After seven intense days of Berlinale the Danish actress Mette Lysdahl meets Berlinordic for lunch and a chat about the Danish and German film industries, as well as life as an actress in a tough environment.
By Tine Mikkelsen
I meet the petit Dane, who with her blond hair and blue eyes is a straight out Scandinavian type cast, at one of her favorite cafes in Berlin: the coffee hot spot Silo in Friedrichshain. It’s her last day at this year’s Berlinale before traveling back to Denmark to relax with her family in the countryside after seven days of receptions and networking. The 30-year-old actress was educated at Melbourne Acting School and spent 6 months at acting school in Hong Kong, where she acquired the more body-focused Chinese acting method. After finishing she returned to Denmark to begin work as a professional actress.
What was it like returning to Denmark and entering the Danish film industry?
The return wasn’t easy. In the Danish film industry everyone knows each other and coming from the outside was difficult. Because the market is relatively small, the amount of productions is limited, and often the same actors are used over and over again. It has been frustrating not to be able to prove your worth at a casting as the actors have often already been chosen beforehand because people know each other from former projects. I get it as the money in Danish films is limited – but to get into the Danish industry has been tough work and happened through networking.
Did you find it easier to find jobs in Germany?
Very much. In Germany it is common to cast actors by self-taping. That means a larger number of actors get to send in tapes of themselves, and thereby get a chance to prove their worth. At the same time the Germans have shown an honest interest in me which has been nice – you get tired of getting rejected. The last few years I have had a few castings where I’ve been part of the final two for the part but in the end then not gotten it – and at some point that gets to you. Also the Germans have been really open to the Danish accent I had when I first entered the German industry and tried to work their way around it by for example dubbing in the post production. This attitude motivates you and I decided to actually learn German. I then got the co-lead in Chris Brügge’s debut film “37”, and because it was his first film the entire process was pretty rock’n roll – for example he asked me to improvise. That was quite a test, but to have been thrown into it like that means I now speak German without an accent.
You mentioned Chris Brügge’s film “37” which ended up winning for best picture at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival – so you’ve definitely done something right. The storyline of the film is embedded in the climate changes – are political matters something you consider when you take a part?
I focus mainly on the project and decide what parts to take as they come. I want to evolve as an actress and try different parts out, but for example a story like “Land of Mine” (org. Under Sandet) I took even though my part wasn’t that big because I found the story important to tell. Environmental issues are something I care a great deal about though so in regards to “37” that definitely played a role. It was a really interesting project to be part of, as Brügge was a new director and had such strong visions. He was passionate about the actual story he wanted to tell – but also about the visual side of the film which I appreciate. This I also see in the work by Lars von Trier who I really admire. But I don’t have an actual political stand when it comes to my work in general. I became an actress to tell stories – also the stories that we don’t necessarily want to hear.
You’ve played parts in comedies but also strong historical films such as “Land of Mine”. Do you have any specific preferences with regard to which genres to explore?
I think you have to reach a certain level as an actor to be able to be too picky about what parts to take. I mainly play this sensible and vulnerable girl in feature films and therefore it is sometimes really nice to do something completely different like a comedy and just have fun I have to say. I don’t have this strategy saying “I have to be a serious actress” – I like to see my acting as a process of also evolving as a person through different experiences. And honestly; sometimes actors also just have to make money. My career has however reached a point where I can focus more on evolving and less on what I call “rugbrødsjobs” (eng. bread and butter jobs) which is satisfying.
You were nominated at the Northern Lights Talents as one of three Danes at this year’s Berlinale. How do you think that will impact your career?
Awards are all part of the story we build around ourselves, and in some parts of the world awards are important – for example in the US. It is all about creating a niche in an industry and because of my Scandinavian look I am sure this nomination will be important to strengthen that.
To wrap up tell me how Berlin has touched you personally.
I feel a tolerance in Berlin that I don’t find in many other places. In my building here we are such a great mix of different characters and I feel there is room for everyone – people and problems are not getting swept under the rug. I feel a stronger accept of being different and trying new things out. I think the Berlinale somehow reflects that in the way it tries to bring across upcoming German directors.
I leave Mette in the hands of yet another meeting and a clear sense that we are going to see her in quite a large production in the near future.