Danish film director Thomas Daneskov explores male mental health with an interesting mix of absurdity and straight-faced stoicism. He tells us all about how the film Wild Men came to be and who he’d cast in the American remake.
Denmark is certainly having a bit of a moment in the film world. Not only was the animated documentary Flee just nominated for several Oscars, last year alone saw Another Round and Riders of Justice grace our screens.
Now, director Thomas Daneskov wants to make us consider the issue of male mental health with his new dramedy Wild Men.
Where did the idea come from?
It’s been fascinating to me for a really long time. Why are men so bad at feeling bad? And why are they so bad at talking about the issues? It’s been a theme for many of my films before and something that I’ve been working to figure out, both in films, but also in my personal life, the men around me, the men I grew up with. And in that process of researching and writing, I think I teased the Google algorithm enough, googling midlife crisis, [that] the machine started to think that I had a midlife crisis and started sending me commercials for this Viking camp, where you could go and be a Viking for your whole summer vacation. But the idea was actually pretty good for a film.
In the film, you’ve got the very absurd, funny stuff, you’ve got the male mental health, and then at the end, it’s almost like a thriller. Was it really important to you to have all those elements in this film?
I think the approach when we were writing it was, pretend you’re at the cinema. First frame, what do you want to see? And then we had the great opening. Everything else sucked but that beginning still made us laugh, him entering the shop. And so we’re just like, Okay, what do you want to see next? It was like this organic approach to it. I think it kept it interesting and less predictable. And I don’t like predictable.
What were some of the qualities that you were looking for in the casting process?
We needed somebody who could do both the funnier stuff, but also make us feel something. Rasmus has been the greatest example of that, because he’s one of the funniest guys we have in Denmark. There’s a sadness about him. And Zaki Youssef as well. I met him a few times and really wanted to work with him as well. We teamed them up and the chemistry was there. And that was really difficult, casting in Norway, because I don’t know anything about Norwegian films and actors. So I had to really trust the casting director there. I went up and had a beer with the old police officer, Bjørn Sundquist. He’s the greatest, one of the grand old men of Norwegian cinema, he’s done 120 films. He’s 75 and he acts like a 20-year-old on set. He’s so energised and so funny and teasing you and not afraid of trying new stuff. I learned so much from him.
And was it always Norway? Like you said, you didn’t really know anything about Norwegian films or the industry there.
Denmark is so flat. If you go into the woods in Denmark, and it’s also a small country, you can’t really die. I could drop a pin anywhere in Denmark and if you could keep a straight line for five kilometres, you’re basically hitting a road or hitting something in a town. Nature’s playing a big part of this film. And it was important for us that nature could kill them, it had to be dangerous. And nothing in Denmark is dangerous. We don’t even have snakes. And Norway’s still so close. 8 hours in a car and you’re there, and they have all the mountains and it’s so cinematic
Was it a difficult shoot?
Everything was on location. Just a terrible place to shoot a film. So cold, so rainy, really difficult. I think when you’re doing all the dramatic stuff that sort of helps, being out there, wind in your face and getting wet, you can start to use that as an actor. And for the comedy stuff, the improvisation. You’re not great at improvising when you’re in a blizzard. Everybody just wants to go inside. It was difficult, but it was also important, it wouldn’t have worked on a green screen.
Why do you think there is still so much pressure on men? Why can’t we still talk about men and the pressure and mental health?
I think the good thing is that we’re getting better at it. I’m way better talking about my issues than my dad is and he’s way better than his dad. And I don’t even want to think about how bad they were in the 1800s. I think there’s an element of shame to it. Society just expects you to be tough. And we’ve got all these sayings, like, be a man about it and all that. It’s really ingrained in our DNA to not show any weakness.
I think it’s super important to show weakness, and to reach out for help and say how you feel. I was raised that way but so many of my friends are not able to talk about their issues, and they just implode on themselves whenever they experience bad shit.
It feels to me that Denmark’s having a moment right now. You’ve given us Mads Mikkelsen…
Thank you so much. We’ve had Another Round, Riders of Justice, Flee did really well, The Guilty got a very big remake. What are you doing so well that other countries aren’t?
I have no idea. But I think the film school is really great. The funding system allows us to really play, and not worry about making a commercial success. There’s a lot of freedom in that. And I think there’s a lot of talent that can grow in that freedom. But it is expensive. We’re doing most of our films on taxpayer money. The Guilty was made just two feet that way. My neighbour, Gustav (Möller), he did that and it’s the same producer, and they did that film for like, 3 million Danish kroner, which is nothing. 200,000 pounds or something?
Yeah, and it’s a great, great film.
But there was no pressure in that process. It was just like, you know, just do this tiny film, whatever happens happens. And then it sort of blew up. But I think if they had the spotlight on them from the beginning, or like we’re giving 30 million kroner, they wouldn’t have been able to do it.
Would you be up for an American remake of Wild Men?
I would love to see that. Like him fleeing New York, going to Canada maybe.
Who would you want playing Martin?
Zach Galifianakis and Idris Elba. We already did that game. I asked them and the guy playing Musa was like, Idris Elba.