Icelandic Actor Ingvar Sigurdsson. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today
Ingvar Sigurdsson visited Helsinki to present the film A White, White Day, in which he plays the leading role, to Finnish moviegoers at HIFF Love and Anarchy. The film tells the story of off-duty policeman and recent widower Ingimundur, who discovers that his wife may have had an affair, and he tries to come to terms with it in his own way.
A White, White Day, directed by Hlynur Palmason, is in competition for this year’s Nordic Council Film Prize.
What drew you to this story and the character of Ingimundur?
It started when I was working with the director, Hlynur Palmason, as he was graduating from the Danish Film School. And he contacted me then, and I read the script for his short film, and I really liked it. That went really well and we liked each other so much that we decided to work on something very soon. He started writing the script for A White, White Day with me in mind. So I was in dialogue with him all the time while he was writing, sending me all kinds of stuff, the things he was watching and listening to. So it was built up so naturally, I didn’t read the script, then suddenly I saw some drafts.
A lot happens to your character, he goes through a lot of different emotions. What part of Ingimundur did you find most challenging to portray?
I’m not sure. Because it had this slow build-up. So when we started shooting, I felt like I was ready for this mission, for this journey through the film. Possibly the last scene . . . but every scene is challenging there. After every day of shooting, I felt exhausted in many ways, both physically and mentally. But at the same time, after every day I felt that I was doing something really important, artistically. All of us, together.
Of course, sometimes when you’re filming, you feel like you’re doing something important. But this was kind of unusual; every day you had the feeling like you were putting another stone in, building the art.
A couple of scenes in the film seemed like they were physically demanding. Were these difficult to do?
Well, they were rehearsed. In the police station, where three of us are fighting, it was choreographed with a stunt coordinator.
It looked quite realistic; like how a real fight might look.
Yes, we aimed for that. To make it clumsy [laughter].
And the scene at the psychologist, where I mess up the whole room, it was done in one shot. We didn’t have to do it again.
Your young co-star, who plays your grand-daughter, also does a wonderful job. How was it working alongside a child actor; do you get to be a sort of mentor and guide at times?
Possibly once in a while. But it was easy, so easy. She’s a professional. For me, she’s an angel from heaven, a miracle. We met just three weeks before shooting, and it was like we always knew each other. And we are really good friends today.
The scene towards the end, where the two of you walk through a tunnel, was especially memorable. What was it like shooting it?
It was difficult physically, but it was playful as well. I remember at that time, she got annoyed in between takes. She said, ‘I hate my job, I’m never going to be an actress.’ But when the camera was on, she was always all-in with me. So it was fun. And every scene with her was fun. Because even though it’s difficult it’s playful as well.
And she was so wonderful because she knew she was doing an important job. So that’s the thing about her; even as a child she has this sense of an adult, that she’s responsible for something. Amazing.
That scene feels like it’s ‘playful but difficult’ for your character as well. Since he’s actually releasing anger, but he’s doing it in a playful manner to put his granddaughter at ease, right?
Yeah, I think at that point he’s going over the anger. In some way, he was punishing himself by going on this mission because of his wife’s past. And so he went through some barriers, and that scene is where he has his catharsis. This screaming together in the tunnel is a relief, a cleansing.
I’ve never been to Iceland. Would you say this film more or less faithfully represents what life is like in a small Icelandic town?
Well, I think it’s like everywhere. You could see it in a small town in Finland. Things are more loose and easier. For example, he’s a policeman off duty, but he’s always visiting the guy at the station. And everybody knows everyone. So I don’t think it’s typically Icelandic, necessarily, it’s more like an international human thing.
What is the story behind the title and the opening quote?
The director found the quotation in a novel. When the land and the sky are both white and you can’t see the horizon because everything is white, that’s when you can speak to dead people. So the white, white day is in the sense that Ingimundur is kind of having a conversation with his dead wife.
Since I moved to Finland, I’ve become intrigued by how the weather and the seasons can affect people’s moods and behavior. I imagine this must be all the more true in your part of the world. Does it have any bearing on your character’s moods, too, perhaps?
Well, even though I was born and grew up in Iceland- sure you feel different in the darkness or the bright summer nights- but it doesn’t affect me as much as, for example, my wife. She doesn’t get depressed necessarily, but you know how a lot of people have to sleep with the blindfolds in the summer, and they hate the winter dark? But I find it nice and cozy when it’s almost dark the whole 24 hours.
What’s your next project?
I just finished a film called The Lamb. I have a very small character there, just two days of shooting; I finished that before I came here. Now I’m just traveling with the film, introducing it here and there at festivals. And then I’ll possibly be working in theatre, the National Theatre in Iceland. There are also some film and TV projects that will happen sometime in future. Also, you never know, because I often audition for more international projects as well, and that can happen so quickly, so you never know.
Do you prefer theater or film?
I’ve been doing theatre ever since I started, since 1990. Theatre taught me everything; it taught me how to be a film actor actually. So it’s a really good education. And you get to do so many different characters on so many different stages all over. So I love theatre, but film and TV is taking over slowly.
‘A White, White Day screens at HIFF Love and Anarchy on September 29.