I have been interested in Niclas Larsson’s work since I saw the trailer for his short film Vatten some time ago on Vimeo. It may only run for 55 seconds but the way that trailer looks, and the mood created, plus that final shot was enough to get my attention completely.
And then, sometime last week I watched Magic Diner and that short film starring Alicia Vikander was so cool I had to get in touch with the director and ask him a few questions about himself, and his work.
Embedded below are the trailers for Vatten, and Magic Diner, followed by my interview with Niklas. Watch, read, and–I hope–learn something.
Tell us a little about yourself – where you’re from, and where you live now.
I grew up in Gothenburg, the west coast of Sweden. A small city and really boring part of Sweden honestly. Always cold and rainy. Today I live in Stockholm, though I spend a lot of time in LA lately.
How did you get your start in the filmmaking business – did you go to film school, or are you self-taught?
I actually started out acting in movies and TV series when I was a kid. Did a lot of stuff until I was 16 when I met a douchebag director on a project. Then I kind of decided that I wanna do his job, and that I could probably do it better than him. So I applied to USC film school and got accepted, but dropped out a couple of months after because I wanted to work instead of studying, so I moved to Stockholm and started assisting various commercial directors.
How did you happen to end up directing Alicia Vikander in a short film – what were all the elements that needed to come together for this to happen?
It’s funny actually – Vogue called me this summer and asked me to write a short for them, so I did – and when I asked who it was with they told me it was Alicia, and we knew each other from before, so I called her right away and said I was gonna direct her short for Vogue. So it was a really organic process that I could write something and just send over to her before sending to Vogue. So me and Alicia were always on the same page regarding the creative.
In the Vimeo description it says that Magic Diner is based upon a Twilight Zone episode – to what extent? And what new touches did you add?
So back when I was acting I did a Twilight Zone play at a local theatre, and we did a segment called Nick of Time – and I always thought it was such a clever idea about a magic seer giving answers that could be read as truth, so I wrote it. Now twisting and turning it a little of course.
What was it like to shoot with an actress who is clearly as busy as Ms. Vikander is? How much time did you have on set, how long did it take to collect all the material you needed for the short?
Since I knew her I told her a needed a day (meaning 6 hours for someone like Alicia) – so I got my 6 hours shooting before she jumped on a jet back to Europe to shoot Bourne. But it’s amazing, I mean it was the first time I worked with an actress of that level, and she literally did my job. I just more or less placed the camera and she delivered on every take. It was really nice since we shot on 35mm, and I didn’t have too much film to roll.
Photo Credit: Mattias Rudh
Also, what was it like to give direction to Anna Wintour?
Anna was a different deal. I think I got two takes, one close and one wide – and like 10 minutes. But honestly that was all I needed. I didn’t expect much more actually, I mean, It’s Anna Wintour. I asked her to take her glasses off, and that was a mistake I think. So to whomever working with her in the future – just don’t ask Anna that. Just paint away the camera reflections in post.
From start to finish, how long did it take to make Magic Diner?
With writing shooting and post maybe two months spread over 6 months.
What was it like directing Justin Bieber in a commercial?
Fun! I’ve worked with him a couple of times now. He’s a cool dude, though busy – if you get 4 hours with him you should be happy.
What according to you is the biggest difference between working on a short like Magic Diner and a short like Vatten?
Well Vatten is without any clients, so you’re alone making all decisions – and with Magic Diner I still have Vogue on set looking over my shoulder even though I had a lot of freedom to do whatever I wanted and needed to do.
Why isn’t Vatten online yet?
Because Swedish National Television still owns the right to the film since they financed it. It kinda sucks to be honest, but if people wanna see it they can just email me and I’ll send it to them.
Why is Clara such a loner in Vatten, she hangs out with Bea but that seems to be it, why is that?
Well that is more or less based on my own school years. I like the fact that suddenly you’re a loner but without any real reason. The classic “drama” would be to have a mother or father that beat her up, and a group of girls that does the same – but I think a lot of cases you have your one friend but that’s it. Your life is just “normal”, but you can’t really relate to the world around you, so instead of faking friendship, you’re just quiet.
Tell me a little about Lova Schildt, the lead actress in Vatten. She is so good in your film I hope she is a big star in Sweden, at least.
She’ll be happy to hear that – but unfortunately she’s not for some unexplained reason. She’s amazing, a true star. The casting process was horrible, and in the very final week before we had to decide after looking at hundreds of girls, Lova came to the casting with a friend that was originally called in for the part. We asked Lova if she wanted to try and she did, and got the part.
What’s next for you, and do you have plans to make feature films?
Yeah, I’m developing two features at the moment, so hopefully I have something more solid to talk about next year.