Susanne Bier spoke to me for AwardsDaily TV about her first television series, directing AMC’s The Night Manager, adding her personal directorial touches to the property and making Hollywood films.
I connected with director Susanne Bier in her home land of Denmark to discuss the gripping American-British TV production The Night Manager. It’s yet another successful John le Carre adaptation – this time airing on AMC – for which she directed all six episodes. It’s also her debut TV outing, I might add. As an avid advocate of women filmmakers and a true fan of her work, I tried to contain my excitement with Susanne and remained professional enough to delve into her experiences in film, TV, the processes of directing and telling a story, as well as touching on the Dogme film movement in Denmark.
Robin Write: Hello, Susanne Bier. Wow, you’re speaking to a massive fan, genuinely.
Susanne Bier: [Laughs] Hello.
RW: I know you studied art and architecture once upon a time – which direction were you looking at going back then?
SB: You know, I think I did want to be an architect at one point, then I started being more and more interested in the people who would inhabit the buildings I was supposed to design. It was a kind of gradual, quite organic transition for me. I trained in architecture, in blueprints, in a view of the whole thing, and all of that has helped me greatly in movies and television.
RW: We obviously have to talk about the Oscar-winning film In a Better World. On my own website I ran the 100 Films Made by Women series, and I wrote about it passionately. It is a great film. I described it as packing an enduring punch to both the gut and the heart. That you proved yourself on a par with the male contingent of filmmakers, crafting one of the finest films of the last decade. That was without doubt for me.
SB: You know, however, the female thing is truly important for me. I see myself as a director. I do see myself as a female director – a director. I am just happy doing the traditional things I am doing.
RW: Also, I run an annual film honors list and in 2011 you were nominated for Best Director by me. So congratulations on that too.
SB: Oh good. I am glad. Thank you.
RW: I am going to touch on the Dogme Danish film wave. What was your relationship with this movement? Did it encourage you? Did you bounce away from it?
SB: It was a really strong movement. It did push European film back on the map. At that point when Dogme started there was a type of European film, like independents or like American big budget film, those films were sitting comfortable, but not telling a proper story. What Dogme did, it had a kind of austerity, the whole sort of a lot of what is tradition movie making, you are not allowed to do. The characters are the story-line. It did actually bring films back into a shape that was interesting, because suddenly we had writers, directors, focusing on storytelling. It was incredible for all of us, an educational experiment, because it was true storytelling. It was quite a long time ago, but since then I have enjoyed the film-making, all the things you can do with film. There was no doubt it was inspirational, and incredibly exciting.
RW: Did you have any kind of relationship with the likes of Lars von Trier or Thomas Vinterberg and another woman director, I saw Italian for Beginners…
SB: …Lone Scherfig. We all went to the same film school. We all have the same educational history, and we all knew each other.
RW: You still speak to any of those now?
SB: I do. I was kind of the second generation of Dogme, and the first generation probably had more to do with one another – but there is definitely communication, yes.
RW: I know you tend to cover themes of family, human relationships, a certain amount of suffering, redemption as well. Those are some of your common themes. Did The Night Manager allow you to incorporate your style relatively easily? That type of story.
SB: Easily, easily. There is a very strong family theme and certainly a revenge, redemption theme, which is very strong. The great news is I don’t try consciously to push into things I am doing. These themes were already in the novel. They are quite often in way broader films, even in some of the great action films, things I am more obsessed about that many other directors.
RW: Are you going to continue making films or TV in your creative terms and not, how can I put it, pander to the industry? I have seen people ask you about women directors – that [Hollywood] has to do this now and hire female crew. Maybe that is not for you. You just want direct or don’t want to follow what Hollywood or whoever else tells you to do.
SB: I would be happy to do a big action film. I think it is making the differentiation. I have always felt there is a little bit of a snobbish, arrogance, to what American movies have been, which is a misunderstanding. To me a great story is a great story. I don’t really care what the setting is. I want to do great work. If it is an action film it takes great action but also great story-lines, making those scenes work. The sort of sort of arrogance about the commercialism. I find it a bit silly actually. Really, a great film is a great film, it does not matter if it is American, Russian, or French, I don’t really care. And I want to watch it, or make it.
RW: Well, it would be interesting to see your version of Spider-Man, for example.
SB: I’d be interested in that as well. [Laughs]
RW: That would have family and suffering in there, but I guess most super hero films have that.
SB: That’s my point. It’s almost like, when you look at those films, they need a very distinct story-line, for my taste, to work. Then all the fun comes on top of that.
RW: I could talk to you for hours and ask you a thousand different questions. But one last question, what is next for you? Back to film? Looking for more TV? Or both? In America, UK? Back in Denmark?
SB: I have not decided what the next thing will be. It is not that long since I finished The Night Manager. I will be excited to start the next thing.
RW: I will certainly keep my eye out. I could talk to you for much longer, so thank you very much indeed.
SB: Thank you, take care.