Q: The ‘submarine case’ as it was known in the press, made headlines all over Europe and, of course, was on the front pages in Denmark. You must have been aware of it at the time?
A: I remember that it started in the press as a story about two people missing in a homebuilt submarine. And then suddenly one of the people returned and the submarine sank and now it became a story about a missing young woman. Then the story and speculations about motives and what had happened, started to grow and I got full of it quite fast. I did not want to participate in the collective hysteria almost celebrating or, at least, extremely fascinated by this man who maybe had killed an innocent woman. And so, I turned my back on it. I remember there were parents at my children’s kindergarten at that time who would suggest - because they knew I was a filmmaker - that this story could be a great movie. And I remember answering, ‘no, it won’t, I think it’s a terrible story. It has nothing new to add. It is not worth telling. There is nothing we can learn from it.’ So that was my point of view and I turned my back on it. I remember again when the trial started there was a lot of media coverage. It became almost like it was a sports event, you know, ‘1-0 for the prosecution, nice opening...’ It was so strange, and I again decided not to pay attention. So that was it until I was introduced to Jens Møller.
Q: And how did that come about? Did Jens contact you? How did you first meet?
A: At the time Jens was writing a book about his life as chief of homicide covering all of the cases that he had done, and I think he was interested in seeing if there was any material that could be interesting for a movie. And Miso Film and Jens agreed that they should contact me. I remember that they called me, and Jens had been the chief on a case that happened 10, 12 years ago when we were writing Borgen. There was a Chechen/ Belgian terrorist who had blown himself up in the Hotel Jørgensen, in the centre of Copenhagen and it was very well covered in the Danish press at the time and then suddenly it disappeared and you just didn’t hear about it again. And I knew that Jens had been chief of that investigation and so I thought, ‘I want to meet this guy and I want to ask him about what happened with that one-legged terrorist that blew himself up...’ So, I welcomed the invitation to meet him and we had a cup of coffee together.
Q: And did you change your mind about making a drama based on the submarine case at that first meeting?
A: It started to give me a different perspective because we talked about all of his work and we ended up talking about the submarine case and of course I knew some things from the press, but I realised that I was wrongly informed. I really didn’t know anything, and he would correct everything that I said about it. So, we talked a bit more and he started to tell me stories from that work, not secret stuff, but just as a human being going through that. He told me stories about (Kim Wall’s parents) Ingrid and Joachim and the strength of these people and he me told about Swedish ‘corpse dogs’ that could sniff a corpse underwater and he told me about scientists who knew all about the currents in the water surrounding Denmark and how with science and mathematics they could figure out where to search and he told me about young divers that spent months underwater trying to find evidence and suddenly I realised that this story that was hijacked by a fascination with the darkness and the crime… that maybe within that contained a story about life, about a system that worked, about a society that works, about people doing difficult but necessary jobs on behalf of all of us. And Jens told about being strong, as strong as Ingrid and Joachim were, and he talked about the price that these people in service paid to do their job and I realised that this was not a story a story about an interesting or fascinating perpetrator, it was a story about a Danish system, a Swedish system, that worked and a story about human strength and that started at that first meeting. And after that meeting I rode home on my bike and I just couldn’t get it out of my mind. So, I called him and asked him to meet me for another cup of coffee.
Q: You’ve talked about some of the media coverage and the sensationalised way the case was covered. So, let’s talk about your very different approach. For example, you don’t start the series with a recreation of what may have happened on the submarine and you don’t, at any point, name the accused. What was your thinking?
