Interview – Peter Franzén

Far north in the European region, sometimes people neglect to recognize Finland and their culture. Rather Unfortunate, the country is truly special, thanks to a unique culture, beautiful landscape, fantastic Rock/Metal music, and yes, movie production scene. Unbeknownst to many, Finland has a blossoming film and television industry where they create some very interesting, well-produced products. Additionally, the country has a list of talented actors/actresses, and one which is more internationally known is Mr. Peter Franzén. 
Making an impact with his role as King Harald Finehair on History Channel’s Vikings, Franzén has also starred in a long list of Finnish films, but also directed and written scripts. A veteran at this stage in the game, he recently took on a starring role in the Finnish series Helsinki Syndrome; available for viewing on Topic as of February 16, 2023.
A dramatic Thriller inspired by true events, it tells the story of an individual who tragically loses everything, not only because of a pandemic, but also because of irresponsible actions from the government and financial institutions decades earlier. Compelling television, Peter Franzén recently took the time to talk about Helsinki Syndrome, his time on Vikings, future plans, and more.

Cryptic Rock – You have been involved in film and television now for twenty plus years. Sustaining success over this time in various projects, how would you describe your journey to this point?

Peter Franzén – I’ve been very fortunate. To be able to develop all the time, and go forward, is a lot of work. However, I’ve been fortunate to work with wonderful people throughout my career that have been guiding me and giving me ideas. There have been wonderful people I’ve stolen ideas from (like we all do). We then develop those ideas to our own liking, and maybe something a little bit different comes out of us that makes us worthwhile to watch and be hired a second time.

This profession, like anything, is very much I feel at least, an ongoing process. It is never ending; it ends when I die. It’s a way of life.

Cryptic Rock – Right, and your dedication and passion bleeds through in your work. You have attained success in your homeland of Finland – winning awards, etc. That in mind, you broke through onto the international scene with your role on Vikings. What was it like for you to become a main character in this successful international series?

Peter Franzén – I auditioned for many things, but for Vikings I auditioned for all the seasons before the fourth that I had actually been a part of. It was a thing that felt – okay, there is something for me here that I know would be great for me. Finally, there was a part that suited me and my fellow Finn Jasper Pääkkönen; whom I’ve played brothers with in several movies. Vikings was sort of our crown jewel of our movie brotherhood.

It was a wonderful experience during the four years I spent in Ireland. I got to know the crew very well, became friends with the crew/production team, and of course with the actors. I guess it is kind of rare to have such a close-knit community still going on after so many years apart, but we go to Comic Cons, email, and stay in contact. It was a wholesome experience, and professionally it was great.

My character King Harald Finehair evolved as well. I believe the most interesting and wonderful thing about the development of the character was the very close working relationship with Michael Hirst. Michael every week took us aside and said, “Let’s go outside, have dinner, and talk about the character.” All the actors got to express their ideas, and have their input in their character and their character’s arc through talking to Michael Hirst. It was a really interesting, wholesome experience because we were included in the creative process; not only in front of the camera, but for our character’s future development. It is a part of Nordic history, and I’m from Finland, so it’s a part of my ancestor’s history as well. It was very interesting to delve into that part of my heritage.

Dog Nail Clipper/ Buena Vista Home Video (2004)
Priest of Evil / Nordisk Film (2010)

Cryptic Rock – It sounds like it was a great experience. And yourself and Jasper actually have matching tattoos to solidify your movie brotherhood, yes?

Peter Franzén – Yes, we do. We actually have two matching tattoos. Way back when we did our first movie together where we played brothers, the movie broke all the records in Finland and it was the biggest hit in twenty years. It was a bet that if the movie had a certain number of admissions in theaters, we would all get a tattoo that was similar according to the film’s theme; so we all got pretty much the same tattoo.

Cryptic Rock – That is really interesting and something you will never forget. You now have this new project Helsinki Syndrome. The series was released in Finland in 2022, but recently came to Topic in the North American market on February 16th. So, how did Helsinki Syndrome come about for you?

Peter Franzén – The production company, Fisher King, and I had talked about doing something before, but I didn’t have time because of Vikings. Then I had time, and I hadn’t done anything in Finland in around five to six years, and they reached out to ask if I would play the lead. I was more than happy to indulge and work in my own language Finnish.

The subject matter is based on true elements of events that took place in the ‘90s. Of course, it is also very contemporary because of COVID and all the restrictions. Sadly, my character had to endure something that made his company go under.

