Morten Tyldum - Playing the Hollywood game
Director Morten Tyldum and Janne Tyldum attend the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel.
Family: Wife Janne, son Benjamin
Lives: Beverly Hills
Born: Bergen, Norway. Attended film school in New York
Films: Buddy, Varg Veum: Fallen Angels, Headhunters, The Imitation Game. Also, TV show U. Coming soon: Pattern Recognition
Locations: Often films on location. Headhunters was filmed in and around Oslo. The Imitation Game was filmed in Buckinghamshire.
From tiny Norway to the enormous US. From Bergen to Hollywood.
Morten Tyldum’s world has changed, and like many Scandinavians who have become part of the American film industry, he has learned some expensive lessons along the way.
“Everything I say and do can have major consequences,” Tyldum says. “If I open my mouth, what comes out has to fit in with the plans. I’m gradually learning how to play the game.”
His first lesson came when he happily told the Norwegian press about Bastille Day, a thriller he was set to direct, starring Ben Affleck. It was a career move that would require Tyldum to shift base from Norway to Los Angeles, with his wife and son in tow. What he said about the film made the production company hit the roof and the Norwegian director was on the receiving end of a rather severe reprimand.
“When you work in Hollywood, you’re part of a much bigger machine than in Norway. I feel like I have lost some of my freedom. Everything is so professional and systematic in LA, especially in terms of press and promotional campaigns. The amount of money involved is much greater than back home. We’re a lot more relaxed in Norway.”
It was Ben Affleck who had tipped Tyldum to direct Bastille Day. But when Affleck pulled out, Tyldum also left (the film will now be made with Idris Elba in the lead role and James Watkins directing). A few days later he was offered The Imitation Game, moving him up in the Hollywood pecking order.
New life for the whole family
Tyldum says he tries to keep his feet on the ground despite his success.
“I talk to my wife about this a lot. We can’t let it go to our heads. We need to keep a little Norwegian skepticism. On the other hand, I have to walk a certain path in order to function as part of the machine. I have to have a team of people around me – agents, managers, lawyers, assistants. There are usually ten people sitting around the table at our team meetings and this is where all our plans are made.”
This “new” life has meant change for both Tyldum and his family. Six-year-old Benjamin now goes to school in Beverly Hills.
“Benjamin goes to school with Matt Damon and Tobey Maguire’s kids. The school is used to parents who travel a lot, and Benjamin is often able to come with me because the school is happy to make arrangements for him. Matthew McConaughey has three children and they are always on set with him, he says.
“It’s important for me to have my family by my side, otherwise I wouldn’t have done this. Benjamin is now a veteran traveler; it’s become part of life and it’s no stress for him.”
This 48-year-old son of Bergen has come a long way, although he regrets the fact that he no longer speaks Norwegian with a Bergen accent.
“Between the ages of five and eight, I lived in Tønsberg, which destroyed my Bergen accent. But apart from those three or four years, I lived in Bergen up to the age of 20.”
Doors opening due to Headhunters
Tyldum is part of the international success currently being enjoyed across the Scandinavian film industry. What started with the critically acclaimed Norwegian youth movie, Buddy 12 years ago has developed into a major career, complete with a Hollywood home and shoulder-rubbing with movie stars. When he talks about living and working in LA, you get the sense that success has not gone to his head.
Tyldum’s ticket to Hollywood was Headhunters, based on the novel by Jo Nesbø. A well made, brutal thriller, it remains the highest-grossing Norwegian film of all time.
“Headhunters acquired a tremendous cult status in Hollywood. Absolutely everyone has seen it – film stars, producers, directors – which is just absurd for a Norwegian production. But the LA film world is incredibly focused. If there is a buzz about a movie, that movie becomes a must-see for everyone. And with Headhunters on my resumé, I am able to book a meeting with practically anyone.”
The outsider’s perspective
Tyldum believes that not coming from the US movie world has helped him on the road to success.
“I was an outsider in Hollywood, and for me The Imitation Game was a film about outsiders, about those who are not normal. It became important and personal for me,” Tyldum says.
The Imitation Game is the story of Alan Turing, the man who cracked the German Enigma cipher, which helped shorten the Second World War.
Later, Turing was prosecuted for engaging in homosexual acts, which was illegal in UK at the time. The movie was shot in England on a relatively small budget.
“I grew up on British movies, and through them, on British culture. But I am still an outsider there. In this case, it was important to get a different perspective. I think that’s why I became obsessed with the story of Alan Turing. It’s impossible not to be angry about the injustices he suffered.”
He adds, with a laugh, “He was also a person with some strange character traits, and we Scandinavians don’t like people to be perfect.”
Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Alan Turing in the film agrees.
“It’s easy for an Englishman to become caught up in nostalgia when depicting the period around the Second World War. That doesn’t happen to someone who comes to it from the outside,” he says.
At the time of writing, Tyldum’s next movie will be the space saga Passengers with Jennifer Lawrence, and two episodes of the TV series Counterpart. There is talk of a movie version of William Gibson’s novel, Pattern Recognition. These days, he is able to pick and choose his projects.
“Getting an Oscar nomination for Best Director has had a huge impact on my career, but also on me as a person. The people who nominated me are my colleagues, other directors, and that is an amazing feeling.”
Text: Gunnar Rehlin
Published: May 20, 2017