Exclusive: Interview With Zlatan-Director Jens Sjögren

Jens Sjögren and David Lagercrantz

Courtesy of Andreas Godwin/Nordisk Film

Director Jens Sjögren has adapted David Lagercrantz’s biography  I Am Zlatan of Swedish football player Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s with the same name. This interview is in its fullest form and a shortened version in the video interview on youtube. Swedish premiere March 18.

How was the premiere of the film in Italy?

Jens: Yes, exactly. The film premiered at the Italian Film Festival and then it went up in November, in mid-November. And it first went up there in the world because we had to move our premiere and it was a very nice reception. This is a movie that everyone will have different and that’s what’s so great about it. But I think there have been 130,000 who saw it just the first weekend, so that’s huge numbers for being a cinema, as long as it goes to the cinema. Very mixed voices. Some people think so and so. Someone thinks it’s amazing and someone is more amazed and so on. But overall, it feels like it’s been very positive, so it’s super fun.

As a director, how did you get involved in this project?

Jens: So, I got involved as then a director in 2019 and got to read the script then for the first time. Because I was pretty confused by the request. And I think everyone else who got the request is a little scared. A film about Zlatan. An active football player. Sweden’s most famous Swede of all time. A film about Zlatan. An active football player. Sweden’s most famous Swede of all time.     And I was also like that, that if I’m going to tell you that, I’d like it to be pragmatic, that this is his perspective. We get to experience the story, so I opted out of some pieces where adults talk in his head. I thought the most interesting thing was that what he knows about and what he feels and what he experiences, we get to experience that. But what he finds confusing that’s a little scary or something like this, why do you and so on? And don’t really get the answer to that, then we won’t get it either, and then I kind of thought it’s maybe time to try to be a little brave and jump on it but then also must see it as a filmmaker, to be part of doing this. An adult matinee. A coming-of-age story in this way, which is based on a real person’s life. There are very few times that I think you will get that opportunity, so I felt that this is too exciting and too scary to say no to.

How has the Covid pandemic affected your work?

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Jens: Yes, so we have filmed during the pandemic. Completely kept both pre-production and the cutting and finishing work. And now, too, the premiere became so that… I don’t think you should perhaps not talk about it being difficult considering how much care wears and so on, but it has left its mark on the production.  And we should have filmed… It’s a frame story, which would have taken place in Amsterdam when Zlatan plays at Ajax and toils down there. It had to be postponed for six months because of the strict restrictions, so we cut the film without those parts for quite some time. And now in retrospect… I can feel that maybe it was… a little positive in a way because we had time to think, redo and change, and so on. But I think we were lucky. We didn’t have any illnesses until the last week of our production like that. But it has always been there as a threat and has always reminded us how to behave with each other and so on. But I think the big demand was just the premiere and just that we didn’t come to Amsterdam and film. In Amsterdam, we also had to film under quite strict restrictions… We haven’t had as many extras as we’ve wanted and so on, so that… Yes, but it certainly affects. It really does.

Courtesy of Carolina Romare/ Nordisk Film

Were there any challenges during the filming and if so, what?

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Jens: One of the major challenges besides the pandemic and finding two Zlatan, one young and one older. That was the big crunch question. Zlatan said to me this way too, in a joking way: How the hell are you going to find someone like me? And I just, it’s not a joke. That’s the way it is. It is deeply problematic. But I think we’ve found amazing characters that really animate the film in such a damn nice way. Other than that, football was the biggest challenge. How do you illustrate and portray football without it feeling ridiculous, comical, silly, and so on?  And there I also thought that my choice to follow his perspective all the time and his look at it, it meant that we had to be out on the pitch. Which was that we were half on our way to killing people with the camera and running people over and so on. Also, get it, combined. It was challenging. But I think it has become an important and strong part which I think you don’t see it as a football movie which it is not. But I feel like the football that’s in the movie always illustrates some feeling in him. A resignation or joy or confusion or sadness and so on.  But to film it that way. I understand that it has not really been done before. It got very complicated.

What was the funniest memory from the filming?

Jens: The funniest thing about this recording is all the amazing amateur actors who have blossomed and have done as well as an absolutely amazing job. I mean, without them, I wouldn’t have been able to point the camera at anything. And I really have to say that those moments when you notice that the scenes are emerging and becoming something. People who have never been on a film set before. It’s incredible happiness as a director. And then there’s me- Usually, I might tell you things maybe in a smaller context and I’m very interested in the development of characters and blah, blah, blah. And I love this little clever sense of humor that exists in people, people who struggle but who make mistakes. And then do some bombastic stuff, like in Amsterdam in the arena and stuff like that.

What tips do you have for aspiring filmmakers and actors who are new to the industry?

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Jens: I’m a chef from the beginning, so for me, the model has been to work. Trying to get in as a production assistant or you know, assisting people who work and learning the profession by being on-site. So, these are different schools. But I don’t have an education. I’ve really assisted other directors. I have worked in many different parts, to try to learn to understand what it is. So, I would say trying to get in and work on filming locations. Getting internships on set locations is the best thing for making contacts. You need to make a contact and show me I’m here. I can work. I’m breaking my back for this. People in this business remember that. It can be a very good gateway.

 Are you planning any future projects that you can talk about?

Jens: I do have some future projects. But you never know. You’re never better than your previous project, so if it goes to shit with this, it’ll take a while to get a job again. As it is now anyway, I’m going to film The Pirate Bay, starting this fall. Then pre-production begins. A 5–6-hour series about that story and then I’ll write on a movie now that I’m going to present. So, it’s a bit of that. There are some things in development. A little bit is going on like that. It’s long- It takes a long time. When you say this, you who want to enter the industry, I think like this; Ugh, God is hard. It takes so much time. 80 percent of your project never happens. But The Pirate Bay is one such project, which seems to be coming to fruition. It’s an exciting story.

Link to the YouTube-video.

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