Meet: David Dencik
He’s one of the busiest actors in Scandinavia. He’s worked with a wide range of A-list directors – Steven Spielberg, Jane Campion, David Fincher and Tomas Alfredson, among them. Yet David Dencik can walk the streets of Stockholm or Copenhagen quite anonymously. Few people recognize him; fewer still pester him for an autograph.
“Perhaps I’m not photogenic enough,” he proposes, laughing. “That might change after the upcoming James Bond film. It could have an effect.”
It certainly could. Dencik has a major role in No Time to Die, the upcoming twenty-fifth edition of the James Bond movie franchise. So far, details about the character he plays have been kept a closely guarded secret. But the Swedish press reports that he’s one of the bad guys.
It’s widely believed, he points out, that Scandinavians cast in Bond movies invariably play villains. And Dencik has a well-established reputation for playing villains.
Dencik lives in Copenhagen with his wife and their two- and four-year-old children, but to get away from the world of movies and TV, they spend a few weeks every year in Sweden, at their summer cottage in Tyresö, on the outskirts of Stockholm. He’s not quite sure how long this current break may last though. The Bond production team may get in touch at any time with word that a seat for Dencik has been booked on the next plane to London, as his presence is required on the 007 set at Pinewood Studios.
“We were driving here from Copenhagen, looking forward to several weeks of uninterrupted vacation.” But as they reached the town of Gränna, three hours south of Stockholm, Dencik’s phone pinged with an email message – he was due in London earlier than expected. Only this time, he was taking his family with him. “I’ve rented an apartment, and we’ll be there for a week.”
Actors who work internationally understand that they sometimes have to drop everything at a moment’s notice and quickly head off to another country. For shorter jobs, Dencik travels alone, turning the trip into a brief solo vacation. Staying on his own at a hotel, he soaks in the bathtub and watches TV, “happy as a fish in water,” he admits.
On longer jobs, such as shooting Season Two of the TV miniseries Top of the Lake in Sydney, he began to understand the pressures felt by his wife, Sofie, who has a legal career in Copenhagen.
“It’s tough being alone, looking after two small children. It’s hard for the person left behind, having to deal with children puking, getting stung by wasps or fighting with each other. So now, if I land a major role in a TV series abroad, the whole family comes with me.”
Ever since his breakthrough role in a short film in 2000, Dencik, 44, has appeared in more than 90 movies and TV series, while also performing in stage productions at such venues as the renowned Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm.
“I’ve been a performer ever since I was a young boy delivering lines mimicking Tintin and Alfie Atkins, just as my children do today. But I traveled a long road before realizing my dream – appearing before an audience.”
When he was a baby, his Swedish parents, Lars Dencik, a psychology professor, and Kerstin Allroth, a film historian, moved the family to Copenhagen. There, David and his brother Daniel, a writer and film director, grew up. When David was 25, he returned to Stockholm to study at the Swedish Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Soon after graduating, he landed a job at the Royal Dramatic Theatre. A few years later, when his contract came up for renewal, he decided to seek work elsewhere. He received and took two very attractive offers: one from Denmark, to star with Trine Dyrholm in the movie A Soap, and the other from Sweden, to play the lead role in The Laser Man, a TV miniseries focused on the racist serial killer John Ausonius. While A Soap received wide acclaim at the Berlin Film Festival, it was The Laser Man that proved to be Dencik’s breakthrough role in Sweden.
Right now, he stars in The Perfect Patient, (originally called Quick), another Swedish movie, in which he plays a somewhat similar role. Based on a true story, the title character, Thomas Quick, was convicted of multiple murders as Sweden’s most prolific serial killer. However, after extensive research by the investigative journalist Hannes Råstam, who wrote a book on the subject, The Making of a Serial Killer, it was found that Quick had committed none of these crimes. He’d made his confessions while under the influence of heavy medication during a stay at a hospital for psychiatric disorders. This case, involving a scandalous miscarriage of justice, drew widespread attention, and Quick was set free. He now goes under his given name, Sture Bergwall (Quick had been an alter ego). The film was directed by Mikael Håfström, who brought the Oscar-nominated movie Evil to the silver screen in 2003.
Dencik says his interest in playing Quick was piqued when Råstam’s book came out in 2012. “What happened? Why did he confess? How could he be believed? I thought the legal system was more robust than that. A man who is under psychiatric care should not be regarded as the most credible of witnesses. Bergwall became the scapegoat for these crimes at his psychiatric hospital – hence his confession to all the charges put before him.”
“My research for the role began when I read the book,” Dencik continues. “I imagined myself in the lead role but actually identified more with Råstam, the investigator. The book shook me to the core. It seemed like no one could be trusted. Not the police, not the psychiatrists, not the Supreme Court, and not, if you’ll forgive me, journalists. Sweden has become submissive to authority. The Thomas Quick case is a complete tragedy for Sweden, a total miscarriage of justice.”
During shooting, Dencik exchanged several emails with Sture Bergwall, but the two never met.
That was a lesson he’d learned while playing John Ausonius, the hardcore murderer who used a laser sight rifle to target members of the immigrant community in The Laser Man. “I wanted to meet Ausonius, but my producer said no. He was not to be given the opportunity to influence the process. I took the same approach with Quick.”
Dencik is aware that The Perfect Patient will generate a great deal of debate. He speculates that if headlines had been made prior to the release of the movies about the cult pop singer-songwriter-actor Ted Gärdestad and the world-famous writer Astrid Lindgren, they too would have generated reactions. He hopes that this will be the case with The Perfect Patient, and that the movie will encourage audiences to learn more about this aberration of justice.
Now that Dencik has portrayed two of Sweden’s most controversial criminal figures, is there any role he would turn down?
“There are movies I don’t want to make, such as those that glorify violence. But those are few and far between. I once turned down a role for personal reasons, in a movie called Fatima. It centered around prayer and how prayer could lead to world peace. People may believe that prayer works in this way, but that doesn’t coincide with my beliefs.”
Dencik is happiest when portraying roles on stage or in front of the camera that “throw the spotlight on cultural politics,” a tradition in Swedish cinema.
Films and series he’s appeared in, such as Chernobyl, The Perfect Patient and Quicksand, are productions that from which lessons can be learned. Films that edify may be a dying art form, but according to the actor, they represent a fine Swedish tradition.
“If done right, something new and exciting emerges. The best feedback is that audiences check out what you’re trying to say and, in so doing, a wider debate is stimulated.”
Then there are movies that focus solely on entertainment, such as the upcoming Bond film, No Time to Die, working on which, Dencik says, “is probably the closest you can come to being royalty in the movie industry. Particularly in the UK, where it’s all shot. On my way to my first meeting with Cary Fukunaga, the director, I walked past Buckingham Palace. A military parade was taking place, and they were playing the theme from Skyfall.”
Earlier Bond movies, he continues, “were almost like kids’ films, but Daniel Craig has turned them into something more powerful. He can play vulnerable, he really falls in love. Before then, I found the Bond films a little too comedic.”
So what kind of impact will this newest Bond movie have on his career? “Ask me in two years,” Dencik says. “I hope it will change things; I think it will. Bond is everywhere, in all corners of the globe. What I want to do is fewer but bigger roles in English-language movies. My only criterion is that they should be relevant.”
Published: November 6, 2019