Danish writer-director Tobias Lindholm makes films about characters' enduring unthinkable circumstances, though always with a mind towards their humanity. His directorial debut, 2010's R, explored an unexpected bond between inmates. Then came A Hijacking in 2012, about a cargo ship commandeered by pirates, and then, A War in 2015, about a Danish military company captured by the Taliban. (The latter of which received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, the category that is now known as Best International Feature Film.)
His newest film is The Good Nurse, which stars Jessica Chastain as Amy Loughren, a single mother and nurse who inadvertently befriended America's most prolific serial killer, Charles Cullen (played by Eddie Redmayne), and ultimately helped bring him to justice by reminding him of his own humanity. "Who would've thought that it was so revolutionary to show them the human side of a serial killer movie," says Lindholm."There's a great reason to enter the darkness here, which is Amy."
The film marks a number of firsts for Lindholm: It's the first film he's directed that he didn't write himself. (Oscar-nominated screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns penned the script.) The Good Nurse also marks his English-language debut, something the filmmaker had previously avoided.
"It just felt like I was making a film and running a film set like I used to in Denmark. In Copenhagen, I'm normally making films with my nine friends and we're printing our own posters and putting them up the night before the premiere — at least that's how it used to be," he chuckles. "The only challenges I felt I had was that I was not directing in my mother tongue. I had to do it in English. And, once in a while, on hour 18 or 19, it became a challenge when I suddenly would start to speak Danish to the actors, and they would look at me like I was crazy."
Lindholm is also a frequent collaborator with Thomas Vinterberg, with whom he has written the screenplays for Submarino (2010), The Hunt (2012), The Commune (2016), and Another Round (2020). Last year, Another Round won the Oscar for Best International Feature Film, becoming the fourth Danish film to do so.
"I was watching in a friend's house and seeing the film and Thomas' name being announced, and him walking on stage, and giving a wonderful, beautiful speech meant the world to me," Lindholm says. "On a professional level, I don't think that it's changed too much. I'm still so, so afraid of the blank piece of paper staring at me when I'm starting a new project."
Below, the filmmaker shares with A.frame five films that taught him to appreciate the art of cinema and have since informed all of his own work.
Written and directed by: John Cassavetes
I'm not from a family of filmmakers. Nobody in my family has done anything like this, so I didn't grow up with cinema. Like everybody else in my generation, I watched E.T. in the theater — I remember that — but, when I got to film school, somebody showed me John Cassavetes' A Woman Under the Influence. I was just mesmerized by the beautiful, naturalistic work. I had no idea that somebody could make a poetic film about my childhood, about these dysfunctional families with all this struggle, and yet, let it be a proof of life and a proof of human strength. So, that really meant something. It got me going.
If there is one director there that has influenced me the most in the understanding of that, it is the great American hero, John Cassavetes. I'm proudly, proudly on the shoulders of his work. And that's all of his films, but A Woman Under the Influence was the first one that really opened my mind to what I like to refer to as naturalism. Because what I'm used to from Europe is social realism, but that's all a political concept about the truth of how we are being treated in a capitalistic society. But A Woman Under the Influence was just a true, honest story about human struggling that really got to me.
Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn | Written by: Jens Dahl and Nicolas Winding Refn
Nicolas Winding Refn, the Danish director who has done great work over here as well, came out with his first film in '96. I would've been 19 years old at that time, and I wasn't really into cinema. But Pusher is an extremely well-made film. It's a naturalistic portrayal of a drug dealer in the Red Light district of Copenhagen. You're going through a week where he's losing everything and really needs to fight for survival, and the surprising thing about that film was that, until that point, all Danish gangster films had been living off the logic of American gangster films. But those systems are completely different from what we see in Copenhagen. So, to suddenly see a naturalistic, Danish version of these films was just mind-blowing.
