Based on a bestselling series of novels by Anne Holt, Modus is a major new Nordic Noir that’s been snapped up by the BBC. We journeyed to Stockholm to witness the making of the creepiest Scandi export since The Killing…
Stockholm during mid-summer is a delight to behold. Crystal-clear waters shimmer beneath the colourful boats bobbing in the city’s harbour, its elegant, gabled buildings are dappled with sunlight, and students sit sipping cold beers in idyllic, seemingly hidden squares. This picture-perfect summer scene hardly looks like the setting for the latest icicle of seriously chilling, appropriately snowy Nordic Noir. However, that’s what it’s become through the magic of filmmaking…
Crime Scene is crouched beside the monitor inside a nondescript office block in suburban Stockholm. The windows have been blacked out, blocking out the gorgeous morning sun, and the crew’s constructed a suitably Stygian interior for the main character’s apartment in midwinter. It’s a truly dark setting for a truly dark drama. Welcome to Modus.
Despite the fact that Czech-austrian-British actor Marek Oravec ( Our Kind Of Traitor, Foyle’s War) knew he would be playing an unhinged killer and spending
most of the shoot cooped up in the apartment, out of the sunlight, or skulking in the snow when filming much further north, he didn’t hesitate to accept the part.
“I didn’t need much convincing to say yes to this,” Oravec enthuses. “I just love these Scandi dramas!”
Oravec isn’t alone. Since BBC Four enjoyed a breakout hit with The Killing five years ago, Scandi drama – aka Nordic Noir – has taken the UK by storm. Modus may well be equally successful. Adapted from Norwegian author (and former Minister of Justice) Anne Holt’s bestsellers, the series is shot in Sweden by Miso, the production company responsible for the likes of 1864, Dicte and Those Who Kill.
Peter Bose, the co-founder of Miso and Modus’ executive producer, thinks that the Nordic Noir genre is edgier than your run-of-the-mill British, American or German procedurals.
“Sometimes Scandi drama is more free and prepared to do things a little more over the edge than more traditional dramas,” he tells Crime Scene. “That’s what I think people in other countries like about the Scandi shows. Our crime dramas reflect society and show real people, compared to some other countries, whose shows are a little bit ‘nicer’ and not that edgy.”
Modus centres upon Professor Inger Johanne Vik (Melinda Kinnaman), a Swedish psychologist and profiler who, after working for the FBI in America, returns home to become an academic. Initially, Vik has no intention of working for the Swedish police, preferring to concentrate on her children (her eldest daughter, Stina, has autism). But over a Christmas season, she’s drawn into a multiple murder investigation after Stina (Esmeralda Struwe) witnesses a killing.
Vik partners with Ingvar Nyman (Henrik Norlén), a detective with the Swedish national police force who’s sent to Uppsala on Christmas Eve, to look into a disturbing murder. Meanwhile, back in Stockholm, the killings keep occurring and Vik soon discerns a pattern. As with all of the best Nordic Noirs, Modus is much more than a procedural crime story, it’s a compelling tale that throws up pertinent questions about religion, human rights, tolerance and even the nature of love itself.
Producer Sandra Harms adds that this is typical of Nordic Noir, in that it investigates society as much as crime itself.
“I wouldn’t say this is a cop show per se,” she reasons, “we don’t centre it around an investigation. Our lead character is a psychologist, so we focus on the people rather than the investigation. One of the choices we made at the beginning was that we weren’t going to have a police station. We don’t have the engine of ‘who did it?’, it is more a question of ‘why?’, ‘who is next?’, ‘how does this all fit together?’, ‘who are his helpers?’ and ‘what is the mission he is on?’ We also are trying to raise the question of what creates a killer, what stirs up this anger and intolerance.
“In writing her crime novels, Anne Holt is creating a story that people want, but that still has something pertinent to say about the problems in society. We still have a big problem with racism and stereotypes towards minorities. I think that it’s an interesting topic for a crime show, putting Scandinavia into a bigger context.”
Modus, which also features Krister Henriksson, who’s best known for playing the lead in the original Swedish series of Wallander, is told from Vik’s overall point of view. Like many Scandi dramas, Modus has a strong female character at its core,
Our crime dramas reflect society and show real people
which attracted Kinnaman to the role of the conflicted psychologist.
“When they asked me about the part, I was really fascinated by it,” confesses Kinnaman, who also appeared in Series 3 of The Bridge. “I can relate to being so passionate about work, but also having the conflict of wanting to be a good mother. I felt that whole thing about trying to get your work and family life in balance.
“Modus has a more humanistic angle than the average cop show. We’re not allowed to say too much about the murderer, but I can say that he’s not a crazy serial killer. There’s a social relevance to our story. I have to say I’m quite tired of sexual killings – there is so much of that in TV series these days. So it’s good that this takes another angle.”
Kinnaman has been assiduous in researching the role of Vik. “I met a fantastic woman at the Swedish national police,” she says. “She’s been great. She’s read the script, and she has helped me to find out how Inger Johanne thinks, what she is looking for, and what kind of language she uses. I really admire this woman. She’s so experienced, but she doesn’t make any assumptions. She says, ‘When I started 30 years ago, I was a lot surer of myself and things were much more black and white. But the older I get and the more experience I get, the more the grey areas just expand.’ You have to keep yourself open to every possibility.”
Another strength of Modus is its genuinely unsettling villain, the aptly named Richard Forrester (Marek Oravec), who spends much of the drama living wild, in a snow-covered forest. He really enjoyed the “staring-acting” the role demanded.
“It’s such a treat as an actor to have those days when Richard is just by himself, gutting a deer, cooking its meat, running alone in the forest,” Oravec explains. “He is a lost soul who has become involved in a right-wing evangelist church. How much he believes the ideology and how much is him just looking for a purpose – that was really a question for me.”
The London-based actor says that the extremity of the character was tough for him to get a handle on.
“When I first read the part, I was like, ‘Wow, this guy is a case for a psychologist, not an actor!’” he says, “but though Richard does some pretty bad things and is motivated by some terrible ideologies, there is something very sad about him. He needs this ideology. He follows it because he doesn’t have anything else, and he’s quite broken – if that makes sense, for someone who does such horrible things. So I’m trying to give him a little bit of humanity – not that I want the audience to sympathise with him because I know his actions are sick. But I’m trying to understand where he’s coming from – and that has been a huge challenge.”
For all that, the actor admits that after playing him for several months, Forrester has got into his head.
“It’s a long period of time to be so dark,” says Oravec. “He’s an intense guy to be with. I’m lucky, in a way, because I fly back and forth between Stockholm and London, and here I have what is like a little shrine to Richard to help me get back into the role. In London, I can still go out and socialise, and hang out with my girlfriend, but here I’m in a little Modus bubble.”
So Modus ticks all the requisite Nordic Noir boxes – it can be summed up by adjectives that all begin with the letter ‘d’, namely dark, disconcerting, disorientating and deeply disturbing. And the good news is that further series of Modus are planned.
“We’re just starting to build the Anne Holt universe,” says Producer Sandra Harms. For our part, Crime Scene can’t wait for Modus’s next voyage into the heart of Scandinavian darkness.
Modus Series 1 will air on BBC Four in December.