Olafur Darri Olafsson

Recently aired on BBC4, TRAPPED is an Icelandic television series created by Baltasar Kormákur and produced by RKV Studios.   Self confessed Trapped fan, Tony Bell, recently had a chat with the series’ lead actor Olafur Darri Olafsson who plays Andri, the chief of police in a small town on the east coast of Iceland.  As well as the Icelandic drama, whisky, Scotland and Lobster cropped up in the conversation…

Lest there be any confusion our Grapevine Magazine should not be confused with the Reykjavik Grapevine which bizarrely I have a copy of on my desk!

It is quite a nice paper, every once and a while I read it.

To anybody who has not seen the show and is waiting for the DVD to come out, would you give us a quick synopsis of the story line please?

In as few words as possible, it is a story of what happens in a small town when there is a discovery of an obvious murder and at the same time the town is closed off due to snow and really bad weather.  The town is left with facing up to something as horrible as that but also trying to discover who the murderer is and what is happening in the town.

There are lots of sub plots and stories within that – the murder is the main story line.  As the characters develop we are left with lots of questions, not least over your own character Andre, who has the issue with his former wife and his family and how he has ended up in Seydisfjordur?

Yes, what we used is a blend of Seydisfjordur and Siglufjordur which are two fjords in the north and the east, we don’t specify where we are but it is a blend of those two places.  But at the heart of every good thriller there is drama, at the heart of any good comedy there is drama.  That’s why I think it is really important to…  of course we get hooked because there is a crime element, a who-done-it, but in the end I think it is very often about our interest in people, their lives, and what is going on and that is why I think Trapped has been quite successful because I think the focus is not only on the crime element but also on the drama element.  And a small town can really provide a lot of that!

How did you come to be cast as Andri?

I have known the creator of the show for a long time.  We have worked together on a few films and a few times in the theatre. About three years ago, he mentioned this idea he had and that he wanted me to play the lead policeman in that just from hearing that I was really excited about doing it.  Having now done it, it is a whole lot of fun to see how intact that original idea really is about that character although the story, of course, has developed and been in development for those three years.

Was your character an easy one to play?

“Easy one” that’s a good question! I think he is quite like myself.  He is pig headed and has a tough time expressing his feelings but at the same time I think he’s a warm and empathetic guy.  He tries to do what’s best.  He really is trying to keep his family together.  The interesting about playing him is that he is at the point where we watch the show in such an interesting place.  His wife and him are getting a divorce which he is obviously not dealing well with.  His wife wants to move the kids back to the city. Andri seems to be quite over qualified for the job he has in that small town as a police chief.   But you get into that as the series progresses you find out that it might not be that easy for him to go back to the big city to get a job there because he has history.  And also, he is living with his in-laws!  He is living in their basement!   It is not a good time in his life!

Nor does it help that his ex-wife has brought her lover home!

Absolutely not, then again it is really funny also that what Andri would do under most circumstances, and it is very Icelandic, he would pour himself into his work.  So the discovery of the body gives him great pretence to do that, so he buries himself in his work and tries not to face up to what is happening around him which of course in the end he has to do.

One of the side stories involves people trafficking, is that for dramatic effect or is people trafficking an issue in Iceland?

I think honestly people trafficking is a huge issue everywhere in the world.  Iceland perhaps not as much as other places in the world because it is quite isolated but for me, I am very worried about people trafficking especially here in Europe where people are being used as slaves, women are being kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery. It is a horrible thing so I am really happy that it is part of our story and it is something we really have to be more sensitive to.

Trapped is one of the most expensive Icelandic dramas ever made by some considerable amount.  Were you aware during filming of any pressure to make it a success?

(laughs) I honestly think that Iceland, we generally don’t have a lot of money to make films and TV so we have to try and do as well as possible, but then I guess everyone tries to do that!  But, no, I didn’t experience any kind of pressure, everyone went out on a limb to do this, everyone, the national broadcaster was a big producer and this is something they have invested a lot in.  And our producers the same, I think they took a personal chance that this would work out.  But still I couldn’t feel that while we were doing it, we just wanted to do just as good a job as we could.  Doing it for the right reason, that being the best kind of story for the audience to watch.