A: Talking to Jens led me on to the idea of making a naturalistic procedural drama
. So, I decided that we would start the story about the missing submarine the first time Jens heard about it, which was on the radio on that first morning. And then he went to his office and he briefly heard about a missing submarine and the biggest fear was that two people were suffocated because they had run out of oxygen. So, the logic was, ‘let’s just see this from Jens’ perspective. And that led me on to trying to analyse what the genre dictates. A new genre has arrived in the last ten years which has been given the fascinating name, ‘true crime’ and I realised that true crime in its nature is, of course, obsessed with the crime, it is ‘true crime.’ So, I thought to myself ‘what if we invented a new genre called ‘true investigation?’ Where we don’t really talk so much about the crime, but we talk about the investigation and we go into what that is. And it all came from one of my favourite scenes– the ‘fuck you’ scene in The Wire. Two detectives are in an apartment mapping out how a shooting happened, procedurally, step-by-step, without saying anything but ‘fuck you…’ ‘fuck me…’ and just ‘fuck…’ and I’ve been obsessed with that scene in the way that many of my generation have. And I realised that was the way to go – instead of trying to recreate anything, instead of being fascinated with the crime itself, was to focus on the investigation. And therefore, the title, The Investigation. It is kind of dry, but I wanted to be honest, this is not about the submarine case, this is about The Investigation.
Q: It became very much a story about the investigation but also, it’s about humanity, too. And so much of that humanity comes from Søren’s performance as Jens as a man obsessed with doing the right thing for Kim’s parents. Is that how you saw it?
A: Jens, is one of the easiest, nicest people I’ve ever met. And a lot of Nordic-noir, crime stories overall, tell stories about detectives with some sort of problem, either they are alcoholic or they have some sort of psychological problem and in this case Jens is just a guy who understood the world based on facts. He doesn’t assume stuff; he believes in facts and he doesn’t speak if he doesn’t know what he is speaking about. And meeting him made me realise that this kind of portrayal hadn’t been done since the first books about Martin Beck were written (*Martin Beck is a fictional Swedish detective who features in ten novels by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö). And they were stories that were also about humanity and a Swedish society that worked, police officers that did their job, paid a price and it never celebrated the crimes, they just followed the case procedure. That’s a side-track but meeting Jens reminded me of that. I found that fascinating and I started to read those first two, three novels about Martin Beck and realised that that dry style could be key to this story.
Q: When did you think that Søren Malling would be perfect to play Jens Møller?
A: After those first two meetings with Jens I called Søren right away and asked if he wanted to do it. So, I hadn’t written a word at that point and I asked him to play the part. I knew that a face like his and I knew that I needed somebody with the qualities that he has. His timing is perfect. And he is so human and so real.
Q: You had met Jens Møller, who was head of homicide, you met prosecutor Jakob Buch-Jepsen and you met Kim Wall’s parents. Did you write, stop, and consult with them? How did the writing process work?
A: After my second cup of coffee with Jens I asked him to take me to meet Ingrid and Joachim. They knew about our conversations, so it wasn’t a surprise to them. And at this point I hadn’t written a word. I had details from Jens – for example, I knew that he had not interviewed the perpetrator himself and I knew that if I should ever do a feature or a series or limited series about this, I knew it would be without the perpetrator. I knew that. And I knew that I didn’t want to mention his name. I wanted to do the opposite of True Crime. True investigation. And when I met Ingrid and Joachim and they talked about their collaboration with Jens and what he had done for them, and how thankful they were for the humanity he showed in the process and how they believed that really saved them and saved their sanity.
And they also expressed their gratitude towards the divers and the scientists and the Swedish corpse dogs, and everybody involved. And I told them what I found fascinating from a fiction writer’s point of view and I told them I wanted to do a story that could be proof of a system that works, proof of human strength instead of darkness, it could be a story about their strength and Jens’ strength and how people find each other in the darkness and walk towards the light. And it was very much in line with their own book ‘A silenced voice’ about Kim’s life – here they tried to change the perspective and find the light in it all. So, we agreed that I should go home and write a few pages on what this could be and then we could talk again. And that became the starting point of what is now The Investigation.
Q: You’ve handled real events before in your work – notably with A Hijacking – but did consulting with Jens and Kim’s parents bring with it a different sense of responsibility as you were writing?
A: There is no doubt that driving home from that meeting with Ingrid and Joachim I felt the burden and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I did feel the weight of it all. And I did realise that if I decided to do this, I would need to control this more than I’ve done with A War and A Hijacking, to make sure that we made no mistakes and to make sure that we didn’t reproduce the story that was already told in the press. So, I decided to erase everything that I had been pre fed in the press and then we would start all over. That feeling of responsibility came from meeting Ingrid and Joachim and the friendship and honesty that they offered.
