In August 2017, Swedish journalist, Kim Wall, was murdered while on assignment to interview a Danish entrepreneur and inventor of a homemade submarine. After she did not return home, a massive police search was conducted in the Øresund Strait that separates Denmark and Sweden and is home to the Øresund Bridge.
While this may sound like the perfect plot for an episode of The Bridge, The Investigation turns its back on the usual grim Nordic Noir tropes and instead focuses on the facts of the complex, lengthy and methodical police investigation into Ms Wall’s murder, led by Copenhagen Police head of homicide, Jens Møller.
We spoke to The Investigation’s writer/director Tobias Lindholm (A War, Borgen, A Hijacking), and actors Søren Malling (The Killing, A Hijacking, Borgen) and Pilou Asbæk (Game of Thrones, 1864, Borgen) about the challenges of making a series about such a high-profile recent murder that straddles both documentary and drama.
Søren Malling plays homicide detective Jens Møller and Pilou Asbæk plays prosecutor Jakob Buch-Jepsen.
Why did you say yes to this role and what did you see as its biggest challenges?
Søren: About a year before we started shooting The Investigation, Tobias called me and asked me if I would like to be the lead in his project again. When he mentioned the case, it’s called the submarine case by the public here in Denmark, I went, ‘Oh my god, should I do that?’ But Tobias explained to me that he wasn’t going to tell the story about the killer and how he did it, he said he wanted to tell the story about how the police managed to find out what happened. And to tell the story of two Swedish parents losing their daughter and how deeply that affects you as a human being.
Pilou: Tobias has helped me tremendously with my career. For me, it was a no-brainer because he needed my support. Tobias came to me with the support of the parents, he came with the storyline, and he said ‘Pilou, I would love you to do this role, I need a guy who can go in and deliver facts and make those facts count’. The character of Jakob is kind of the antagonist that we see on screen because he is the obstacle, he represents the law, what is possible and what is not possible in a courtroom. He represents the system, and that’s the system that they’re fighting and trying to win within.
What was the reaction from the Scandinavian media when they heard you were making this series? Did you have any reservations about being involved in this project only a couple of years after the real crime had occurred?
Søren: During the court case there was a lot of interest in the case and a lot of journalists from all over the world who were based here in Copenhagen day by day following the whole thing. When it was announced that a series based on that real-life story would start shooting, there was a lot of reactions like ‘you cannot do that, why should we once again have to hear about this total lunatic’. But I knew that was not the story we were telling – that was not the story that Tobias Lindholm wanted to tell.
I felt good about it, I had to wait, just shut out the whole thing until it was released and then the reaction from everyone was totally opposite. It was like, wow, we were wrong, it’s not a story about blood dripping and a front-page killer, it was completely another story. It was about daily heroes – police, investigators, and what a great job they did. Then the reaction from the public and also the media was amazing. It became the highest-rated new crime show in Denmark for 2020.
Pilou: I was away shooting another film at the time of the murder so I wasn’t at home and wasn’t so involved in the case. I didn’t know how big or small it had been in the media, I just knew it had happened and it was a terrible, terrible story. So I wasn’t that reserved when Tobias approached me.
The most important thing for me and everyone else was that the parents accepted it and that they wanted to tell their story. This is the story of them, this is the story of Jens Møller solving a murder. They all supported the project and Tobias – that’s all I needed. And a keynote, a very important note, this wasn’t another celebration of a killer. This was the story of the unsung heroes, the ones you never write about, the boring, simple life of a police officer and his unit trying to solve a case in no spectacular way – just turning [over] one little stone at a time.
Tobias: In the series there are two types of journalism. The investigative journalism and the tabloid press. I believe we presented the tabloid press as a bit less aggressive in our portrayal. In real life they were even more relentless and aggressive.
The impact and consequences of this type of police work on investigators is shown throughout the series. Given that the murder happened only very recently, and you were privy to the facts, did the series affect you emotionally?
Søren: Sure has. I had an opportunity to get very, very close to the real stuff, the real McCoy. There was not only a back door open, but an open front door to the homicide department of the Copenhagen police. So, I was let in and I could ask any question that I wanted.
I also met the parents. Honestly, it was very tough to meet them the first time. Because I had never met them before, I didn’t know what they thought – whether they thought of me as the guy who was the lead in a TV show that will tell the story about how their daughter died. But the people I met were two very open-minded, very generous and very humble people who were, you can’t say they were happy about the show, but they accepted it and they said yes to it because in their minds it was important for them to tell the story in another way than how the press had acted towards the story. They thought it was wonderful that I was playing the head of the homicide department because they liked me. They had been watching me for years on TV so they thought it was awesome. Of course, this affected me emotionally, of course it did. But that’s part of my work, I would be a cynical psychopath if I wasn’t touched by the whole thing.
