For the fourth and final series of feature length Kenneth Branagh Wallander films, director Benjamin Caron had only been signed up to direct two of the three films but found himself stepping in as a last minute emergency director on the third one too.
How did you get the job?
I’d just finished making Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This for Left Bank. Andy Harries set up meeting with producer Sanne Wohlenberg and then I met Ken and spoke about the previous seasons and what the ambition was for the last three films.
You directed all three films, but were originally only signed up for two?
As part of the tax break we did the post for the two Swedish set films in Cape Town while the third film, The White Lioness, was shot in South Africa.
Then the director who was there to do The White Lioness had to leave for personal reasons a week in to the shoot. So on a Sunday evening I was given the script and asked ‘can you turn up and direct this tomorrow? That was a first for me. I read the script until four in the morning, had about an hours sleep and then I was on set. I’d not met the actors, never seen any of the locations. Fortunately I knew the producer, it was the same Dop and I had a really good relationship with Ken by then. We managed to pull it off.
Did you continue to edit at the same time?
I was shooting from 7 in the morning and then back at eight in the evening and going to the cutting rooms and then struggling through the next day. It’s not something I d like to do again.
Do series benefit from having one director throughout?
As a director, yes, you want to do everything. It happens more and more. Tom Shankland directed the whole of The Missing for instance. It’s the time thing that’s tricky. Bringing individual directors in means you can keep the machine rolling. Whereas for a director to do ten episodes means the delivery might be later than they’d like.
How did you approach the look of Wallander?
The DNA of Wallander is very much established. Wallander to me was always a bit like a western. Instead of a horse you had him driving around in a Volvo through this stunning, beautiful landscape. I’m a huge fan of these Nordic noirs be it The Killing or The Bridge or the Larsson trilogy. For a filmmaker it’s the landscape that offers so much, the tonal colours, the pastels and these vast skylines that make the weight of melancholy feel heavy on your soul. That already exists. As a filmmaker on Wallander, you do have to appreciate what fine directors have done previously and make sure you’re not going to reinvent the wheel. We shot on Alexa with Cooke S4s.
Did you have time to prepare?
For the initial films, we started in August and didn’t start shooting until mid October so I had two and half months working with the designer Tom Burton and cinematographer Lukas Strebel, who’s previously shot earlier Wallanders.
Is there a danger a falling into Scandi-noir cliche now?
For me those landscapes express the drama. People bandy around the word cinematic but that’s exactly what it is. It’s beautiful but bleak. You have these heavy grey skies that feel like they’re pressing down on you, for me a landscape like that adds an extra dimension to the drama. Sweden has these really long dark winters which give the country a kind of melancholia which is very striking but also ripe for tails of dark deeds. I don’t know if that means we fall into cliché, I try not to. I try to find the truth in the drama and hope that that is enough. When you fall into cliché that’s when you start not being truthful, when you’re prepping or working you have to keep asking the question ‘are we being as truthful as possible?’
Kenneth Branagh has played the role so many times and is also an exec on the show, does that make things difficult for a director?
And he’s also a famous director in his own right! For me as a young director it is incredibly intimidating until you meet him. I was lucky enough to go New York and see him in Macbeth at the Armory and then after we would meet one on one to discuss the script and Wallander’s journey. He’s an inspiration. He wants to be challenged and he wants you to direct the film. That was the first thing he said to me and that was liberating. For him it meant he could focus on being an actor and not have to worry too much about the shots; he could just focus on the personal journey. Of course we collaborated. I would share cuts as we went along.
Was there anything new you picked up from the shoot?
One of the things we did do, and I had not done this too much in the past, was we would always start with Wallander’s close up. Every time you run a scene on set something happens for the first time. It’s always so hard to create and you want to be ready to capture that. By starting with that close up, you were capturing that first reaction to the characters around you on the close up. And then we worked outwards. Typically in drama you start wide and choreograph everything and actually you end up spending way too much time on the wide shot compared to how much you use it. That was an eye opener for me.
Wallander begins this Sunday on BBC1
Caron has recently finished shooting his block on The Crown and begins shooting on series 4 of Sherlock next week. He’s also soon to direct a live theatre broadcast of Romeo and Juliet in black and white.
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