Alba August – Rise and shine
On the day after the world premiere of Becoming Astrid at the Berlin Film Festival, the international press is competing to praise the movie and hail the young female leading actor. She’s not had time to read much of the press coverage herself yet – her schedule is too packed with meetings and interviews.
Now, a few weeks later, she’s been able to catch up with what’s been said and take it onboard.
“I heard people talking about the movie and you could sense it in the movie theater. There were 2,000 people sitting there and the applause was deafening,” she says.
We met several times while Alba August was in Berlin. Not there just for Becoming Astrid though, she’s also Sweden’s 2018 Shooting Star – one of ten young European actors considered to have great international potential, selected to spend a few days together socializing and meeting agents and casting directors.
“Berlin was great fun, but really tough,” she says. “I was surprised at how tight the schedule was. It meant a very early start each day and then work all day. I didn’t have time to see any movies or party as much as I had hoped to. It was mostly speed dating with casting directors and agents and so on, but it was incredibly rewarding. What was most exciting was talking to colleagues and other people who work in movies. And the other Shooting Stars, obviously – I fell in love with each and every one of them.”
Even though I’d never met August before the Berlin Film Festival, in a way it felt as though I had known her for a long time, perhaps because I’ve followed the careers of her parents and interviewed them many times. Her mother Pernilla is one of Sweden’s most famous and acclaimed actors and directors (she’s also the only actor in history to play mother to Jesus, Ingmar Bergman and Darth Vader). Alba’s father is Bille August, one of the most famous directors in Denmark and one of few Danes to have won a Palme d’Or in Cannes. The couple divorced in 1997 when Alba was three years old, which has meant she has a foot in both Denmark and Sweden.
Did they try to frighten her off the career she has chosen, bearing in mind their own knowledge of the industry?
“They tried to put me off in the sense that they’ve never pushed me. They haven’t advised me in any way, and they mostly behave in the way I hope all parents do, in that they support me. Mom’s my best friend and the world’s best when it comes to advice. I could not have had a better sparring partner.”
It’s easy to joke that having a background like this ought to mean acting is in August’s DNA – but it does appear to be the case.
“I knew from an early age that I wanted to do something creative,” she says. “I struggled to keep up at school, sitting still and writing and listening. My kind of concentration is simply not designed for normal school. When I was about to start year seven, in desperation I entered drama school and it felt more natural. I was able to interact with the teacher and be creative.”
Pernilla, whose elder daughter Asta is also an actor, tells me that as a mother she finds it hard to talk about her children.
“It felt natural that they would choose this career. What else would they do? What you can say about Alba is that she’s very grounded. And that she has a kind of sensitivity that she has had ever since she was a baby. It’s part of her very essence and something you can’t really explain.”
Alba’s grounded nature is clearly apparent in Berlin, especially during official commitments such as interviews and press conferences. She is always calm and collected and takes all the commotion in stride. Despite how it looks though, she does admit to a certain restlessness inside.
“Doing the same thing every day is not for me. I give everything for three months, then I want something new to do and to meet new people. So the acting profession is a great fit for me.”
As she has family living in Sweden and Denmark, August has lived in both countries. She was in Malmö in Sweden for a while but started to get itchy feet and left when she was accepted to the National School of Performing Arts in Copenhagen.
“Although I’m half Danish, I’d never lived in Denmark before. I had always dreamt of finding my Danish self and I have several brothers and sisters there. Plus, I love Copenhagen. I had a romantic image of what it was like to live here, and I must say I really love it here. It’s a real happening place, there’s so much culture here. It’s less sanitized than Stockholm, you can sit outside a pavement cafe and have a beer or coffee. But I will move back to Sweden again at some point.”
When I meet August together with several Danish journalists, she switches to speaking Danish a few times. To my ears, it sounds word perfect – and she says the Danes agree.
“I speak fluent Danish, but it took me four years to get there. I have a good ear for language and it’s fantastic to be able to work in two languages. My dream is to work everywhere. It’s so great working across borders as we did with the movie about Astrid. A delightful Scandinavian mix.”
With Becoming Astrid and the Netflix series The Rain, 2018 is shaping up to be August’s year. The movie about the young Astrid Lindgren is sure to put the actor on the map, while Jannik Tai Mosholt, one of the team behind The Rain, is full of praise for her TV performance.
“Netflix was open to working with unknown young actors, we didn’t just want to try and sign big names. We were really delighted that we had this opportunity to sign up whoever we wanted. Working with Alba basically makes writing easier. You just know she’s able to take any line and make it work. From the outset August took the role as Simone in The Rain and made it hers. Once we’d seen her audition there was never any doubt that she was the one. Alba is very subtle, but at the same time she’s able to portray extreme tension. She’s a natural talent, and the thought of a parallel universe where we could have done The Rain without her seems impossible,” Mosholt says.
“I started The Rain a week after finishing Astrid and switched straight away from drama to sci-fi. My character Simone and her brother have been locked up for six years and the world has taken a serious turn for the worse in our absence,” the young actress adds.
August’s path to success started with William Olsson’s Förtroligheten (“Reliance”). Since then, we’ve seen her in the Norwegian movie Dryads – Girls Don’t Cry and TV series such as Jordskott (Sweden) and Gisslantagningen (“Beneath the Surface”) from Denmark. Her roles have become bigger and bigger, a combination of August feeling increasingly secure and producers and directors realizing how much talent and capacity the young actor has.
Pernille Fischer Christensen, the Danish director of Becoming Astrid (who speaks Swedish as well as August speaks Danish), says, “You have to be very intelligent to be able to portray Astrid Lindgren. And Alba is incredibly intelligent.”
The distribution rights to Becoming Astrid have been sold in the US, Germany, Japan, China, Russia and various other countries. What audiences will see is a moving story of a young woman, who in the 1920s goes against convention in as many ways as possible. When she gets pregnant in a relationship with a married man, she gives birth to her son in Copenhagen and for four years, the child grows up in the care of another woman. The young Lindgren visits him as often as possible, but it’s expensive to travel to Denmark and the little boy thinks the woman in Copenhagen is his mother.
“One of the world’s most prolific children’s book authors had little contact with her own child for four years. What significance did this have for her?” asks Fischer Christensen, who came up with the idea for the movie five years ago. She worked very closely with August at the preparatory stage and during the shooting.
“Astrid Lindgren was my idol, a heroine I grew up with,” August says. “It was such a big assignment and I spent a great deal of time preparing. I re-read all her books, I read about her and watched film clips. The only Astrid I knew was the idol and I wanted to understand the person behind this. I also wanted to learn about the 1920s and how they danced, how they typed and how they wrote shorthand, which required enormous patience. It was incredibly nerve-racking for me, as I looked up to her so much.”
August also says that to an extent she recognized herself in the young Astrid, that the freedom Lindgren longed for was something she had also been searching for. You can enjoy freedom as a freelance actor, but it can also mean being unemployed. “Scary, but stimulating,” she says.
She will graduate from the National School of Performing Arts in Copenhagen this June. The production in the final year is Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (the school was reluctant to let her go to Berlin in February as it interfered with rehearsals). What’s next, then?
“Hopefully, there’ll be a second season of The Rain and I’m also discussing several other projects.”
“I love my job and the harder the role, the better.”
When Becoming Astrid officially opens in September, it looks likely that Alba August’s biggest problem will be choosing between all the offers that will surely be coming her way.
Published: June 5, 2018