Helsinki Syndrome is the kind of thing that hadn’t been done in Finland and this was the first time people publicly talked about what happened during the ‘90s with what the government and banks did. It was wonderful to work with some of my old colleagues from Finland too. It was also wonderful to see the quality of TV/filmmaking is absolutely on an international level, and people really know what they are doing. It was a pleasant experience. And of course, I get to stay home in Finland to do it, so it’s a special thing.

Helsinki Syndrome / Topic (2023)

Cryptic Rock – That is great. You bring a lot of passion to your character. Your character is justifiably angry and you can see the emotion in his eyes. You can relate to this, because we have all had issues with the government and bank institutions at some point in our lives.

Peter Franzén – It was written in that fashion. Of course, my character’s (Elias) fate is kind of tragic. His family’s fate is tragic and they were not to blame for the tragic events. We’ve all been through phases in our lives that have been very hard. This is about overcoming those tragedies. Of course, Elias’ means are questionable because he kidnaps people to make his message clear.

It is interesting, because there is kind of a Robin Hood element to Elias’ crime. It caught my attention that he has this really righteous idea behind it to help the entire nation that suffered from the acts of the banks and government. He takes matters into his own hands for a good cause. He’s a good man, but his cup has runneth over.

We all feel at times, enough is enough, and someone has to do something about it. To take that step, whether it is to stand up for someone who is smaller than you, or fighting against injustice, that takes a lot of courage. We have seen that kind of courage for around a year in Ukraine with people who have the courage to stand up against something that is evil and wants to take control of you and your life. It’s always interesting to see on film how some people have survived tragedies. I’m really looking forward to what is happens to Elias.

Cryptic Rock – It will be very interesting to see how everything plays out. Finland has a very strong theatrical scene, but it is not something you hear all too much about internationally. What can you tell us about the Finland film scene?

Peter Franzén – I guess the new rise of Finnish film started in the ‘90s and I was really happy to be a part of it. People started going to the cinema and watching Finnish films; along with American Action films, and as international films, such as French films. The film scene was very strong. Now we produce a lot of films, we are only 5.5 million people in Finland, but there is still a wonderful film scene where people are very highly motivated, educated, and well-versed in different kinds of films.

A lot of films from Finland have a certain element with a staple that is something different. Nowadays people are even more proud of our heritage and our way of seeing life. In Finland, self-esteem has not been that strong for a lot of reasons. For the past fifteen years it has become stronger and stronger, and now people have become eager to show what is inside of us. A lot of Nordic people are introvertive, almost shy, and modest. Modesty is a virtue, at least we think, but if you have something to say, you should say it loudly and clearly. I think Finnish filmmaking is in that space at that moment.

There are some amazing Action and Art films that have risen on the radar of the world. It’s been wonderful to witness that and be a part of that community. The scene is small in a way, but it’s very energetic and very much alive.

Vikings series / History Channel
The Wheel of Time / Amazon Original Series

Cryptic Rock – It is great to see on an international level. Finland is a part of the Baltic States, but vastly different from your neighbors to the north. It is fantasticating to experience Finnish culture.

Peter Franzén – Yes, and there is a lot of interesting history involved with Russia and our neighboring Baltic countries. Our country is geographically a large country on a European scale. Us being only 5.5 million people, there is a lot of space and a lot of nature. Nature is our church to an extent, along with the old beliefs, and of course new religions. It’s an interesting place and I’m hoping it will attract a lot more international filmmakers and TV series. It is sort of still an untouched place for a lot of filmmakers.

Cryptic Rock – Yes, hopefully it will continue to get exposure. You have written in the past too. So, do you have any new writing you are working on that can be turned into a film?

Peter Franzén – Yes, I’ve directed one film and written three novels; the first film I directed is from a novel that is based on my childhood. I have two film companies in Finland. One is a new one where we are gathering a nice slate at the moment. We are hoping to get some films off the ground this year. One of them is a film I would like to direct. The script is not written by me, but I’ve written a number of scripts.

Directing is wonderful; it’s so much different from acting. There is so much more responsibility with directing compared to acting. Acting is kind of liberating work at the moment. Although, directing is my other ambition, alongside with writing. I’m in this world 24/7, apart from myself having a little farm; so, my time off is with the animals and the chores there. Hopefully we will get some films going this year and start the development this summer. We will have some interesting stuff in the pipeline hopefully. 

For more on Peter Franzén: Instagram 

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