Interview with Esben Smed (Denmark): “I don’t like being photographed and standing in awkward positions”

Interview with Esben Smed (Denmark): “I don’t like being photographed and standing in awkward positions”

by February 20, 2017

Esben Smed

Esben Smed (©Ralf Uhler for EFP)

A graduate of the Danish National School of Performing Arts in 2013, Esben Smed started off his career with Danish auteur Nils Malmros, playing roles in “Aching Hearts” and “Sorrow and Joy.” Soon after, he continued with the sci-fi short “Jeanne D’Arc,” followed by Kasper Barfoed’s feature “Summer of ’92,” where he played the footballer John “Faxe” Jensen. His major breakthrough, however, came with the 2016 acclaimed Danish TV series “Follow the Money,” which was broadcast in various countries across Europe. In it he plays the role of Nicky, a small-time crook trying to make it big. 2017 finds him starring in the leading role in the Danish-German co-production “Letters for Amina”, helmed by Jacob Bitsch.

Ismene Daskarolis talked to him about his role in “Follow the Money,” his work with Nils Malmros, and his experience being one of this year’s Shooting Stars.



Your most recent role was in the Danish TV series, Follow the Money, which was met with great critical acclaim. Would you like to tell us about it?

Esben Smed: It’s a series about economic crime and big business and what these are doing with offshoring.

In a time where there’s political and economic instability, do you think series like that express a certain sentiment in society due to all the crisis we’ve had?

E.S.: You almost answered that because you said we live in these times and there are series about it. You know, with the bank packages and the banks going bankrupt… All that happening in 2007 and it goes on and on… I think that made it more of a pressing issue for some people who felt they had to write about it.

But, what do you think that says about our society? Does it reflect it or inspire reaction? Are these series inspiring society or are inspired by society?

E.S.: I think it’s both ways. People are inspired to write them because of what’s happening, but it also reflects what is happening. So, maybe, somebody who watches them will think of that because it’s highlighted somewhere. But, I don’t know if I’m the right person to speak about that because I am in this series.

Would you like to tell us about your character in Follow the Money and what it meant for you to portray him?

E.S.: I play kind of a villain – not exactly. I would say, a nice guy who gets into trouble. I think he’s actually a nice guy, but who then makes stupid choices and ends up in situations where he cannot reach the button with his feet, like when you’re underwater and you have to paddle. I think my character is just a small-time crook trying to make his way.

Where did you find the connection to yourself to portray him?

E.S.: I researched a lot and talked to people who had been doing these kinds of things to get the details right. I play a mechanic, so I went to a mechanic’s shop and worked there for two weeks to get the hang of it.

What changed in your initial idea of the character after you did your research?

E.S.: There was a lot about when you’re on the wrong side of the law, you could say, or you when you constantly have to watch your back or look over your shoulder. The intensity of that was a thing I tried to take into the character and have that and the frustration when you start making the wrong choice and then the next one and the next one… And, you keep going down a path that’s not good for you or your family.

But before Follow the Money, you were already an experienced actor. How was your collaboration with Nils Malmros on Aching Hearts and Sorrow and Joy?

E.S.: I just did those two films with him, but I only had small parts. We had or we have a very good relationship.

It must’ve been a special experience because he’s considered an auteur in realism and Danish cinema.

E.S.: Yes, I really love his films. But, still, the parts I played in them were very small parts…

Nordic Noir and Danish Film have reached new heights in the last few years. Can you talk about that?

E.S.: I don’t know. When I talk to people, they always say it was a great run. But, now we’re finished, and Nordic Noir has no chance. People always have to reinvent themselves and find new ways of doing it. It’s the same with Lanthimos for example. I really love his films and that’s another style and something different whether you like it or not. But, it moves something, it reinvents itself and it makes you see things from a different perspective.

How are you experiencing Shooting Stars? Do you feel excited and are you enjoying the spotlight? Do you think it will help you with new opportunities?

E.S.: Well, I don’t really enjoy the spotlight. I mean, you don’t really do it for the spotlight and none of the other actors here, I think, do it for the spotlight. It’s mostly about being able to work as an actor. It’s nice to be here and meet all these people and have these meetings. But, I don’t like being photographed and standing in awkward positions.

What does the future hold for you? Are we to see a new season of Follow the Money? Are there new projects?

E.S.: I think we’re going to see another season of Follow the Money. I don’t know if I’m in it but we’re going to see a new season. As for other projects, unfortunately I cannot talk about that.

By Ismene Daskarolis