Sofie Gråbøl, star of The Killing, talks to Patrick Smith about the last ever episode of the cult Danish crime series.
Few detective dramas have gripped the UK quite so much as Denmark’s The Killing. First appearing, barely heralded, on BBC Four in 2011, this clever whodunit was arguably the most addictive TV the 21st century has yet produced. Set against the backdrop of a drizzly Copenhagen, the series took 20 head-wrenching episodes to solve a single crime case. By the time The Killing II aired this time last year, Sarah Lund, the show’s taciturn, sad-eyed detective, had become an unlikely TV hero. Tomorrow night, though, she bows out, as the third season reaches its conclusion on BBC Four – signifying, according to its makers, the last ever episode of the franchise.
Sofie Gråbøl, the 44-year-old Danish actress who plays Lund, has mixed emotions about this. “It’s been amazing and inspiring, but also very stressful,” she says. “I’m not emotional about leaving Sarah Lund – I mean, it’s fiction, she doesn’t exist. I’m sad to leave the people I’ve grown so close to, but there’s a great beauty in moving on. It’s like you make a cake and people eat it and that’s the great satisfaction. You don’t sit and cry about the cake being gone.”
Reading this, you might think Gråbøl shares some of Lund’s personality traits – stoicism, for instance. In reality, though, the two could not be more different. Warm and voluble, Gråbøl is a joy to talk to. Despite their differences, however, Gråbøl is surely protective of Lund? “Actually, quite the opposite,” she laughs. “I think any actor has an almost sadistic relationship with the characters we play because we want them to have it hard. I mean, who wants to play someone who is harmonious and happy? There would be no drama.”
Lund has certainly had her fair share of drama: two of her sidekicks have been bumped off in as many series. That she carries the weight of her grisly experiences around with her is part of what makes the show so compelling. In The Killing III, however, a new kind of Lund, softer, sexier, has been emerging, as she’s tried to track down Emilie Zeuthen, a shipping magnate’s young daughter who has been abducted.
Exploring, like the earlier series, how crime affects victims’ families, this run has been typically taut and complex, with more red herrings than a Danish trawler. We currently suspect the kidnapper to be the biological father of Louise Jelby, the 13-year-old girl who committed suicide – according to government officials. Will that hunch be proved right? Gråbøl isn’t letting anything slip but she says she is delighted with tomorrow’s outcome. “It’s the best ending [creator Søren Sveistrup] has made out of all the three seasons,” she enthuses.
Gråbøl has enjoyed her creative relationship with Sveistrup. “He turned to me many times in the third season to discuss the story,” she explains. “Because it’s been important for us to finish the story right. He always lets the best idea win.”
I ask her what Danish people think of the way the show is perceived around the world. “It’s not a realistic image of Danish life,” she says. “I mean, sometimes the sun shines in Denmark, sometimes it doesn’t rain, and we don’t all wear jumpers. But I think the Danes are proud of the way not only The Killing but also [other recent Danish imports] Borgen and The Bridge have been embraced, especially in the UK.”
After wrapping The Killing III, Gråbøl, who’s been a star in Denmark since she was 17, went straight into a Danish thriller called Hour of the Lynx, in which she plays a priest. She’s now appearing in a stage version of Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny & Alexander in Copenhagen. Offers to work in England will no doubt come flooding in – even if she’s likely to be indelibly associated with Lund in this country. Gråbøl, nevertheless, is proud of that. “If some other kind of roles are offered from England, great,” admits Gråbøl, who says she used to watch Upstairs, Downstairs growing up. “You can’t calculate, that’s my experience. For me, I’m always into the work I’m doing at the moment. I don’t think too much ahead.”
‘The Killing III’ concludes on Saturday on BBC Four at 9.00pm. It is also available on Blu-ray & DVD from Monday.
Patrick Smith Telegraph.co.uk