Johan Widerberg

In daddy's school

Bo Widerberg is making a new feature film - with his son Johan in the lead role. "Lust och fägring stor" is the name of the film which takes place in a school setting in the 40's.

"What characteristic do we have in common?" Johan Widerberg calls out to his father across the kitchen where preparations for filming are under way. "A journalist is asking."
    Bo Widerberg turns around and retorts with a twinkle in his eye: "the hornihess!" Laughter from the entire film crew.
    Bo is full of allusions to Johan's interest in the ladies.
It seems to fascinate him to have a son with the power of attraction as an actor and as a man.
    At the same time there is a hint of feeling left out.
   - I don't get to take part when the younger people in the staff join Johan in different activities, Bo jokingly complains. Then I have to crowd in on an older acting pair, no names, well almost trespassing. We don't have anything to talk about either but just sit there in silence.
   The atmosphere between Bo and Johan is cheerful. Bo dominates with his bantering monologues while Johan tries to keep from laughing. The laughter expresses both admiration and awkwardness in the presence of his father.
   After the much written about break which lasted for many years, Bo and Johan have reunited. Evidently inspiring both of them. The son plays the lead part in the father's new film "Lust och fägring stor".
   It has been eight years since "Ormens väg på hälleberget", a film which never won the big audience. Maybe "Lust och fägring stor" will. In that case Bo och Johan will have to be named the new great couple in Swedish film.

Johan and Bo during shooting

     Already experienced      

   If you think that Johan is participating as daddys's boy, then you're wrong. He's standing on his own artistic platform. Early on he's had parts in Bo's films, but he got a kind of breakthrough as Didrik in the TV series Ebba och Didrik. Since then he's managed to become an experienced film actor, most recently he had the lead part in the TV series "Rapport till himlen".
    You can also tell that Bo has a respect for his son's ability.
   - I'm very pleased with Johan in the role of Stig, which is written for him. If he hadn't been available, it's doubtful if I'd made the film.
   Johan plays the 15-year-old Stig who starts a relationship with his 37-year-old teacher Viola (Marika Lagercrantz). Viola's husband Frank (Tomas von Brömssen), who is a travelling salesman in women's undergarments, is also part of the game. The story is set during the war year of 1943 and the school setting plays a prominent part.
   Widerberg returns to his own youth, several episodes in the film are self-experienced. However, not the relationship with the teacher. Maybe that's why he lets Johan play the part. The son gets to realize the dreams of the father...
   When we visit the flat in Malmö where part of the filming takes place, father and son lay flat out on separate beds belonging to the set design. It's during a break and both seem to enjoy the somewhat irreverent situation to, with their shoes on, assume Viola's and Frank's place in their beds.
   Johan is thin and short in stature, his exterior fits perfectly that of a 15-year-old. One can understand the difficulties for the staff in State liquor shops to, according to the advertisements, determine age. The 15-year-old has in reality turned 20.
   - Johan's big worry is that the growth of his beard will explode in the middle of a line, Bo comments.
   The young Widerberg is already keen on directing himself. Later on, he plays down. Right now acting is a station on the way there. How practical to have father who happens to be one of the most skillful people instructors in Sweden!
   - Of course I've been immensly influenced by Bo, my whole time growing up has been characterized by his work even if he's never tried to force me into anything.
   Therefore, finding a common line for working on "Lust och fägring stor" came quite naturally.
   - Besides, Johan acted as an assistant during the preparations. It is he and I who've searched together for amateurs and built the school class that plays an essential part in the film. Then we have, without thinking about it, agreed on directing and acting.
   For example this thing with the "iron ring".

Johan and Bo in Vi

     "The Iron Ring"     

   - Just now we've shot for five days in a kitchen which is too small, Bo tells us. There are constantly people who are physically colliding. You almost have to hang with one arm in a lamp to be able to fit. Then an iron ring has to be formed around the camera so that there'll be a focus on the work. Not that kind of life-and-death stress focusing, but a calm and favourable greenhouse climate. My tomato plants will grow. Then I don't give a damn if there is chaos outside the ring.
   - There's always chaos there, Johan adds, you can't help it. You just have to make sure that it doesn't leak in to the ring.
   - There's an enormous difference working with Bo compared to other directors, Johan explains later during a smoke break. One thing is that you get more elbow-room. As an actor of film and TV you often have to conform to the technology in an unfortunate way. The light from a blind is supposed to hit your face in a certain way and you become locked. That's not particularly fun. But with Bo the acting comes before technical stuff.
   - Spontaneity is also a corner stone. There is a text and we know what we're supposed to say, but we don't memorize the lines. That way the dialogue comes more to life. We break in on each other and search for the words in a natural way.
   During shooting in a gym, with a class of school girls wearing the baggy blue shorts of the 40's, Bo is suddenly standing on the balcony singing MFF's cheers. The girls look at him with big eyes, some are smiling. The whim is part of the director's constantly on-going monologue for everyone in hearing range. He would have been suited as a stand-up comedian.
   The Swedish film industry is distrustful of this madcap, not least following "Ormens väg på hälleberget". It fell on its gloominess. There, the humour had got stuck somewhere in the snow slush.
   Now Bo Widerberg has, through a Danish initiative, the opportunity for a comeback. The producer Per Holst aims at making "Lust och fägring stor" into an internationally selling production. In May, Bo and Johan attended the Cannes Film Festival together with Marika Lagercrantz to present their work. Next year they want to show the film there and hopefully score a success.
   One good requirement is there. The co-operation between two Widerbergs, horny for life.

Johan during shooting
The concentration surrounding the camera is especially important when the filming location is crowded, like here in the teacher's bedroom, full of photographers, sound men, script person, director and actors.

By: Lars Edling || Photo: Örjan Gran

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