The premise of the story is that the main characters are trapped in this tiny little town on the east coast of Iceland.  Reykjavik becomes a distant inaccessible place.  Does that often happen in Iceland?

Of course it happens seldom, more seldom than it used to.  Some of those places like Siglufjordur, which is one of those fjords that we blend together, my mother was actually raised there.  My grandfather was a captain of a boat so he would be away for long periods of time and my mother always told me that my grandmother hated that place.  In winter, the only way to leave for anywhere would be to take a boat because there were no roads that could take you out.  They were basically snowed in for months at a time.  There are not many places still like that in Iceland but there are places where you can expect for at least a week or two that you are not going to be able to drive into town, so it odes happen.

Did the locals welcome film crews turning up?

Absolutely.  My experience has been honestly, the only places that people tend to get, you know, a little bit pissed off with film makers is places like New York or L.A.  But my experience is that almost anywhere you go and shoot, be it in Iceland or be it in the UK or as I am now in Budapest, people are quite thankful for getting that amount of money and work into the town.  The people were incredibly supportive.  I always remember when I shot in the north of Iceland in a small village there, we had a Scottish director of photography and at some point we were shooting in the evening and he says “this would just look so beautiful if those street lights weren’t on”.  And someone say “yeah, we can fix that!” Then ten minutes later someone from the local government had turned off the street lights!  That just says so much and it is my experience when you shoot in places that usually don’t see a lot of films and TV being made.  People are interested and also proud that you are in their community filming.

Here in the UK, the show is subtitled in English.  Every now and again the characters drift into English why is that?

Icelanders, our first language now I think is English.  It used to be Danish.  We start studying languages from the age of about nine.  All of the material we watch is subtitled, we speak really good English and OK Danish.  We had a really good reason in the show to speak English.  My character speaks Danish with the Danish captain of the ferry.  We had a discussion, the actors, with Danish Bjarne Henriksen who plays the captain really excellently.  It turns out that Danes have a very hard time with people, and this is generalisation, that don’t speak good Danish!  So we very quickly turned to English.

The Captain (Bjarne Henriksen) confronted by The Chief of Police (Darri Olafsson)


Is it true that you are about to appear in a live action version of the BFG?

Yes, that’s true.  Mark Rylance is playing the Big Friendly Giant, which I cannot wait to see, I love Mark.

I also gather that you do a bit of singing?

Every now and then.  If you give me a couple of glasses of whisky I might sing!

In which case I have to ask the ultimate whisky question then, Scottish or Irish?

It would have to be Scottish.  It would have to be Lagavulin.

We have friends with a holiday lodge at Glenlivet View just above the distillery, we have spent many nights tasting the whisky’s of the Cairngorms.

Oh that sounds lovely.

Geographically, Iceland sits roughly halfway between Europe and the USA, which continent do you think has more influence?

I think in terms of culture and entertainment I think the US has a very strong position, which it sort of does in the western world.   But when it comes to politics I think we tend to lean more towards Europe – especially Scandinavia even though we are not a part of Scandinavia I think we consider ourselves to be.

I also read that your idea of relaxing is to cook, is this true?

Yeah I love that.

What is your signature dish?

(laughs) That is a great question!  Oh God, do I have one?  I don’t know, that is a good question.  I don’t think I have a signature dish, but I love Icelandic lobster and cooking good Italian – it is all good.

Darri, it has been a pleasure talking to you thank you for taking the time to chat with GrapevineLIVE today.

Grapevine’s comment: “Trapped” grabs your attention from the beginning and keeps you guessing until the last episode: highly recommended.

Trapped is released on DVD & Blu-Ray on Monday 11th April by Nordic Noir & Beyond. Pre-order it now:

To pre-order on DVD click here.
To pre-order on Blu-Ray click here.