired to be a soulful threat, a bad guy who you could tell maybe felt a little bad about what he had to do – while never providing a moment’s doubt that he was going to do it anyway. It’s that texture that he brings to Georgina, a character that could easily have been a one-note joke but instead comes across as one of the most real (and scene-stealing) characters in the series.
He’s far from the first US actor to bring Hollywood star power to a Scandinavian series. Steve Van Zandt lead role in 2012’s Lillyhammer may have started out as basically a riff on his character from The Sopranos, but as the series (about a New York mobster in witness protection in Norway) developed it became more than just another fish out of water comedy. Over three seasons the Netflix-Norway series developed its own complicated world of bungling low-level criminals and international crime; only Netflix pulling out of the production prevented a fourth season.
100 Code was another Swedish-American co-production, this time starring the late Michael Nyqvist as a by-the-book Swedish cop who was no fan of American culture, and Dominic Monaghan (from Lost and The Lord of the Rings) as an NYPD detective sent to Sweden to investigate links between a string of similar murders in his home town and Copenhagen. This 2015 series has taken it’s time to make its way to the US; it’s finally scheduled for release there in 2018.
The recent Swedish Dicks is set in LA, but as a Swedish production with Swedish stars – including Peter Stormare and Johan Glans as former Swedish stuntmen turned private eyes – it’s safe to count it as a Swedish production. Which makes Keanu Reeves’ semi-regular appearances as the ghost of Stormare’s former stunt partner his debut in Scandinavian television (and his first major television role since he provided his voice to the Bill & Ted cartoon in 1990): fingers crossed the John Wick star makes a habit of it.
The upcoming second series of Swedish thriller Modus is set to feature a range of big names from the US, including Sex and the City’s Kim Cattrall as the US President, Billy Campbell (star of the US adaptation of The Killing and in the current Canadian noir drama Cardinal) as her husband and Greg Wise (most recently seen on The Crown) as Warren, the former FBI mentor of lead character, criminal profiler Inger Johanne Vik (Melinda Kinnaman). It seems safe to assume he’ll be up to no good: Wise says his character “has a very dark side to him: he is the ultimate narcissist, Machiavellian and takes great delight in pushing all the boundaries.”
Then there are the US actors turning up overseas who have a slightly lower profile. On Russian television’s spy series Adaptation, former House regular Peter Jacobson plays a US agent on Russian soil who works as the handler for the lead (an American spy played by Russian actor Leonid Bichevin) but dreams of quitting and moving with his family to sunnier climes. Ironically, Jacobson recently played a more serious CIA agent on The Americans; it seems typecasting isn’t always a bad thing.
While the entertainment industry might be increasingly international, these appearances by US actors overseas generally fly under the radar – “alarmingly” was the phrase used by the New York Times when they mentioned the appearance of US actors in Modus. But Veni Vedi Vici shows these roles can provide actors with new opportunities too: while it’s possible Michael Wincott might have scored a similar role in the US, it’s certain he’d be getting a lot more attention for it if he did.
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Veni Vedi Vici debuts oat SBS On Demand from 11 January.