Sofia Helin watches television for the characters.
“The plot, like a crime plot or something like that, that's not what I'm looking for,” she says from her home in Sweden. “I'm always looking for a human being, and especially human beings struggling with something that has to do with existing on this planet. That's what I'm looking for.”
Currently Helin stars in Atlantic Crossing, a World War II drama, streaming now at SBS On Demand, where she plays the Norwegian Crown Princess who’s forced to flee with her children to the USA. There she has to play politics with a sympathetic President Roosevelt (Kyle MacLachlan) to ensure her country has a voice in the fight for Europe, even as those around her scheme and gossip. It’s a compelling mix of the political and the personal – a theme that often comes up in the series she watches.
Over the years she’s built up an impressive resume; along with Atlantic Crossing, she appeared alongside John Hurt in his final film That Good Night and also played a Swedish archaeologist in Australian outback drama Mystery Road. But it’s her performance as Swedish police detective Saga Norén in classic crime series The Bridge (also available at On Demand) that first brought her to the attention of audiences around the world.
“For me they were intense years. I learned so much about developing a series over the years on the show, and it was great to have the opportunity to play a character for so many hours and to develop that character. But I hope I'm not so much like her. Usually when I talk to someone for a couple of minutes, they forget that I'm her.”
Looking back on The Bridge now, she says they were wanting to try something different, but had no idea how successful it would be. “We knew we were going outside the ordinary crime series frame, both with the look of the series and also with this character,” she says. “I was so deep into doing the character, I had so much fun with it. It went way beyond my expectations; it’s meant a great deal to me.”
But there was resistance to their approach too. “We changed the director during the first season, and the new director said, ‘this is not the way to play a cop, she can’t be a cop.’ And you know, I'm sorry, but she is. I had to say ‘she's like this. We developed a character and this is who she is’.
All four seasons of The Bridge are streaming at SBS On Demand. Start here:
Here, Helin shares her top picks from the SBS On Demand:
The Handmaid’s Tale
“I'm very, very interested or in women's situation over the world,” she says. “In my country as well, but also globally.” No series has captured the tone of the struggles faced by women today like The Handmaid’s Tale, a future dystopia where women are treated as property or worse and fighting back comes with its own hefty price.
“It is quite shocking, and very scary, but also not so far from where we are in society. If we're not very aware of our decisions, we could easily go down that that path. Dramas and TV series and films are also about escaping reality, but I find it fascinating to watch when it's political.”
Season 4 of The Handmaid's tale is streaming now at SBS On Demand. You can also explore the series, and meet cast and creatives through the award-winning Eyes on Gilead podcast and the Handmaid's Tale aftershow, One Burning Question. Start watching season 4 here:
Years and Years
Continuing her interest in dystopias, her list of favourites also has Years and Years, which depicts a family struggling with multiple issues as a future UK slides into authoritarianism as one to watch.
“I find the darker side of things interesting, but my interest in these kind of series also has to do with a political awakening that I've had over the last maybe 10 years. That’s made me really interested in in telling and seeing stories that reflect on our society. In both those series, there is a combination of both those things.”
Years and Years, starring Emma Thompson, is streaming at SBS On Demand. Start here:
Looking to the past rather than the future is Australian film Sweet Country, an outback drama about an Aboriginal worker in the post-World War One Northern Territory whose family is menaced by a disturbed white farmer. Sofia discovered it as part of her preparation for Mystery Road, and was impressed by what she found.
“I saw Sweet Country before going because I wanted to learn more about Warwick Thornton, and about Australia. It’s a very heartbreaking, but also beautiful, and beautifully told story. Working on Mystery Road, that was such a fantastic experience, I admire him as a director greatly.”
Sweet Country is streaming at SBS On Demand:
Masterful director Michael Haneke’s French-language film Amour, a moving account of ageing, is another on Helin’s list. It’s easy to see why – it, too, is a story about deeply engaging characters. The multi-award-winning film tells the story of a proud music teacher (played by Emmanuelle Riva), debilitated by a series of strokes, and her husband (Jean-Louis Trintignant) as the octogenarian couple try to cope with the changes to their lives.
Armour is streaming now at SBS On Demand.
Danish political drama Borgen shows a woman’s struggle with the political system from the inside, as a female politician for a minor party unexpectedly finds herself in the top job.
“When I saw it a couple of years ago I just found it so interesting to see that political game,” says Sofia, “how she struggled by with being human and at the same time trying to be a public figure and trying to strike the right decisions. It's all a bit like a chess game.”
All three seasons of Borgen are streaming at SBS On Demand. Start here:
Fans of Helin in The Bridge may already have discovered another of her selections, the acclaimed Canadian crime series Cardinal. Across four seasons, the personal and professional challenges facing troubled police officer John Cardinal (Billy Campbell), and his partner Detective Delise Delorme (Karine Vanesse) unfold, as the pair tackle a series of suspenseful crimes. Like The Bridge, it's a gritty police procedural with plenty of twists and turns. Billy Campbell is perfect as the brooding Cardinal, a man dealing not only with crime, but the troubles in his past, too.
The full four seasons of Cardinal are streaming at SBS On Demand. Start here:
Before she recommends this deep dive into the world of international drug dealing focusing on the suppliers, smugglers and distributors, Sofia wants to reassure everyone that she does enjoy series that don’t focus on harsh reality. “I like comedies, I also like to laugh,” she says, “but it seems I'm more drawn to the dark side.”
As for ZeroZeroZero, a series about the global trafficking of cocaine starring Gabriel Byrne and Andrea Riseborough, “If you think that that drug dealing and drug using is innocent, and you want to keep thinking that, then don't see that series. It was so beautifully shot, so intense and so human and beautiful. I liked it a lot.”
ZeroZeroZero is now streaming at SBS On Demand. Start here:
There’s been a lot of female-led crimes series in the years since The Bridge, but for Sofia it’s been Northern Ireland-set serial killer drama The Fall that stands out from the pack.
“That was so terrifying. That was really a scary series. I couldn't sleep. But I really liked it and the way Gillian Anderson played the detective. I wouldn't see it again because I got such a stomach ache, but it was also very exciting and horrifying. Sometimes I like that too.”
All three seasons of The Fall are streaming at SBS On Demand. Start here:
Rounding out Helin's selections is this portrait by Iranian director Asghar Farhadi of a married couple with different beliefs on what they should do: improve the life of their daughter by moving to another country, or to stay and look after a parent who has Alzheimer's disease. Divorce is not an option, but the couple separate, with ramifications for those around them, including the caregiver hired to help with the husband's ailing father. Critically acclaimed in Iran and internationally, A Separation won a stream of awards, including an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
A Separation is streaming at SBS On Demand:
See Helin in...
In Norwegian-language action adventure film Ragnorak, where she stars alongside Pål Sverre Hagen and Beforeigners star Nicolai Cleve Broch:
And in Exit, a Nowegian drama series based on true stories from the exclusive world of Oslo's high finance. Start here: