A Man Called Ove is Sweden’s official entry for Best Foreign Language Film, and earlier this week the film was shortlisted when the Oscar committee narrowed the choices down to nine. Based on a best-selling novel by Fredrik Backman, the screenplay was adapted by Hannes Holm. A Man Called Ove is about an old man who defines curmudgeon. He’s forever pointing out things that don’t meet his approval, and since that includes nearly everything he has a perpetually gruff facade. As the film unfolds, we gradually see that behind his bitterness Ove has a more sympathetic story. When he’s forced into modern times by his neighbors, he’s forced to come out of his shell. Rolf Lassgard plays Ove, this grumpiest of grumpy bitter old men.
I caught up with director Holm and Lassgard recently to talk about their process and working on the film. Both were extremely jovial and cracking jokes. Lassgard being as far from his alter ego as one could ever imagine.
Awards Daily: When you’re making a film like this that’s based on a book, how much pressure do you feel to stay faithful to the story?
Hannes Holm: In fact, I turned it down when I met Annica Bellander the producer, I said thanks but no thanks. It was a best-selling book in Sweden, and I had other projects that I was working on. Annica gave me the book and I took it home and read it. The next morning, I called her and said I wanted to talk about it. I was so used to writing my own stories, so it was completely new to take on another writer’s story.
AD: Rolf, how did you get involved? Had you read the book before you came on board? Or did you choose to not read it, go with the script?
Rolf Lassgård: It was funny because I actually knew about the book, but I hadn’t read it. My wife and other people I knew had read it. The last time I was in LA, this woman I met was reading the book and was laughing because she said she recognized Ove as a man similar to her husband.
I started reading the script, and then later I read the book. I have worked on adaptations before, and I often choose to read the book as it gives you some meat and helps with the shoot of the film. Sometimes, you can add lines to the film that aren’t in the script and you can add them in. I like coming in with a packed bag.
HH: You can imagine how annoying he was on set. [laughs]. Tell Jazz that you also met the author.
RL: Yes, I met Fredrik Backman before. I had a long lunch with him, and he actually answered two questions that I had, and it helped unlock a key to the character. When Ove goes into that great darkness, I wanted to know where it came from, and he actually helped me answer that question. We also discussed age. When I was reading the book, I didn’t feel it was a 59-year-old guy. I started to think that his behavior and looks are actually a bit like my father when he was that age. Fredrik said he could learn some new vanities, but he doesn’t want to learn and says no.
AD: He’s quite a difficult character and by the end of the film you get to understand all that.
HH: Yes you do,
AD: Tell us about your casting choices and how did you know Rolf was ideal for your leading man?
HH: As a director, I do my homework before I start shooting. I also choose my actors when I’m doing that. I’ll rely on my actors on set, and give them great responsibility. Sometimes, I feel when I’m watching them, I feel like I’m at the cinema. I want to give my actors a lot of freedom, and hopefully the actors feel at ease and don’t feel like there’s a parent coming at them.
Rolf is such a great actor. When I was writing the screenplay, I actually had a dream about him, and after that, he inadvertently helped me, because I had envisioned Rolf. When you’re writing scenes that are tough, he was helping me solve those dilemmas.
The cat you see, that was another story.
AD: Well, you’ve got to tell me that story?
HH: [laughs] We had an average Swedish budget and couldn’t afford a digital cat like they do in Hollywood. We could afford two cats who were similar, Magic and Orlando. Magic was more aggressive. Orlando was lazy. Obviously, we used both of them. Sometimes, we would pick the wrong cat and Rolf became the victim of having the wrong cats in some scenes. They were well-behaved otherwise.
RL: Orlando never moved. You could scream like mad and he wouldn’t move. Magic would move.
AD: You talk about the budget and having a limited budget. However, you have the beautiful score, scenery, and the bus crash. How do you manage that with those restrictions?
HH: It’s a typical Scandinavian way of shooting, you have to give your ideas and thoughts. Sometimes you have to think about what looks good on your film. We were shooting that scene in Mallorca and it’s such a small island. We actually couldn’t find a tourist bus that had a toilet as every tourist bus actually didn’t have a toilet. We had to work around it. Luck is also a good thing. We were also able to borrow some cars for the film.
AD: Rolf, how do you manage to strike that balance between the character who is so bitter and yet, the viewer feels for him
RL: I also thought that this is a dream role because things start off one way but by the end, it’s up to you to see him as a different person. I always saw him as a box, where you open the box and find a surprise inside. Ove is one guarding things, but then you open it up, and you see another side of him, and as the film goes on you get to see that different side of him. He was such a wonderful character to work with.
AD: There’s a lot of love for Swedish cinema, have you noticed that?
HH: All the Scandinavian countries are small and there’s a specialty to them. We can export melancholy. We have a lot of that to export, and it’s a good thing to export. [laughs].
RL: It’s also good to post stuff on Instagram.