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'Swedish mafia' makes headway in Hollywood

The movie industry is importing tons of talent (Noomi Rapace, Daniel Espinosa and Tommy Wirkola) and properties (Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, 'Snabba Cash,' 'Let the Right One In') from Sweden.

November 02, 2010|By Steven Zeitchik, Los Angeles Times

During the Toronto International Film Festival, a Hollywood manager, an up-and-coming director and some executives from the Weinstein Co. had gathered for dinner at the city's Windsor Arms Hotel. It appeared to be a typical movie-business gathering — except that most of the people at the table were speaking with Swedish accents.

The diners were celebrating Weinstein's upcoming U.S. release of "Snabba Cash," a Swedish crime drama that created a sensation among American distributors when it premiered at the Berlin Film Festival this year. The movie is the latest in a wave of commercially minded Scandinavian films suddenly washing into the U.S., including the adaptation series of Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy — "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," "The Girl Who Played With Fire" and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" — the cult-hit vampire movie "Let the Right One In" and next year's monster mockumentary "The Troll Hunter."

Scandinavia has influenced the American art house for decades, from Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman to Dane Lars von Trier and his Dogme 95 movement. But this new wave is decidedly more commercial and contains crime dramas, mysteries and vampire pictures — films that are dark but sufficiently populist that Hollywood is eager to remake many of them in English.

"Let the Right One In" has already been redone as "Let Me In," Zac Efron will star as a cocaine runner in the remake of "Snabba Cash," and David Fincher's upcoming remake of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" with Daniel Craig is hotly anticipated for Christmas 2011. Scandinavian actors and directors, meanwhile, are being tapped for major studio pictures.

"We're a small country, so I guess you've got a good percentage of the Swedish mafia here," joked Daniel Espinosa, the director of "Snabba Cash" (known as "Easy Money" in English), at the Toronto dinner. Already, that film has vaulted Espinosa (Chilean ancestry explains the last name) to Hollywood's orbit: He's directing Denzel Washington in the new thriller "Safe House."

A small group of power players in Los Angeles and Scandinavia is driving the Norse invasion.

Sitting at the same dinner table in Toronto was manager Shelley Browning, who has long represented actresses such as Rachel McAdams and Helena Bonham Carter. Over the last several years, however, Browning has begun traveling to Sweden to court and sign clients such as Espinosa and Joel Kinnaman (the lead actor in "Snabba Cash," and a finalist for a lead role in superhero movie "Thor"), not to mention Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace, the stars of the Millennium films.

Rapace, who was initially skeptical of an English-language career, wound up taking quickly to Hollywood, and vice versa. On her first U.S. visit this summer, she was in an informal meeting at the office of producer Susan Downey when Downey's husband, Robert Downey. Jr., happened to wander in. Before Rapace knew it, she was cast in "Sherlock Holmes 2."

"When I started thinking to myself about the next frontier for finding new talent, I thought, 'The window had closed on Britain and Australia.' Scandinavia then became very obvious," Browning said. "Most Scandinavians speak English. And Stieg Larsson has made Americans a lot more aware of the region."

Entertainment attorney Linda Lichter has been similarly key to Hollywood's Stockholm syndrome. From her high-rise office at the western end of the Sunset Strip, she is one of the people most responsible for the redo of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" as a big-budget, English-language movie.

"Scandinavians have a dark and funny view of the world that we're now first coming to in American cinema," she said. "And they've studied of a lot of American film, so they can take some genres to places we've not yet begun to take them."

Over a nearly two-year span — a period that began before Larsson's "Tattoo" novel was even in U.S. bookstores — Lichter coordinated with the Swedish producers and elicited offers from almost every major studio for a "Tattoo" remake before brokering a deal with Sony Pictures.

When it came time to sell "Snabba," the attorney (who, as a Wisconsin native, says she "has a little bit of the Scandinavian worldview in me") entertained bids from a number of studios. In a hectic few days last spring, the Swedish producers flew to Los Angeles to negotiate with the eager Americans, with a heavy-hitting team of Efron, Warner Bros. and "The Dark Knight" producer Charles Roven winning the rights.

Savvy agents are jumping not just on completed films but on filmmakers from across the region.

This week, the Hollywood mega-agency William Morris Endeavor is flying in Norwegian director André Ovredal for a meet-and-greet with Hollywood producers and a screening of "The Troll Hunter" at its Beverly Hills offices. Ovredal's folkloric horror tale, a mockumentary in the vein of "The Blair Witch Project," has just been bought for U.S. release, and a remake may not be far behind.

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