Q: How important was it for you that you were able to use the real navy divers and the ship that was used to bring up the submarine in the real case? How did that come about and was that all to do with your quest for authenticity?
A: Yes, it was because of that desire for authenticity. I do not think that my producers, line producers or anybody in the production department on this show enjoyed my obsession with reality because it makes everything more difficult. But
Q: Buy why not use actors as divers?
A: You know, divers dive better then actors and actors act much better than divers (laughs). And if we allow the actors to act and the divers to dive, we have the best of both worlds. If I had needed to teach some actor to dive, he
Q: It was important to you that Kim Wall is remembered as a journalist doing her job and not as a victim?
A: Definitely. Normally these stories would have an anonymous female victim of a male sexual predator – we’ve heard that story so many times before – but Kim was a journalist and she died doing her job and I think that was necessary to get that out there. That story had not been introduced in the Danish and the international press. The press were much more obsessed with the perpetrator, as the crime genre always is. And I did not want to reproduce that cliché.
Q: Was anyone putting pressure on you to take that more traditional approach? Were they asking you to put in the perpetrator’s name or one scene of flashback?
A: Of course, there were conversations about that and I do believe that some thought we could have done a better show or a more interesting or fascinating show by focusing on the perpetrator and the crime but I knew that was not the story that I wanted to tell - and they were stuck with me since I was the one telling the story… so that’s how we did it.
Q: But when people say to you ‘why not do a documentary?’ what is your answer?
A: I remember thinking the same thing before I saw Paul Greengrass’s United 93, but you couldn’t (do a documentary) because that airplane had crashed so fiction was the way in. I think it’s the same case here. I also think that fiction offers something that documentaries cannot offer and that is the opportunity to be somebody else for a while. And in this case instead of being a media consumer that was clicking on a case that fascinated you, I was offering the opportunity to be Jens Møller or to be Ingrid or Joachim for a while. And by allowing the audience to be them for a while they would get a new perspective. I think that fiction, more than any other art form, offers the opportunity to be somebody else for a while and thereby understand the world from a new perspective and become a better, wiser version of yourself.
Q: Did you arrange a private screening for Jens Møller, Jakob Buch-Jepsen and Kim’s parents?
Q: And what was their reaction when they saw the finished series?
A: I believe they think it is very close to the truth. They feel that the story pays respect to Kim and tells an unknown story about her as a journalist. And they are happy that the series celebrates all the unsung heroes of this case.
Q: We’ve talked about Søren Malling as Jens Møller and you have Pilou Asbæk playing the prosecutor Jakob Buch-Jepsen, both actors you have worked with frequently in the past. What is it about working with actors again and again? Is it about trust and knowing that they will give you what you need?
A: It’s like a football team, you can see when people play together for years – they just know where each player is at any given time. It’s good to bring in a new player once in a while to bring some new energy, but to bring in a whole new team in one go and expect success is impossible. That’s the reason why money doesn’t win every football match – spirit and camaraderie mean something. And for me, it’s my rock band. Pilou and I started out together. I had never been on a film set before when I directed my first film
Q: You’ve filmed on the water before with A Hijacking, so you knew that logistically it’s very difficult. How difficult was it to film The Investigation?
A: Well, I thought that I had done it before, but I was ignorant that way (laughs). We did A Hijacking, and we did that far away in the Indian Ocean, and we were worried about pirates and so we thought this would be a piece of cake (laughs). And then I got on to one of the small rubber boats and realised that it wasn’t. We turned on the engine and the waves were one, two metres high and we were rolling around like pins in a bowling alley. It was brutal. Normally, out of an eight-hour day, you would let the camera run for five or 6 hours and in this case, we would film for one and a half hours. It’s difficult to film at sea but we were also bringing dogs to the set. So, then we had dogs that needed to do their job and not be disturbed by us. We had the real dogs come down and we built a training field in the ocean and we would use the real dogs’ response to the scents that they caught out there and film. That operation was amazing and very challenging. My first AD (assistant director), Anders Barlebo, who I’ve done everything with including A Hijacking, said that this was by far – by far! – the most difficult stuff we have ever done, and I think he’s right!