Ulrich Thomsen – Counterpart
By: Jamie Steinberg
Q) What are the recent projects that you are working on?
A) “Counterpart” was the last show I worked on.
Q) Tell us about the film you have written, produced and directed on your own.
A) It was shot in New Mexico. There is a working title that I’m probably going to keep, which is Willenberger or Welcome to Gutterbee. Gutterbee is this make believe American small town. The film is a political satire, mainly about identity, and the American Dream. The world today is suffering from lack of identity, in my opinion at least. A lot has changed since the 60’s, when I grew up, and we pretty much forgot to think about the future. The way the western world has been conducting itself in terms of consumerism has lead us straight into a cultural dead end, where the likes of Donald Trump always is waiting to put us back on track, and make things great again. [laughs] What he stands for…that kind of simplified view of the world where we need to isolate ourselves, find a scapegoat and keep doing what we’re doing. It’s happening here in Europe as well. These guys with their easy solutions pop up proclaiming it’s everyone else’s fault. The fact of the matter is, I guess, we have become too many people in the world today, compared to the 60’s. The distribution of wealth and the denial of the fact that we’re all living on this planet has put us in a global crises. Our way of living has simply destroyed the planet. Global warming, agriculture and so on. We need to think in terms of a total paradigm shift in terms of how we look at each other and how we interact. Hence our identity problems. Serious issues and hard to boil down to a simple comment in an interview like this. In any way the movie is a comedy still. In the town of Gutterbee there is a German sausage that has been introduced, and it’s just too foreign and strange – even though there is nothing more American than a German sausage. Things go very wrong from that point on.
Q) Are any of your friends from past projects working on it?
A) Antony Starr, who played the lead in the show “Banshee”, plays the lead in this one. We’ve been hanging out since then and I thought it was a great part for him. I tried getting Matt Servitto for a part as well, but he was busy doing other things. I have Ewen Bremner who most people know from Trainspotting. W Earl Brown. Joshua Harto. Chance Kelly. Clark Middleton. Gareth Williams. I have a great DP, Anthony Dod Mantle, who won an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire. So, all in all, some very competent people.
Q) We’re seeing you now on “Counterpart.” Was there something that made you want to be a part of the series?
A) I read the pilot and thought it was really good, the two worlds and all that. It’s also a subject matter that I like, two worlds that are identical, but with a few Seems pretty current, no? Who are we? Who is the real you, in these worlds. It goes well with my own movie’s plot line. What’s the German sausage? Should we fear it. Should it be extinguished [laughs] I watched the first episode of Counterpart again. I really liked it. I think it will be a great, thrill-ride for people.
Q) Does that mean Aldrich has an other?
A) Everyone has his/her own counterpart, or their other. I can’t reveal too much about what is going to happen, obviously. But these two worlds are identical so everyone has a counterpart – though not everyone gets to meet their other, as it’s pointed out in the first episode.
Q) Did you do anything in particular to prepare for this series?
A) For me, it is hard to really prepare for something like sci-fi. Parallel worlds and spies – all of that. Obviously, you can relate better to a job that needs to be done or something like that, so that has been my approach. The fiction world was explained very well by the writers who made a “bible.” They also gave me a book about a similar character – a real guy who was a real spy. The book is called Man Without A Face by Markus Wolf. I think what the writers do in order to prepare, is different from that of the actor. I only really relate to the scenes, and should be able to understand the story and the character from that. And so should the audience. The creators I’m sure are able to explain what’s beyond and between the scenes. But of course various stories require various preparation. I do like to also just use my Make something up. Something funny comes out of that sometimes. Not everything has to be so grounded in research.
Q) Were you familiar with your co-stars before you started on the series?
A) Obviously I was familiar with J.K. Simmons. I’ve been a fan for a long time. I’ve seen some work from most of the lead cast, but no personal acquaintance.
Q) Was there someone in particular that you were looking forward to having a scene with?
A) Sure. J.K. He’s a great actor. Everybody really. It’s a great It’s always nice to be surrounded by good people. Directors and writers, too. I was just looking forward to getting started, to be honest.
Q) What did you find challenging about this role?
A) He doesn’t say much. He listens. So, it’s that silent character where you feel that there is more going on, on the inside, than on the outside. It’s fun. It’s always fun to do. I like simplicity – and also the complexity is in the simplicity. We’ll get to know the guy a little more as time goes on. Acting is challenging in the first place, it’s just that sometimes it is easier if you have speeches and lines where you talk about yourself and your opinions, so that people get to know the character via the things he says or does.
Q) You frequently take on dramatic roles. Is there something about this genre that draws you to it?
