Meet Sofia Helin – star of TV crime series 'The Bridge'
The blonde policewoman knocks loudly on the front door. When it opens, she identifies herself with a familiar phrase: “Saga Norén, Länskrim Malmö.” At least it’s familiar to fans of the TV drama The Bridge, an international hit show that has made Saga Norén, Malmö’s police department, and Sofia Helin, the Swedish actor who plays the socially awkward detective, famous in more than 160 countries.
This is Sofia Helin
Family: Husband Daniel Götschenhjelm, son Ossian, 12, and daughter Nike, 6
Right now: Starring as Saga Norén in season three of Swedish-Danish crime series, The Bridge
The show, which takes place on both sides of the Öresund Bridge that connects Copenhagen and Malmö, is now in its third season. When Scandinavian Traveler visited the set, it was pouring rain and a cold wind was blowing in from the sea.
“Filming The Bridge is hardly glamorous,” Helin says with a smile.
She’s in character, wearing Saga Norén’s trademark brown leather pants, boots, and a green coat. During the eight months of shooting, she wears practically the same clothes every day.
“The pants have to be resewn all the time because the leather stretches,” she says. “The coat is off the rack from H&M. Saga is not very fashion-conscious; she wears whatever feels comfortable. When I put on Saga’s clothes, I become her. She has a different personality. She’s very direct and finds it hard to show emotion. It was incredibly difficult for me at first, but I learned it and now I’m pleasantly surprised that so many people like Saga and can recognize themselves, or someone they know, in her.”
While Saga Norén never smiles, Sofia Helin is a ray of sunshine. She is strikingly beautiful and stylish, and she has a ready smile. She is pensive and fairly quiet, and even seems a little shy.
“I wear my heart on my sleeve, but when I’m working and get into character, I shut off that part of my brain and take on a new personality that fits the role I am playing,” she says. “It’s hard to explain but it is pretty fascinating.”
That Helin became an actor was something that no one saw coming, except maybe herself.
“No one in my family was interested in acting,” she says. “It wasn’t a career option in the environment I grew up in.”
Helin was born in Örebro, west of Stockholm, but moved to Linghem, a small town south of Örebro, as a small child. Her parents divorced when she was four years old and she grew up mainly with her mother, brother, stepfather, and two stepsiblings.
In middle school, she did sketches and short plays for her class, and in high school she was in a drama program. At university, she studied philosophy.
However, she knew all along that all she wanted to be was an actor and decided to take the plunge. She enrolled in the Calle Flygare Theatre School in Stockholm and got her first job after her first year, cast as Minna in a hit TV drama Rederiet in 1996. The next year she enrolled in the Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Since then, she has appeared in several notable films including At Point Blank, Arn: The Knight Templar, Metropia, Dalecarlians, and Nina Frisk. Her major international breakthrough came in 2011 as Saga Norén in The Bridge.
“She’s a very good actress and a great colleague, a real dream to work with,” says Thure Lindhart (known for his role in Angels & Demons), who plays Saga Norén’s Danish partner.
‘There are lots of things I’d like to do in the future. Among other things, I am very keen to work in Britain’
Helin is married to Daniel Götschenhjelm, an actor turned priest in the Church of Sweden. They have a 12-year-old son named Ossian and a 6-year-old daughter called Nike. The family lives in Stockholm’s Old Town. The couple appeared together in the 2007 film Nina Frisk.
According to Helin, people are sometimes surprised to learn that she’s a Christian and married to a priest. Some have even said that they feel it is inappropriate for her to be involved in a violent thriller such as The Bridge.
“There’s this naive, old-fashioned, and childish attitude according to which religious people have to be better than other people, but that’s a huge misconception,” she says.
“Of course everyone should try to set a good example, but humans are complex and full of darkness – all of us.”
A month after the shooting of The Bridge has wrapped up, Helin is meeting the press at the Nordicana film festival in London where thousands of British film enthusiasts gather to pay homage to Nordic Noir. Helin is filmed and photographed, and she gives autographs to fans who have traveled from all over Europe.
One British couple plan on traveling to the Öresund Bridge on their honeymoon. Another devoted fan is dressed just like Saga Norén.
“It is flattering; she must have put a lot of work into finding those clothes,” says Helin, who’s not wearing Saga Noren’s clothes but instead exudes glamour.
She is exquisitely dressed in a colorful silk blouse and black suit, and her hair is beautifully done up in a bun. She is often recognized as she walks along the streets of London, but she doesn’t mind.
“Of course, there are times when I’d rather be anonymous, but I’m not complaining,” she says. “As a film and TV actor, you have to deal with being recognized. It’s either that or start thinking about a career change and move into radio plays or something like that.”
Helin has recently used her celebrity status to raise awareness about refugees. She visited a transit camp for Syrian refugees in southern Austria and made a campaign video for Swedish TV to raise money for charities.
“I find it very distressing when I see people suffering and how much injustice there is in the world,” she says. “I feel helpless in many ways, and it’s hard to know what you can do to help. But I do what I can, and I urge others to do the same.”
Helin is hot property internationally and she has been offered many roles outside Sweden. Last summer she starred in the Danish film Fang Rung, directed by Max Kestner. She has also played a role in a new German TV series, Berlin der geteilte Himmel, directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, which was filmed in Prague.
“I am often asked if I would like to play Saga Norén again,” Helin says.
“The answer is that I don’t know. It depends entirely on whether the script is so good that I can’t resist coming back for a fourth season. There are lots of things I’d like to do in the future. Among other things, I am very keen to work in Britain. I love London and I would love to work there.”
“The Öresund Bridge has a special place in my heart"
Season three of The Bridge was filmed, mostly in Malmö and Skåne, with a little bit in Denmark. When Helin was working on The Bridge, she stayed in a hotel in Malmö during the week and traveled back home to the family on weekends.
“The Öresund Bridge has a special place in my heart partly because it connects Sweden and Denmark in such a nice way, but also because it’s beautiful to look at. I've shot scenes there in the middle of the night, when it was closed to traffic and I’ve climbed on the side of a boat in the sea under it. I have chased a train on it and I’ve stood on a platform under it.The platform one was particularly nasty because I could see the water below me and I’m afraid of heights.”
“I like working in Skåne and Denmark a lot,” Helin says. “I stayed in a hotel for long periods, and after a long day’s work I used to spend my evenings working out or watching TV and DVDs in my hotel room. When the eight months of filming was over I took some time off with my family and we spent a lovely long holiday in the Swedish countryside. It was nice to get away from work for a while and live a normal family life.”
Text: Monika Agorelius