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‘A Man Called Ove’ Filmmaker on Finding Comedy in a Suicide Scene

TheWrap Screening Series: ”You have to do it not too funny at the same time,“ Hannes Holm says

Sweden’s foreign-language Oscar entry, “A Man Called Ove,” deals with tragedy but attempts to throw in bits of comedy — a feat that proved to be challenging to director Hannes Holm, particularly in a scene involving lead actor Rolf Lassgard attempting suicide.

“I recognized on set, seeing near the monitor when [Ove] is strangling [himself]… I was like, ‘Oh s—, this can be very hard,” he told TheWrap awards editor Steve Pond during a post-screening Q&A on Wednesday. “On set, we had discussions to have the right balance in those scenes and I think it was helped by [Lassgard]. It’s not funny to see a person commit suicide but in a way, you have to do it not too funny at the same time. Therefore, I chose a very skillful actor.”

“A Man Called Ove” is based on a best-selling Swedish novel by Fredrik Backman and follows 59-year-old Ove, a bitter man who wants to commit suicide to be with his late wife. However, when a family moves in next door, he forms an unexpected friendship that makes Ove reevaluate his life.

Lassgard, who plays Ove in the film, agreed with Holm about the difficulty of dealing with suicide on screen.

“It’s one thing to read this suicide,” he said. “When you read it, you have more of a protection, but when you see it, when you see someone putting rope around their neck, we were playing with it to make it real and to make it funny by having someone disturbing him — we were playing with different moods in the scene.”

“A Man Called Ove” was shot in 35 days and cost $300,000 to produce — a regular budget for Swedish films. This was Holm’s first time adapting a novel for the big screen, something he admitted he felt “embarrassed” about.

“I never adapted a novel before because I write my own stories, and this was the first time I took someone’s story,” he said. “I felt quite embarrassed to steal a story like that.”

And he didn’t want to do it at first, he said, knowing that “these book lovers” would be extremely critical about any screen adaptation.

But producer Annica Bellander managed to persuade him. “She was smart: She left the novel on the table on the restaurant we were at,” he explained. “I’m a poor guy so I took the novel and the same evening I started to read it in bed. The morning sun came and I was crying. I called her the next day and said, ‘I want to do this.'”

Even Lassgard felt pressure from the book lovers when shooting his scenes, especially because most people didn’t see him playing the part of Ove. Swedish people imagined an older actor for the role.

“Of course you feel pressure when you start to shoot,” he said. “But you try to create your own Ove, as you see him. That’s the only way to do it and do it honestly and with a lot of warmth and anger — that’s the only way and you just have give them the whole of your heart.”