A) I like comedy a lot, actually. I did a lot of comedy theatre back in the day and I’ve done some comedies in Denmark. For me personally, it’s easier to be funny than serious. Having said that, it’s way more difficult doing comedy because everything has to be so precise. The timing is so essential. With drama you can sit by a lake with the wind blowing for five minutes with a voice over and a sincere face. That kind of style is of course acting, too – but the sound, the music and the whole atmosphere is acting it for you, pretty much. With comedy, there has to be a set up and punchline – even if it is verbal or physical. It’s tricky to get right, and If one of those components fail…the comedy suffers. But I like drama. Of course I do. It has its own challenges.
Q) What do you think it is about “Counterpart” that will make it a fast fan favorite series?
A) I think the story concept is interesting. I always liked the spy genre, personally. Who is who, and so on? It’s a well proven genre. A thriller and a bad guy – and girl. Counterpart has it all!
Q) Is there anything else you want us to share about your time working on “Counterpart?”
A) The thing about TV shows, you can ease off with the exposition because you have all these episodes to get around the characters. If it was a movie, the character would probably be a bit more to the point from the very beginning because you only have a couple of hours.
Q) It was such a pleasure to see you working on the show “” What did you take away from working on the show?
A lot of friendships, for sure. It was my first time doing a television show for that extended period of time. It’s funny with the characters… When you sign on to a job you have maybe only read three or four episodes so you are only drawn to the initial presentation for that character and storyline. Then, you get the other scripts as you go along. It’s like bungee jumping without the rope. There is that “oh, now he does that” feeling. Didn’t see that coming. It is quite interesting that way because you’re following this character around, trying to make sense of it. It was definitely a different way of working – having come from theatre and movies and the shorter story and timespan. Essentially it is the same, but just prolonged. Then there’s the fact that you’re away from home. Every job gives you some sort of experience, in terms of your craft. For television, you’re shooting an episode in like a week or a little more. So, it’s fast. You have to be on your marks and be prepared. It sounds wrong to say “you have to be prepared” because you always have to be prepared, but with episodical TV it’s a lot of work condensed into a week. I do quite like it that way. I don’t particularly like movies where you have to sit around for a whole day waiting for the set to be lit. I remember I did a Ridley Scott movie Kingdom of Heaven and though it was a fantastic experience, because you get to work with Ridley, obviously, and see that huge set up, I also sat around for weeks. I got up in the morning, got dressed and waited to get on a horse. I never got on that horse. I sat around the set all day until they told me to just stay at the hotel. Then, I sat around by the pool for some time. [laughs] I’m not complaining, but just saying with movies there’s usually a lot of waiting. It is also a part of the training – to all of a sudden be on and concentrated. Whereas with TV you are sort of in the character and working all the time. I do like things that go fast. I think you can overthink things sometimes. The flip side is of course that it becomes too fast and you don’t have the time to do it right. It’s a balance. But “Banshee” was fun to do, for sure. I miss the cast. We had good fun.
Q) You mentioned that you have recently directed your own film. Is there someone that inspired you to take on this new role?
A) I’ve seen a lot of movies and worked with a lot of great directors. However there is not one particular director, that I tried to be like. I think it’s something I wanted to do having worked as an actor for so many years. At one point (I did at least) thought it could be fun to do the whole thing yourself from the very beginning. When you rehearse, particularly for a lead part in a movie, you kind of direct the entire movie in your head anyway. I thought I might as well have a go at it.. I don’t know, I don’t have a good answer for that. It’s something that grew on me. I wanted to create and entire piece from the very beginning and it’s obviously very difficult. So easy, in comparison, to “just” being an actor who shows up and everything is produced and financed and worked on. Show up, say your lines and go home. [laughs] When you write a movie, produce it, finance it – that’s years. Then, you have that small window of like a month of shooting to get everything right, knowing that there are so many things that can go wrong, and most of them will. You definitely become a better actor having directed. Sometimes as an actor you say, “I want to do this, I want to do that. I’ll do it my way.” Starting with that in mind, as a director you become a little more self-aware – in a good way – about you being a part of a movie, and that everything has to click. You as the actor is not the essential bit. Sorry to say it. That would be the editing, I would say. Of course every part is essential, but the actor is only maybe half. Not saying that an actor can’t also improve the pice. Sure. A project always shifts. It’s interesting that way. They say there are three stages of screen writing: write it, shooting it and edit it. It always ends up somewhere slightly different, in particular if you are doing smaller budget films where you don’t have the time or money to i.e build everything that you envisioned. Preparation is key. Find actors you like and trust can improve the story. Goes for your photographer, too. Then you can go with the flow and be curious. Otherwise it will go to hell. And keep it simple.
Q) What would you like to say to everyone who is a fan and supporter of you and your work?
A) Watch “Counterpart” to begin with. It’s being aired now. Look out for my movie at the end of 2018. I think it will be fun. I’m definitely happy that I have fans because they’re the audience. Those are the ones that make movies a “business.” And I can make living that way. I’m just trying to do good work and interesting work. I hope they’ll enjoy it in the years to come.