I believe that watching that film was part of getting me on the path of first wanting to write about the world I lived in, and later wanting to direct films about it. My first film is called R, it's a Danish prison film, and that is my tribute to Pusher. We definitely wouldn't have been able to make that one without Nicolas Winding Refn's revolutionary work back in the mid-'90s. I think Pusher was also the first thing Mads [Mikkelsen] did, or at least the first time I ever saw him, and it was just so wonderful to see somebody who looked like some of the other boys from the street that I grew up with.
Before I worked with Mads, he wrote me a text when he saw R, telling me how much he loved it and how much he would love to find something to do together. He's an extremely generous guy. I've shared with him many times how much I love Pusher, and we've grown a friendship now, and we've done quite a few projects together, and traveled the world. Mads is not a great Scandinavian actor — he's just a great, great actor in the world. He's a huge star. He's like Eddie and Jessica in many ways. There are great movie stars, there are great actors, and, once in a while, they merge the two. He's definitely an example of that.
Directed by: David Fincher | Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker
Se7en is the best film I've ever seen. I think it is to perfection a film about human struggle and about how hard it is to live a human life. Fincher's best diner scene is between Morgan Freeman and Gwyneth Paltrow, as they sit there and she reveals that she's pregnant, and he reveals that he once was expecting but decided not to bring life into this world. That scene says so much about how difficult it's to live a human life, how difficult it is to navigate in the world we live in.
On top of that, Kevin Spacey's portrayal [of John Doe] is the greatest serial killer portrayal I have ever seen, together with [Anthony] Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter. It's so human, it's so evil, it's so cold, it's so damaged, and so honest at the same time. It seems to not even want to fascinate, but it is fascinating. The thing about that film is it looks so easy, and it's so hard to make. I saw that when I had started to write screenplays, and I remember watching it and feeling that there was a long way to go.
Written and directed by: Michael Mann
Heat is the film that I've seen the most times. Michael Man has done so many films, and I think this one is the best. I learned a lot from watching it. I did a film called A Hijacking following two characters — one being a hostage on a ship hijacked by Somali pirates, and the other being the owner of the shipping company back in Denmark who was negotiating the ransom — and I really studied both The Insider and Heat to understand how you could jump between characters and treat both characters equal in the story. And I did a film called A War, and we had a huge shootout between Danish soldiers in an Afghan village, and I took a lot from the sequence after the big robbery in Heat. I think Mann referred to it as World War III.
There's so many moments in Heat. It's the one single film where I remember moment-for-moment great scenes between great actors, and great lines that tell you the truth about life. Who doesn't think back on Al Pacino's marriage? Who doesn't remember Natalie Portman's beautiful portrayal of a young girl who's so afraid that her father will abandon her again, so she cries and breaks down over a bracelet? Then, at the same time, Heat is so entertaining, and yet so deep and so humane. I really, really learned a lot from that film.
Written and directed by: Paul Greengrass
United 93 was the whole reason that I ever could make the film A Hijacking. Me watching that and reading interviews with Paul Greengrass and understanding the humanity and the dignity in these portrayals. The fact that they had reached out to so many relatives to have their permission to tell this story, the way to approach the responsibility we have as storytellers, and the portrayal of true heroism really struck me with that film.
The funny thing is then that Greengrass went and did Captain Phillips after I did A Hijacking, but that was actually because of United 93. The story is that I was in my office in Copenhagen. We were looking for one or two more million Danish krone for the film. We wanted a bigger boat to shoot on, so we were trying to find a little more money. I was working on the screenplay and, in that process, I needed to Google something I remembered Paul Greengrass said in an interview, something about the value of working together with relatives and the responsibility we have when we film these stories. And Googling him, suddenly I saw that him and Tom Hanks were doing a film about a boat being hijacked by Somali pirates. And I was writing A Hijacking right there! I jumped out my office and ran to my producer's office, I slammed opened the door and yelled, 'Forget about those two last millions! We need to go now. We cannot be the cheap Danish version of a Greengrass film!' So, we decided to shoot on a smaller boat and went faster than planned to make sure that we would come out before Greengrass and Tom Hanks did with their version of almost the same story. [Laughs]