Director of massive Swedish hit is Hollywood's 'next one'
Published Sunday, September 12, 2010 8:56AM EDT
TORONTO - "Gangster movies are the inheritor of the Greek tragedy, it's the only genre where the audience will be disappointed if there's not a tragic ending," Swedish director Daniel Espinosa says.
Without giving anything away on Espinosa's epic gangster film "Snabba Cash" (Easy Money), it's fair to say North American audiences won't feel anymore cheated than audiences did in his homeland, where the film was a massive hit.
Easy Money is a slick, layered film, but one that is deeply rooted in its characters and a brilliantly structured narrative. Hollywood insiders have declared Espinosa the next big thing behind in the camera and he's set to start shooting his Hollywood big budget debut "Safe House" -- starring Canadian Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington -- early next year.
A big Hollywood thriller and an epic gangster flick are a long ways from where Espinosa, 33, started -- he wanted to make art films. But that changed after some introspection with his younger self.
"I did two movies that were arthouse movies, they were critically successful but made no money at all . . . but after making those movies I thought I wouldn't watch my own movies when I was 16 and my buddies were I came from wouldn't watch my movies because they were boring," he tells me when we sit down in a Toronto hotel during TIFF's opening week.
"It's an odd place to be when you are making stuff that when you began wanting to make movies you wouldn't want to watch."
The Swedish bestselling book that "Easy Money" was based on was recommended to him by a friend, and Espinosa said he knew it was the film he wanted to make.
"When you're 16 the top of the world is directing a gangster movie," he says rightfully.
Sweden's cultural exports have made big splashes in North America and around the world in recent years. Stieg Larsson's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is a runaway best-seller, and the Swedish movie adaption (an American one is in the works with David Fincher directing) made more than $100 million worldwide.
Another recent grim Swedish flick, "Let the Right One In," has been rightfully declared a classic and the American remake is to be released later this year. "Easy Money" is also set for a remake, with Zac Efron attached.
Espinosa says that modern Swedish books and movies are questioning the revered (or reviled if you're a conservative) Swedish welfare system and whether some parts of society are being left out.
"Are we ignoring dark spots in our history? Don't we have people that feel like outsiders or are oppressed and the answer is that, of course we do, and we don't take care of that," he says.
Espinosa is a bit of a product of the famed Swedish welfare system himself. He tells me he was sentenced to jail time when he was 16, but managed to get into a program that sent him to an elite boarding school instead, which helped get him into film school.
He adds that crime sagas are popular in Sweden (and around the world) because it is a tradition there to tell those stories from the middle class's perspective.
"Easy Money" certainly falls into that category. Its characters come from different backgrounds and classes and Espinosa deftly uses the archetypes of his three main characters to explore different aspects of Swedish society – from the high class to the immigrant worker class.
Now that is not to say this is a preachy, talky film. It's violent, very well-acted (Dragomir Mrsic as an aging hitman and Joel Kinnaman as a Swedish student over his head are both standouts) and extremely well-paced and plotted.
It's easy to see why Hollywood came knocking.
Espinosa seems genuinely excited about his move towards Tinseltown, even if he finds it all a bit absurd.
"It's really hard to get a coffee with someone. I have to call my agent, my agent calls their agent, their agent calls their manager, the manager calls back, the actor sends someone to the manager . . . then you get ‘Yeah, yeah, I'd love to have dinner at six', and all I wanted was coffee!" he says. "It can take like six days to get coffee."
Espinosa says it's a dream to work with Reynolds and Washington on his upcoming film.
"It's weird meeting giants, people you watch on screen. Is this a movie?" he recalls of meeting the duo for the first time.
"When Denzel Washington turns and smiles at you, you are like ‘Oh, (hell) yeah!'"