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Ólafur Darri Ólafsson: “Today’s children films are too soft”
The icelandic-american actor Ólafur Darri Ólafsson talks about Beautiful Beings, the icelandic choice to represent its country at the Oscar. Violence, adolescence and dreamlike visions are the ingredients of a film that has been a success on its film festival’s journey.
Berlin, Valladolid or Transylvania are some of the cities in which Beautiful Beings (Gudmundur Arnar Gudmundsson, 2022) has been enthusiastically received. At Les Arcs Film Festival, the Icelandic film has been one of the most shocking selections of Oscar au ski. In the film, we follow Addi and his friends, a group of teenagers coping with aggressivity, violence and love in a marginal ambience. We’ve been able to talk to Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (United States, 1973), who plays in this film the role of Svenni, the abuser step-father of one of Addi’s friends. Bullying, graphic images and the preparation of his character have been some of the topics addressed in our chat.
According to different charts, Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world. But the film depicts an extremely violent ambience. Is this a reality of Iceland too?
Iceland has this image of being incredibly safe and probably it is in many ways. I very much relate it with my old group of friends, probably less violent, but still I remember there was violence around. Also, recently Iceland is getting more dangerous and I hope we can stop that. Yes, nothing is easy but I still feel Iceland is a safe place, I’m not afraid when my kids go to school.
At the beginning of the film, we can see violent scenes of a teenager being bullied, which is a topic not so mediatised, did you hear back opinions from young people?
This bullying happened around 1995-2000, and I’m of course hoping that it’s different to young people now. I think it’s a certain dynamic that there’s always going to be there, even though things changed, we’ve all been teenagers. Of course, it’s not for me to judge if young people feel represented, but all the young people in the film are young people of today and they haven’t said anything. Also, I only hear good things about the film.
It seems like the director has chosen to make a film with a lot of graphic scenes. How do you feel about this choice?
I’m a firm believer in one thing: today’s children films are too soft. I mean Roald Dahl wrote all of these incredible books, these terrifying stories. For a very long time, children have read these stories, and when they have been adapted to cinema, they became too soft, less crude. It’s dangerous for teenagers to water down everything, to never show them death. I believe that our film is visual where it has to be: we don’t need to see naked persons, it is only graphic to show that it is about life or death. And in my opinion, this is the way to tell stories.
We know that you are used to play this kind of character but this one, an abuser, was particularly tough. How did you prepare for this role?
The preparation was just based on conversations with the director. I have played characters like this before and it is just about finding a certain dark place in yourself and finding those keys. But performing it is not fun. When I play someone like that, it just starts to make everyone uncomfortable. Because he is. Well, I do not want to say he is a horrible person, but he is traumatized like everyone else in the film. I believe that we inherit trauma and I think this film shows that really well.
You have worked a lot in Iceland but also in the United States. Can you tell us what are the principal differences of shooting in one country or another?
I'm really privileged to work in America and in Iceland, as I have an Icelandic passport, I can work in every country of Europe. In America, you have a lot of money, and things tend to be bigger. But apart from that, I tend to think people in crews are the same kind of people: they are really loyal people, even when the work is hard, that you work too much and not well paid. So there is a money difference but there aren’t so many differences on other aspects: it’s like meeting a new family every time in a different place.
It’s your third time in Les Arcs Film Festival, which year would you say was the best?
It might be this time because I’m with my family here. But I have also loved when I was on the jury  as different worlds come together, with actors and directors from various European countries. It was striking in the reception of the movie too, as people have perceived the film as an uncommon Icelandic one as it’s different than the usual nature porn. It’s important for us not to pretend that Iceland is some kind of Disneyland. I think we’ve done well like in civil liberty, trans rights, women rights but we can do much more and we need to be critical of our own society. Now, we need to give children everything we have learned.
By Claire Thabourey and Luis Míguez (MIOB Journalism Lab)