Þorsteinn Bachmann, the actor who stole the thunder in ‘Life in a Fishbowl’ (Vonarstræti) and took a dramatic plunge in the recent Nordic Noir TV series ‘Trapped’ (Ófærð) will next be seen on the big screen as an American porn producer in the gay film ‘Tom Of Finland’. To get the look just right he wore trousers from Christoph Waltz.
“My character is based on Bob Mizer, the photographer and filmmaker who discovered Tom’s artwork and started publishing it in America. But I’m not playing Bob Mizer himself, my character is an unnamed, American editor and I didn’t have to make an effort to look like Mizer even,” Þorsteinn explains, adding that the Bob Mizer Foundation was still consulted but that the director, Dome Karukoski wasn’t interested in recreating Mr Mizer as a character.
“It is of course a biographical film but we had much artistic freedom and when I asked Dome what was true and what not in the script, he said that most of it was but that the story was obviously dramatized a lot.”
Critically acclaimed director Dome Karukoski, known for films such as ‘Lapland Odyssey’ and ‘The Grump’, has been listed by Variety as one of top ten directors to watch in the world so it must be an honour to have been selected to appear in his film? “Well, yes, but it was a bit of a coincidence,” Þorsteinn says and chuckles.
“It’s quite a funny scene. I’m sitting there sweating like a pig in a heatwave in LA, a half-naked man being photographed in my office while I sit at the desk, wearing a mesh shirt … that was the first time I’ve ever seen a mesh shirt!”
“I was in Berlin and met up with Ingvar (Þórðarson, producer) as they were preparing filming in Berlin. He took a photo of me and asked how long I’d be in town, as they would be filming for the next two weeks. That very same evening I was flooded with e-mails from them. Ingvar had shown the casting director my picture, who showed it to the assistant director and a few others and it turned out that they had all seen me in ‘Vonarstræti’ and, I am told, loved me in it. The only concern was whether I could do American accent, which I was pretty confident about and had an American friend of mine coach me via Skype just to get it right.”
Even though Þorsteinn doesn’t play the actual Bob Mizer, he read a lot about him to prepare for the part. “Mizer was a photographer who lived at his mother’s, had a studio there and shot
photos of half-naked men, often body builders, and apparently, his activities didn’t always go down so well with the law at that time.”
Not having heard of Tom Of Finland before, Þorsteinn delved into the artist’s story as well and found it fascinating. “And all my gay friends knew instantly what I was talking about when I mentioned his name to them. It is obvious that he had enormous influence on gay men’s culture. You can see reference to his work in the likes of The Village People and Freddie Mercury. Tom Of Finland stamps were issued in Finland a couple of years ago so everybody there is aware of him and his work and anyone who’s been to art school has heard of him and even studied his work so he’s a much more of an icon than I realised.”
So, filming in Berlin, an Icelandic actor playing an American guy in a film by a Finnish director. How was that and what’s Karukoski like to work with?
“It was fun. Dome is very energetic, with a sharp mind. He makes quick decisions and is funny and witty. He told me a lot about the character before the shooting that I hadn’t imagined myself and during filming, he adds a lot of things to the scenes that aren’t necessarily written in the script. So he’s much bolder than I expected.”
The scene tells the story of how the name Tom Of Finland came about but it was actually Bob Mizer who came up with it. “It’s quite a funny scene. I’m sitting there sweating like a pig in a heatwave in LA, a half-naked man being photographed in my office while I sit at the desk, wearing a mesh shirt. Now, I’ve often seen mesh T-shirts but that was the first time I’ve ever seen a mesh shirt!” Þorsteinn laughs at the thought, but the scene is set in the late ‘50s. “I was also wearing trousers that Christoph Waltz wore in some movie, I don’t know which, and I have to admit that the seams had to be unpicked here and there. But then again, I’m slightly taller than Christoph Waltz,” he says and winks.
“I don’t have any trouble shifting between heterosexual and homosexual roles … I don’t see the difference, really. I try to avoid the clichés; it’s first and foremost about feelings and love and I think I’ve got plenty of that.”
Þorsteinn got to read the whole script and met the leading actor, Pekka Strang, who’s portrayal of Tom spans over 40 years. “I think he’s going to do really well and in fact, I think this film might become something big. The script is great and it totally captured me on a roller coaster ride of emotions so the audience will definitely not be disappointed.”
Now, Þorsteinn is preparing for his next role, in Icelandic TV drama ‘Fangar’ (the Icelandic word for prisoners) which will premier on RÚV next winter and for which the rights have been sold to seven other countries already. And in it, Þorsteinn will play another gay man and having also played a gay man in Midsummer’s Eve at the National Theatre a few years back, he seems to be getting quite settled in gay roles. “What are you implying?” He sounds serious and pauses for a moment before continuing. “The obvious reason is of course that I’m beautiful and I know it,” Þorsteinn can’t keep a straight face any longer and bursts out laughing. “I don’t find it difficult at all, I don’t see the difference, really. I try to avoid the clichés; it’s first and foremost about feelings and love and I think I’ve got plenty of that. I also have close, gay friends and believe I have some insight into their lives.
It’s a bit awkward talking about this these days but I suppose there’s still prejudice lurking somewhere. I know people who didn’t come out till very late in their lives and it’s so upsetting that they didn’t feel that they could earlier. I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone to have to closet off their feelings and passion, for ever even, it’s terrible.
But as an actor, no, I don’t have any trouble shifting between heterosexual and homosexual roles. We all have many sides to us, both feminine and masculine, and I love to evoke a different side from me to work with. Of course, gay men are as diverse as they are many, that’s something I truly witnessed when working on Tom Of Finland – there are no stereotypes there.”
With other Icelandic actors having become an international success, such as Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Ingvar E. Sigurðsson and Gísli Örn Garðarsson, is Þorsteinn hoping that Tom Of Finland will be his big break abroad? “Let’s wait for the film to come out. Yes, this is the first big film project I’m involved in abroad, but then again, I haven’t been pushing myself in that direction, that is, I haven’t had the sense of getting an agent abroad yet, which Ingvar is always nagging me about. I’ve been busy bringing up my family, I have two young daughters and two grown-up sons, so I haven’t been hurrying overseas to sit in hotel rooms and talk to my family on Skype.
But now that I’ve tried it, I wouldn’t mind doing more of that, it’s fun and a great challenge. But I don’t mind whether the projects or the parts are big or small, I try to stay true to the piece and serve the artwork rather than my ego. If you stick to that, you’ll always enjoy your work, whatever it is.”
Main photo: Þorsteinn Bachmann and producer Ingvar Þórðarson on the set of ‘Tom Of Finland’. Photo/Josef Perrson