WEEKEND: Pekka Strang On Stage & Screen

Tom of Finland, TV remakes, famous Finns and equality in the industry.

File photo of Finnish actor Pekka Strang / Credit: IMDB

The headlines this year have all been about the Tom of Finland movie. So bring us up to date, what are you working on now?

Right now I’m in rehearsals for Don’t Dress for Dinner [Äla Pukeudu Päivälliselle] which opens at the Helsinki City Theatre in February. And I’m currently in Onnela on C More. It’s a remake of a hugely popular Swedish comedy, Solsidan, and we shot it in the summer. I read a critique that said the original one was better and I of course agree. But you shouldn’t compare two original shows to each other, the only thing we got was the script. The actors bring something to it, the director and shots and everything. We do it scene by scene. Like if you compare two Shakespeare productions. The same text, different actors.

It’s a remake. Like The Office or House of Cards. The actors bring their own thing to it, and some people prefer some versions. There’s different audiences. Our remake is more for the audience who hasn’t seen the original one, so they have nothing to compare it to.

The series reflects a higher income neighbourhood, and you don’t have to think of everyday problems, how to get bread on the table. You think about who changed more diapers, and that becomes the essence of life. That’s the brilliance of it. It reflects the bourgeoisie of today. The upper middle class. My character is a big boss in a big company. It was huge in Sweden, the scripts are good, the scenes are good so it was really fun to play it.

Tom of Finland was released already back in February, but you’re still doing publicity for it at festivals internationally. Are you surprised by the shelf life of this film? 

I just got home from Kilkenny, the Spotlight Film Festival, and of course I was there because of Tom, and I just enjoy the ride. I decided I’m going to take every advantage I can from this adventure. I didn’t know how big it will be, just one step at a time. Before starting to shoot, I decided for myself to enjoy every day shooting, and I decided to enjoy every day promoting it and sometimes those things pay back. It’s easier to promote a movie that you are really proud of. The story of Tom that we got out, the oppression we had against homosexuals in Finland, and the history of that too, that makes it so much easier to travel the world and promote it, because it’s an important movie not only for the ones who did it, but we received a lot of thanks from people around the world for what it represents.

Tom of Finland is Finland’s official entry to the Academy Awards. You could win an Oscar! Excited much? 

I’m such a beginner to these international circuits, I didn’t even consider it! I was surprised when it got submitted. I never did a movie that got submitted so it was a bit surprising and it’s quite an honor, and so nice that Finland as a nation gets to submit a movie about a gay war hero! That hasn’t been too common here to tell the story of a decorated officer who was also gay, but whose works became a revolution around the word. It’s nice especially this year, Suomi 100. I’ve been in three movies that are an official part of Suomi 100. I was in Unknown Soldier, I was there for one day but they cut me, but still I’m in it. Then the film about the hockey World Championships, 95. I think I’m the only actor in all these three movies.

How come we don’t see almost any Finnish actors in Hollywood or big blockbuster TV shows the way we see Danes and Swedes? For example Stellan and Alexander Skarsgård. Academy Award winner Alicia Vikander. Sidse Babbet Knudsen in Westworld. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Pilou Asbæk from Game of Thrones. Sure, there’s Jasper Pääkkönen in Vikings, but there’s not a lot of current visibility for Finns internationally. Why is that? 

You have to look at the industry. We’re really small and the interest from Hollywood, well, they haven’t opened their arms. Before now we only had Dome Karukoski. We only had Rene Harlin who made it in Hollywood. You need more than one international movie per year. But I think it’s happening right now. In Cannes The Happiest Day In The Life Of Olli Mäki won an award. Dome is now doing a biopic of Tolkien. Jasper Pääkkönen is now working with Spike Lee. Things are happening, but it takes a while. Swedes have been out there for ages. Danes have such a good film industry. We don’t see too many Estonians out there either. We must be realistic. It takes work and it takes time. Let’s talk again in ten years because there are really great actors from here getting their faces out there.

The movie and television industry has been rocked recently by the Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey scandals. What’s the situation like here in Finland – is there a different culture towards treating women in the industry?

We are no different than the rest of the world. This week I saw a discussion about things happening with the Swedish-speaking ‘Dammenbrister‘ hashtag, with six thousand women telling their stories. We’re such a small culture, the circles are so small, everyone is related work wise or cousins or brothers. The positive thing about what’s happening in the film industry is the discussions right now. It’s cleaning up the air and going to take away a few of those people stepping over the lines.

I saw a few days ago a movie opened up with Inari Niemi, who just decided to make more pictures with women because there aren’t many. [Oscar nominated] filmmaker Selma Vilhunen did really good with the film Little Wing. So I think women will take more places in the film industry, and all these movement are only for good.

The positive thing about the #meetoo campaign is that it opens up questions about equality and gender that hasn’t got here yet. In Scandinavia we’ve come a bit further, but I think we still have to sort of realise that equality isn’t a threat, it’s an opportunity, and it takes a while for that discussion to happen because the film industry is so small in Finland.