Interview – Jasper Pääkkönen

One of the world’s most northern and geographically remote countries, Finland is an extremely compelling place. Known for saunas, reindeers, and Santa Claus, Finland also has a very rich artistic culture. From music to film, Finland has a deep well of entertainment that deserves attention. Speaking of which, Finnish Actor Jasper Pääkkönen is one of those that has broken through to international audiences. 

Making a huge impression with his role as Halfdan the Black in the popular series Vikings, he has also had roles in big films such as Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman (2018). Continuing along his journey, Pääkkönen recently took a role in the new Finnish film Attack on Finland. Based on the popular Finnish novel 6/12Attack on Finland puts Pääkkönen in one of the most unique roles of his career. Always looking to challenge himself, the actor took the time to talk about Attack on Finland, his career, Vikings, plus a bunch more.   

Cryptic Rock You have been acting professionally for some time. You have been involved in projects that have been successful in your homeland of Finland, but also internationally successful, such as Vikings. Tell us, how would you describe your career to this point? 

Jasper Pääkkönen – I started acting full-time professionally when I was eighteen and it just never stopped from there. I was still in high school in Finland because I did one year of high school in the USA in Baltimore as an exchange student; so, my graduation was delayed by a year. One project led to another and another, and all of a sudden, I’m forty-one years old and I’m still on that same path. 

The traditional way in Finland would be for actors to get trained in the acting university; that is pretty much the only way to become an actor in Finland. Since I started so young, I always had another project leading into another one. Eventually something in Finland led to an international project like Vikings, then I got to work with Spike Lee in a couple of movies. It’s been an accumulation of different coincidences with how my career has been.

Cryptic Rock – Very interesting. You have kept things diverse as well. As you stated, you have worked on Vikings, but also have worked with Spike Lee. Do you enjoy the diversity to play different roles?

Jasper Pääkkönen – For some really weird, crazy reason I often get casted as the bad guy. I don’t consider myself looking like a bad guy. (Laughs) It is not in my character to be bad, but it’s incredible for an actor to get to play the villain and bad guy. For me as an actor it is so much more compelling, interesting, and fun to dig into the dark side of human light. That is especially the case in a project like BlacKkKlansman (2018); I was able to work with a legendary film director and human right activist like Spike Lee. It was so much more than a film; it was a political statement. I also got to play the villain of that story and it was a dream come true for an actor; especially an actor from all the way up north from a little country called Finland and Spike Lee casts you as this American bad Ku Klux Klan member. It was a very cool experience.

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Cryptic Rock – That sounds like it was very exciting. With Vikings your character was a villain, but also not really so in the end. One could imagine Vikings was a great experience. A very successful series, your character was also very compelling. What was it like working on Vikings?

Jasper Pääkkönen – Me and Peter Franzén, my fellow Finnish countryman, who plays my brother in Vikings, were casted together.  We were casted after the Creator Michael Hirst saw this Finnish film called Heart of a Lion (2013) which is about Neo-Nazis. Michael saw the film and said, “I want these two guys who play brothers to play brothers in Vikings as well.” 

It’s great because I’ve played brothers with Peter a bunch of times before. We don’t look anything like brothers, but Vikings was the third or fourth project where we played brothers. The first film I ever made; I played brothers with Peter… that is how far back we go. We even have a tattoo that says brothers in old Norse which was something we had tattooed on our arms on the last day of my shooting of Vikings. After we had played brothers so many times, we thought it was appropriate to have something to commemorate this journey we have been on together.

To answer your question, Vikings was a very fun project to work on. It’s not often you get to dress up, play Vikings, hit people with swords, and get paid to do that as well. We had an amazing cast and we truly were a family. That is not something you can always say about fellow cast members, but with Vikings we really became an incredibly tight knit group of friends. I talk to many of my cast members from Vikings all the time; they come to visit me in Finland and I go visit them abroad. It was an incredible project to work on for that reason as well.

Cryptic Rock It was a fun ride as a viewer too. You now have this new film Attack on Finland where the international audience can see you in a different light. In this film your character is clearly not the bad guy. How did this project come about for you?

Jasper Pääkkönen – This is one of the first times I’m hearing someone say the English title out loud; it’s called Omerta 6/12 in Finland. It is based on the bestselling novel in the last thirty years in Finland called 6/12 (2006). It is a novel pretty much everyone in Finland has read. It was great to have that material to work with and bring a story like that to the big screen. 

The production wasn’t completely problem free though; the original director was moved aside and a new director came in mid-shoot. Most of the script was re-written while we were shooting the film too. It wasn’t the easiest production to work on, but hey, we survived. (Laughs)

Cryptic Rock It sounds like a lot was going on, much like within the story itself. There is a lot of action in this film. There are some really extensive combat scenes as well. What was that like?

Jasper Pääkkönen – We worked with special forces in Finland for training in gun handling and close-quarters battle. That was something I had never done before and it was incredibly challenging at first, but we had a proper boot camp for us to look credible with the tools that they use. 

