Snowman: The Women–Played by Rebecca Fergusson and Charlotte Gainsbourg

The Women of Harry’s Life: Ferguson and Gainsbourg

The central relationships in The Snowman are between Harry, who is still in love with Rakel Fauke, played by frequent Lars von Trier contributor Charlotte Gainsbourg, as well as his developing partnership with young cop Katrine Bratt, portrayed by Mission: Impossible series’ Rebecca Ferguson.

Harry is on the rebound, having split up with girlfriend Rakel but still holding a flame for her, and he meets a vibrant, gorgeous rookie at work.  “What’s interesting to us is that the relationship becomes not as one might predict,” explains Slovo.  “One might expect the triangle to go a certain way, but it doesn’t, and that’s an unexpected relationship within the film.  Rather, the story is precisely about the complexities and intricacies of this relationship and the two very different investigative styles.”

Like their male protagonist, both Rakel and Katrine are complex characters with a past that binds them to Harry, which in Katrine’s case reveals itself as the story progresses.  The film holds a number of secrets, and those secrets are carried predominantly by the relationship between Harry and Katrine.

The audiences is first introduced to Harry just after he returns from solving another case…and fresh off another bender.  “In the beginning, Harry comes back from a period when he’s been away at his cabin, treating his vulnerable soul from an old case,” says Gustafsson.  “When he comes back to Oslo, and to the police force, Katrine has just joined.  She has a hidden agenda to lure him into, and he’s attracted to her energy and enthusiasm.”

“Harry becomes fascinated by Katrine because she is so passionate about her work,” Alfredson continues.  “She is concentrated on cases she’s been studying—ones in which women have disappeared simultaneous to the snow falling.  Of course, it seems to be an odd coincidence and an odder theory.  But Harry becomes interested in what she has to say and drawn into her theory.  They uncover more about this serial killer who leaves a business card in the form of a snowman—one that is turned toward the victim’s house.”

The older cop and rookie are not only bound together by the plot, they also share certain traits, as Ferguson explains.  “Harry recognizes himself in her,” offers Slovo.  “When they meet for the first time there’s a definite connection between them, born out by the fact they are very similar.  They both struggle to interact with other people. I wouldn’t say she’s specifically outcast, but she definitely sticks to herself and has hidden agendas as a motivation.  She has a drive, a real will to work as a policewoman, and she believes in what she’s working toward.”

“Harry’s inspired by her,” agrees Fassbender.  “She’s a passionate police officer and he feels like there’s a lack of that in the police, where people are increasingly complacent.”

Their first meeting takes place in the police station’s smoking room; it is Katrine’s first day at Oslo’s busy police headquarters.  Katrine stares at him in surprise, recognizing him, but finding it hard to believe it’s the legendary Harry Hole.  Her disappointment is evident, and it seems the tone is set, but as the story progresses it becomes clear that their connection runs a lot deeper.

“What’s interesting about the relationship is that it’s quite unexpected,” explains Ferguson.  “If you imagine this idea of a man who is supposedly the best detective in Europe—and in comes this semi-drunk—it’s a confusion of emotions for her when she meets him.  She’s studied his cases.  He’s the one she’s putting her faith into, and she’s balancing this with her own agenda.  It’s a beautiful connection between them.  It is man/woman, father/daughter.  It balances all kinds of relations.”

When casting the performer, did her Scandinavian origins have any bearing?  In Ferguson, Alfredson found a kindred spirit in his fellow Swede.  He notes: “There’s a secret frequency that we share coming from the same region.  She understands what silences are, and how long silences should be.  It’s been wonderful to work with her, and I appreciate how incredibly protective she is of Katrine.  She brings 20 personalities to her expressions and is simply fantastic.”

Like Fassbender, Ferguson was eager to join an Alfredson production and made it quite clear how eager she was to play Katrine when they first met in Sweden.  Ferguson wanted the job the moment she got the call from her agent.  It didn’t take much to convince Alfredson.

“It’s funny when your agent calls and tells you ‘Tomas Alfredson is making a movie based on a Jo Nesbø book…and they’re looking for the female character opposite Michael Fassbender,” shares Ferguson.  “It’s like finding Willy Wonka’s golden ticket.  I love Jo, I admire Michael greatly and I’ve always wanted to work with Tomas.  He’s one of the top five directors for me.  I remember I had a meeting that day, which I cancelled immediately, and booked a ticket to Stockholm to meet Tomas.

“Sometimes we call people a ‘visual director’ or a ‘character director,’ continues Ferguson.  We love putting people in small boxes, but I can’t put Tomas in any box.  His attention to detail is impeccable, not just with the choices his characters make, but with the scenery.  For example, the angle of a broken twig is something that you wouldn’t even think about, but for Tomas there’s a golden measurement for that particular angle.  He will sit down and talk about the length of my fringe.  He wants it just long enough to be a bit annoying so people just want to brush it out of your face, but it can’t cover the eyes.  He’s extraordinary!”

What did Ferguson see in Fassbender’s interpretation?  “I can’t even see how anyone else can play Harry now,” she reflects.  “Michael finds the subtlety and makes him into this incredible detective with enormous vulnerability.  He balances emotions that are real.  There are so many layers to Michael’s acting, and we can interpret it however we wish.  He is absolutely phenomenal.”

A theme that runs throughout the book series is Harry’s complex relationship with Rakel.  He needs her and yet, at the point at which we are introduced to Harry in The Snowman, she has left him—unable to cope with the darkness that haunts him.  “Yet he really wants to be with Rakel as a soul-mate and as an equal,” offers Fassbender.

Charlotte Gainsbourg

For Rakel, they needed someone who would not only measure Harry in age, but could convincingly be that woman whose presence in Harry’s life would continue to haunt him.  “It’s challenging thing in the film industry and, in the way that we make stories today, it’s quite a hard ask to find an older woman who can pull off being the woman Harry’s never stopped loving,” explains Slovo.  “Charlotte Gainsbourg is such an ideal actor for that particular role.  She’s totally gorgeous and charismatic.  Why would you ever stop being in love with her?!”

The daughter of the English actress-singer Jane Birkin and French musician Serge Gainsbourg, the performer was born in London and raised in Paris, and it is these European roots that made her so right for Harry’s world.

“Charlotte’s very European and inhabits the role so easily,” reflects Slovo.  “She brings a gravitas, classiness and elegance to the project.  She’s a graceful actress and the triangle of her, Rebecca and Michael’s characters’ relationship works tremendously well.  There’s a lot of complexity between all three of them, and none of them are playing stock roles.”

To date, Gainsbourg has made 35 films—ranging from the high costume drama of Franco Zeffirelli’s Jane Eyre to the more recent and controversial Nymphomaniac with Von Trier.  She is one of cinema’s most enigmatic provocateurs.  Many of the women she has portrayed on screen have encountered violence before, be it either as victim or perpetrator.

Rakel is at once an incredibly strong and powerful figure, and yet she is clearly one of those women who is most taken in by the danger of the story.  She is like the moral center of the story.  “She’s not in the thriller, she’s in a not ordinary dilemma,” Gainsbourg says.  “She’s between two men; she has this wonderful relationship with Harry, something that lingers on and that’s what I like playing.  That’s what I was interested in.  The thriller aspect feels like it’s on my shoulder, but I never really touch it, until the end.”