Before We Die seems to have it all: action, intrigue, romance, beautiful camera work, immaculate editing — and superb acting. While headlining performers Marie Richardson (Hanna), Adam Pålsson (Christian), and Magnus Krepper (Björn) have all impressed us in the WGBH Drama Club at turns, it has been relative newcomer Sandra Redlaff that has grabbed our attention the most.
Redlaff plays Blanka, the enigmatic daughter of the Mimica crime family. Blanka is a fascinating series of contradictions. While she's an aspiring lawyer, she maintains a deep love for her family, despite their many misdemeanours. And she follows her heart... even when it leads her to romances with two very different men. Playing a character who holds these contradictions can be daunting for any young actress, but as Redlaff will tell you, this is all she's ever wanted to do.
While she first came on our radar for her work in Swedish television, that's far from the only medium — or genre — in which Redlaff has worked. As if being multi-talented in performance, music and dance wasn't enough, Redlaff also likes to switch it up, swinging from TV crime thrillers like The Fourth Man to stagings of Shakespeare's Richard III to musical theatre such as Some Like It Hot. Add to that a growing family and a developing film career, and we were surprised that she even had time to chat with us! But as we interviewed Redlaff, we quickly learned that this is just who she is: a talented and ambitious actress with a joy for the life she's chosen, and a desire to share it.
What is the first thing that drew you to acting?
Redlaff: For as long as I can remember I've wanted to be a performer, either a singer or an actress. I'm not sure where it came from as I don’t have any family or relatives in the industry, but I remember going to the city hall theatre with school, when I was seven years old, to watch a performance called ”Smör,” or in English “Butter.” I was totally blown away and had a revelation! Right then and there I felt, “this is what I want to do when I get older.”
Like many of the performers we see in English and European dramas, you work both on stage and screen. Do you have a preference? Do you think they each take a different set of skills?
Redlaff: I started acting on stage as a teenager, but have always been drawn to screen work. They are widely different from one another. The whole process is different, the way you work with your inner instrument, how you use your body and voice, how to shape a character, etc. The environment is totally different.
I believe that you need a different set of skills for working with theatre and film. The film industry is in a way rather lonely; you do most of the work by yourself. With theatre, it’s a much longer process together with the ensemble. You meet all the actors, the director, make-up artists, costume designers, sound technicians, etc. You work together as a team through the whole process and build your character through it.
It's something special and rewarding when you feel the energy and presence from a live audience. Everything happens then and there, and every performance is different, whether you’ve done it once or 300 times. You never know what kind of audience you’ll have or what unexpected things will happen. The only thing you know is that you only have one chance to do your best and whatever happens will happen. You share that moment together and then it exists only in memories.
On screen on the other hand, you do your homework, have ideas and suggestions about your character and the scene and then you come to set, often without having rehearsed with your co-actors. On set you get a few takes for each scene and then it’s set in stone. I love the quick pace in the film industry and the whole atmosphere around it. It's like three stories in one — when you read the script you get your own picture of it, on set you get a new angle, and in the end the whole story takes a different direction as they start to edit the film. I think that is really exciting.
I wouldn’t want to miss either of them. I love the versatility of being able to do both, though at the moment I’m really enjoying working with film.
What do you consider your best performance to date? Why?
Redlaff: That’s a very hard question to answer. I don't think I compare my performances really since they are different form each other. I always aim for the best performance of course, to find new shades and do my very best of the opportunity and situation. You always want to give 110%. But of course, it’s easy to feel you could have done differently and to not be as satisfied with your contribution as you'd like. I see it as a good thing though, as it makes you grow and develop as an actor, you always want to do better than your last scene/job. In the end, it’s up to the audience to decide: “smaken är som baken” as we say in Sweden ("different strokes for different folks").
If I do have to pick one, it would be “Jolanta” in a Swedish TV-series called The Fourth Man. I remember coming to set with two strong and clear suggestions, having a short conversation with the director then going straight to shooting. The character ended up getting a Polish accent and I got to draw on my Polish heritage. It was very a really fun and rewarding experience.
You do a fantastic job of portraying the multi-faceted character of Blanka in Before We Die. What drew you to the character?
Redlaff: Thank you, that makes me very happy! I loved the whole story. She was brought up in a very rough environment but still manages to know right from wrong. I think Blanka is a really strong person. She has a lot of empathy, integrity and follows her own path. She is a smart woman who can play on both sides but knows the rules of “the dark side." I would say she is very much like a prisoner in this family, a confused girl who is gasping for air and trying to find her own identity. I think some of the things that I was drawn to are her toughness and strength as well as her contrasting innocence and kindness — a kind and loving person despite her surroundings.
Before We Die seems to be all about morally grey areas — villains who care deeply about their families, and heroes who do bad things in the name of justice. How do you think Blanka fits into this world?
Redlaff: She doesn’t. But she does love her family — even if her family situation is very complicated and she’s fed up with the path her family has chosen. Blanka is very confused by the life she lives, but tries to follow her heart instead of going after money, honor or glory.
Who were you most excited to work with on Before We Die? Why?
Redlaff: There are quite a few people in this production that I really looked forward to working with. It was great to get the chance to work with producer Maria Nordenberg and director Kristian Petri, who I also worked with in Den fjärde mannen (The Fourth Man), again. Marie Richardsson is a fantastic actress, so it was a pleasure to work alongside her.
Malgozata Pieczynska, who plays my mother in the series, is also a great actress. I have Polish roots and grew up with Polish soap operas since my mum is a big fan of them. Malgozata stars in one of my mum’s favorite shows, so I knew her well before this series. It was kind of special I must say, maybe even more so for my dear mother.
What is one thing that you hope everyone watching the series takes away from it?
Redlaff: A thrilling story that pulls you along.
Do you have any advice for performers who are just starting their professional careers?
Redlaff: Support yourself as well as your colleagues. Be present and try to enjoy it. It's so easy to look ahead, stress and push yourself too hard. Trust your instincts.
What projects do you have coming up?
Redlaff: New film projects are rather secretive, but what I can say is that I have a shoot coming up this week for a feature film. After that I'll be touring around Sweden with The Imaginary Invalid by Molière.
Lastly, what is a fun fact about you that fans may not know?
Redlaff: I'm the queen of parallel parking but completely, incomprehensibly bad at remembering names. Love nature, riding my motorcycle and can never have enough ice cream!
Catch Redlaff in Before We Die on WGBH Passporttoday.