Toward the end of the film there is that winter sequence in Belarus which was close to – 20° Fahrenheit; it was cold! We had to run in the snow and wait in the ice-cold water. Of course, I had a dry suit under my gear, and it was a challenge at times, but very fun. I worked with Aku Louhimies a few times before, and in my opinion, one of the best films I had ever done in Finland was directed by him. It was shot back in 2005… so we go way back.

Cryptic Rock – Wow, it sounds like this was a very intense experience. The film’s plot takes place in various locations, so where did you primarily film?

Jasper Pääkkönen – We primarily shot all around Estonia. The only scene we shot in Finland was in Helsinki for the car chase scene through downtown. Everything else is shot in different parts of Estonia.

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Cryptic Rock That is interesting to hear. Going back around two decades ago, Estonia looked very different.

Jasper Pääkkönen – Yes, Estonia is blooming; it’s incredible how much it has changed in the last fifteen years. I’ve done my fair share of traveling to Estonia because it is so close; take a ferry, and it’s easy to go for a night. You would not recognize Tallinn as the same place from fifteen years ago. It’s super modern, incredibly advanced, and their society is surely one of the most advanced in Europe in terms of technology. It is incredibly interesting to see after their history (being a part of the Soviet Union) and only gaining their independence a few decades ago. It is inspiring to see how they have built from ruins and built their country into this well-functioning advanced system and society. 

Cryptic Rock Yes, Estonia looked completely different twenty years ago. Attack on Finland touches on a lot of currently heightened issues due to the ongoing war with Russia and Ukraine. That in mind, when was Attack on Finland shot?

Jasper Pääkkönen – It was shot about a year and a half ago. Right now, you look at the film and you watch it in a very different light because of what is happening in Ukraine. I’m sure many people who see the film now think it was just recently made to react to what is happening in the Ukraine and capitalize on that in a story which is brought to the big screen. 

In Finland, we’ve always been aware of the threat from Russia. Ever since the second world war Finland has been preparing for a potential invasion from Russia. We have always had that understanding in the back of our minds that one day Russia might try to do it again; as they did in the second world war. When it comes to political Thrillers/books/stories, the threat comes from the east. It’s obvious for Finland geographically that our threats always come from the east. We’ve been aware that something like this may happen – Russia is unstable and not to be trusted when it comes to respecting their neighbors. That understanding and realistic threat is what this story is based on; the novel was written in the mid-2000s. We’ve always known things like what is going on in the Ukraine is a true reality and realistic scenario unfortunately. 

Cryptic Rock Yes, and a film like this shows other parts of the world, particularly North America, that these things do not just happen overnight. As you mentioned, these are things that have been ongoing for a long time.

Jasper Pääkkönen – Yes, the sad reality is Russia has this romantic idea of this historical, great Russia which comprises all the territories they’ve lost in the past. Finland is one of those territories; Finland used to be part of Russia a little over a hundred years ago before we gained our independence from them. In some people’s minds in Russia, Finland and all the other territories they once had, should still be a part of Russia. 

If you have been to Finland, you will know the language and culture is completely different from Russia. Despite being so close to Russia, and despite having been ruled by Russians, Finland has always had its own very distinct culture, language, and way of life. Finland is distinctly Nordic. Getting back to my point, yes, we are very well aware that there is a threat and it is on the other side of our eastern border.

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Cryptic Rock It is something to really think about. Let us hope that peace and diplomacy finds its way without more war and conflict. Last question for you. You being an actor from Finland, we do not see many actors or actresses on the international stage in the mainstream. That in mind, Finland has a very rich artistic scene, particularly within music. There are a lot of great Finnish Metal and Rock bands. How did Finland become this mecca for Rock and Metal?

Jasper Pääkkönen – There are more Heavy Metal bands in Finland per capita than any other country in the world. Heavy Metal resonates with the Finnish mindset and mentality. You have to be a little crazy and very tough to survive on those latitudes. Finland is so far up north; Helsinki is about the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska… and all the rest of Finland is above that to the north. Just the climate and light conditions – you have a lack of light in the winter, or twenty-four-hour light in the summer. That creates a certain mental resilience, toughness, and a little bit of a crazy character as well. I think Heavy Metal just resonates with that mindset and culture, and that is why Finland is so big with that scene. 

Also, a lot of the Death Metal artists are classically trained musicians. You have some traditional bands which were started in garage stories as well, but you have a lot of artists who have gone through classically training, but then they will play in a Heavy Metal band. 

Cryptic Rock – Yes, Heavy Metal is accepted in Finland like Pop music in America.

Jasper Pääkkönen – Oh yes. There is nothing underground about Heavy Metal here. I wouldn’t be surprised if Finland’s president, at the age of seventy-four, puts on Heavy Metal every now and then. We have Christmas albums which are Heavy Metal covers by the best Heavy Metal artists in Finland; they feature religious Christmas songs too, and it sounds awesome.

For more on Jasper Pääkkönen: Twitter | Instagram 

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