Pilou: For me, it was a masterclass in how to build a case, in how to seek justice for someone who hadn’t had justice. And what I really loved was that in this case, Jakob used something never used before. If you’re a police officer and I hurt you while you’re on duty, it adds to the crime, you would get a harsher sentence. Jakob applied this to this case – he said, she was a journalist, she had one job, to document and write an article about a person and he took advantage of that – she was on duty, she was working and he took that away from her, and she paid with her life. That made court history because then all of a sudden, it wasn’t just a homicide, it was so much more. He turned it upside down, turned it to, we need to protect people when they are working. It just shows how horrible the crime is and how evil that person is. This is decent good work and tells the stories of people who are just trying to do their best under horrible circumstances.
Tobias: Working with a case like this has of course affected me. That’s how it is working with reality. But it has not only been a confrontation with the darkness. I found a lot of hope and life and humanity in working with all of these unsung heroes.
What were the biggest challenges of working on a series that straddles both documentary and drama?
Søren: For me as an actor, when working on a real-life story that then becomes drama, my work is still the same. I always do my research, I always read the script, I always get emotionally touched by the story in one way or another, and if there are certain things I do not understand, I then have to go out in the real world to be inspired and learn. This time it was to be with Jens Møller, head of Copenhagen homicide – he was my big inspiration.
All of the facts around the whole case was my research – so there’s not a big difference between if it’s documentary or if it’s based on only what comes out of the head of the lead writer, it’s still part of my research so I didn’t struggle with it.
The only thing I could say is that we needed to do it in a certain way because this was real life – so it cannot be interpreted any way, it had to be done a particular way. Sometimes it’s actually even easier for me to have access to certain facts and information when it’s based on a true story – I don’t have to figure it out, I don’t have to just use my imagination, I don’t have to do that if the facts and people are right in front of me.
Pilou: That Tobias wanted even more realism, even more down-to-earth acting and he knew the tweaks that every single scene needed – this was the gift of working with a writer/director. So, we hardly improvised, it was minimal – we would never improvise my dialogue, just tweak it a little bit so it would fit more.
And what I love about this series is that it’s about the detail. The detail determines whether our villain is going to get five years, ten years, or life in prison. And when you have the victim, and you have the victim’s family, the difference between five years and life in prison is a huge difference.
And then the collaboration between the police and the prosecutor was really unheard of – [it was] one of the first times this had happened in the modern crime history of Denmark and has set a precedent. Everyone knew he did it – two people enter, one person leaves. Of course, he did it. But the reason the parents were so nervous, not only were they missing their daughter and they didn’t have all their questions answered, but secondly there had been a case in Sweden eight or so months prior where a man had killed his wife. But he couldn’t be convicted because there wasn’t a body.
Tobias: Detective Jens Møller and prosecutor Jakob Buch-Jepsen were with me from the first spark of the idea until the last day of the edit. Throughout the process, I would confront my ideas with the reality that they represented to make sure that I did not betray reality with dramatic but unreal scenes. A big challenge was to translate the facts into dramatic points that would represent the logic of reality. That is always the case in portraying real-life events.
In this case, an even bigger challenge was to get the portrayal of parents Ingrid and Joachim Wall right. The strength they show in real life could easily feel unrealistic on screen.
The real scientists would help us to get the research right. So that was easy. But shooting on water, in small boats with dogs and actors and real divers surrounded by big waves and rain coming in… Not sure I would do it again… But then again, it was nothing compared to the work we went out to portray.
Were there any challenges working with cast members who were playing themselves, like the divers, and therefore had limited acting or on-set experience?
Søren: It’s a good question because sometimes I think that people think working with amateurs would cause a lot of problems, and in certain aspects, it would. But this time there were a lot of people playing their own professions – like divers, military people, former police. And if they are playing themselves, they are good at doing what they usually do. I mean you can easily make a diver jump into the ocean and come up again the right way – it’s what they do. I consider it a gift when you have good professional people like that around you. It’s not a challenge, it’s a gift.
Tobias: The divers play themselves. So do the Swedish police dogs and Ingrid and Joachim’s fantastic dog, Iso. We also use the real crane ship, the real crew that lifted the submarine, and we film by the real Kim Wall memorial heart at the beach in Trelleborg. I have used this method in all my work and I don’t see any complications as long as I don’t ask real divers to act as anything else but divers. The logic is that the actors act better than the diver, but the diver dives better than the actors.
The Investigation begins on SBS VICELAND Sunday 18 July at 11PM or stream now at SBS On Demand: