The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared is out to buy on DVD and Blu-ray now. To celebrate, here’s an interview with the films director Felix Herngren.
Herngren is no stranger to film and TV having been well established in Scandinavia. Here he discusses his career, adapting the famous novel and the techniques adopted, especially in the special effects department, to make The Hundred-Year-Old Man so convincing onscreen.
You are already very well established in Scandinavia but for those unfamiliar with your work, please talk us through your career.
I have been working in the film industry for about 25 years mostly as an actor, comedian and a screen writer. This is my third feature film but it is actually the first one that I have directed on my own – the other two have been co-directed with other people. Other than feature films I have been working mostly with television and advertising and right now I am working with Solsidan, a Swedish sit-com that has been broadcast all over Scandinavia and that has worked very well in all markets. Its very fun and right now we are doing season five.
My production company is right now producing a comedy series with Amy Poehler for NBC in America and one of my previous comedy series – Ulveson & Herngren – is being re-made as The Comedians with Billy Crystal. So there are a lot of international stuff going on right now which is great fun. Especially when you work with comedy that can be such a a local thing – but here it seems to be working outside of Sweden as well.
Recently there have been several successful films coming from Sweden – like the Millennium Trilogy for example – and now it seems to be the turn of Swedish comedy. How would you describe the Scandinavian touch when it comes to comedy?
Well I think in Sweden humour has a bit more of a naturalistic tone but with a dark twist. When I was working with the foreign actors in The Hundred Year Old Man I told them that they had to act as if it was a drama and not a comedy because often when it comes to comedy everything feels exaggerated and over acted – like the actors need to show how funny they are. I believe that comedy becomes stronger if it is more natural since then you can relate more to it when it is the situations that are funny – not how the lines are delivered. That’s my way of doing comedy and also the Swedish style of doing it.
Do you think the film would have been different if it had been done by another director?
Definitely, I mean the film-maker is the one who makes the choices of what to include and what to remove from the film. In comedies especially it is the tone of the humour that makes it funny or not. This is how I tell the story of The Hundred Year Old Man and I guess it would have been very different if anyone else would have done it.
What responsibilities do you have when adapting such a successful and beloved novel?
I think I have a responsibility to make a good film. That is my main responsibility because a book is a book and a film is a film and you can never just shoot a book in its entirety. But you need to keep the essence and the spirit of the story but instead of text you have images and people and sound to work with and to make a successful film you have to make some tough decisions of what to keep and what to leave out. But that is also the fun part of making a film based on a book. That you have a good story to choose from, but you can never forget that films are a totally different medium from books.
The film takes place in locations all over the world. Can you tell us a little about the production?
We shot some parts in Sweden in Trollhättan – or Trollywood as we like to say in Sweden – and then we shot some parts in Budapest in Hungary. That was a great city to shoot in because they have great environments and very skilled film workers. There we shot a lot of scenes which takes place in Russia, Paris and America. We also went to Thailand and shot some scenes that supposedly takes place in Bali. We shot for about a year and we started with the flashbacks of Allan’s life which was quite good because Robert Gustafsson, who plays Allan, could really live through his life before we shot the story in present time. It was also good for me as a director to shoot the story in the right order and start at the beginning of the twentieth century and work forward. That was great.
Photo Credit: Marcus Kurn
You also used a lot of special effects in the film. Can you tell us about that?
I really love to shoot films on location but we had some special effects. We blew up some bridges which was like a boyhood dream come true. There are a lot of explosions in the film. I had great fun with that. One of the main worries I had in the beginning was making the Hundred Year Old Man believable. I wanted Robert to do Allan from the age of 25 up to 100 and so we had to use an actor of about 50-years-old to make him work during the whole life span. We did some early trials with the ageing mask and I was so happy to see that they were actually able to make it believable.
The first time they applied the mask it took 7,5 hours but then they worked it down to five hours. Some days they started to apply the mask in the middle of the night but 8 a.m. in the morning he was there, Allan Karlsson. It was really worth the effort, especially for me since I could lie in my bed and sleep at 3 a.m. in the morning.
What do you think it is about this story that make it so universally popular, not only in Sweden, but all over the world?
I think in the west we tend to believe that the last part of our lives when we retire we will have saved up a lot of money and be able to live nice and play golf but the truth is that most of us end up alone at a home for the elderly where we just rot ourselves into death. Deep down we know this and therefore it is nice for us to see a film where a 100-year-old guy on his birthday party just walks out of the window because he is curious and he wants to experience more in life. He is not the guy who plans things or worries about the future or worries about the past. He just lives every day like it is the last one in a very relaxed way. You feel like you want to be Allan. It is a life that suits us better than the western one where we strive for material possessions that we never enjoy anyway since we end up alone at the old folks home.
It is also a fun story where we get to see the last 100 years of history passing before us in a fun way which gives us a perspective of what mankind has accomplished in the last hundred years. We have had fantastic technological developments. It is also a great adventure where you see that small random things can change history, even if it is not done by Allan in real life, history is always changed by small random things.
The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared is available on DVD, Blu-Ray, VOD & EST now.