Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga starring Rachel McAdams and Will Ferrell premieres 26th June on Netflix. Heidi Niemi, the Finnish actor featured in the film, spoke to us about the new film, Eurovision, her work and the future of theatre.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is a sizeable Netflix production. What was it like working on such a project?
It was great, I’d never acted in a film before. My background is in theatre and I didn’t originally plan on doing cinema or TV work. Due to the size of the industry in the UK and through my agent I’ve had the opportunity to get involved in these kinds of projects, which is great. It was interesting to see how many different moving parts and people are involved in making the film and how large productions work.
So how was it being part of filming?
The film was shot in Scotland, Iceland, and London. My scene was shot in London, although the scene itself is situated in Iceland. In the scene, Sigrid and Lars, the Icelandic duo, are qualifying from the Icelandic competition and I play a stage manager. We were filming over two days in August and I was simultaneously performing in Edinburgh in Kafka for Kids! so I had to travel back and forth a couple of times.
Eurovision may seem like a bit of a novelty outside of Europe. Could you tell us about your relationship with it?
Admittedly, I’m quite a fan of Eurovision – I’ll even count the points during the contest for example. I got to chat to Will Ferrell while filming. I was wondering how he’d been introduced to Eurovision and he told me it was through his Swedish wife. Rachel McAdams, on the other hand, hadn’t heard of Eurovision before the project, so I got to show her some of my favourites while filming, for example the Greek Sakis Rouvas.
You’ve been active in British theatre circles for a while now. Could you tell us a bit about your earlier projects?
At the moment I’m working on Finn Noir together with Sinikka Kyllönen. The play explores Finnish culture through the story of two amateur detectives. Through these characters, we play with the relationship between the individual and wider society. The visual and physical components are important. There’s lots of sneaking around in the darkness and listening to the sound of ice and snow. It draws from Nordic Noir through an absurdist lens. MacBETTI was the first project that I received funding for from Arts Council England. It was a one-woman rendition of Macbeth. It got great feedback, and through it, I got a good agent and more opportunities. Kafka for Kids! was a collaboration with three comedians and a director. The play interpreted Franz Kafka for a young audience – the message was, broadly speaking, that life isn’t always straightforward. It’s OK that everything doesn’t always go according to plan. The show got great reviews and feedback. I have also been part of The Titanic Orchestra alongside John Hannah and the productions of Travelling Light Theatre Company in Bristol among other things.
How did your experience working on a Netflix production differ from your previous work?
The process goes by much quicker. Of course, there’s also the lack of an audience – I live for that audience interaction. Filming is also quite technical compared to being on stage. Lots of repetition at a fast pace.
You’ve worked on projects across Europe. How is this international experience reflected in your work?
I think it means that I work in diverse ways. I’ve worked in Denmark, toured Europe and performed in Russia. I haven’t counted the range of nationalities I’ve worked with. There’s also a lot of comedic potential in cultural exchange. Recently, I worked on research and development for a show called Mountains at the Unicorn Theatre in London. There were five of us in the cast all speaking different languages. The project plays with people’s cultural differences and the consequent misunderstandings that can crop up.
Two prominent factors contribute to a sense of precarity for the future of the performing arts. You have lived in London for years. Do you have any thoughts on how Brexit will shape your future work?
Brexit seems like a marginal issue at the moment compared to the pandemic. Having said that, you can already tell from my agency that for some touring projects, they require an EU passport. So this will probably hit Brits without EU passports quite hard.
How has the current pandemic affected you?
We don’t really know when we’ll be able to perform again in person. You have to seriously consider whether this is the new normal. The circumstances have made me think about new tools and methods. For Finn Noir, we’ve been considering producing a short film and incorporating VR as the visual component. It could work well as visuality is so important for the project. More generally, the current situation has made me reconsider what is important in art and in life. I received funding from the Arts Council for a new project, Round Table. The guiding idea is to create community-driven theatre. The performance begins with the audience and not the other way around.
What do you have coming up next?
I received funding from the South Ostrobothnia regional fund for a show called #Lumikki. It’s a one-woman version of Snow White which explores stereotypical gender roles and the societal pressures of social media. I’m working on it together with my sister Anu Niemi, who also directed MacBETTI. The funding was for preparing the show and then for a five-week tour, but now we’ll have to see when we can tour it. With Finn Noir, the plan is to work on it during our residency in The Finnish Institute in Estonia at the end of August. And then there’s Round Table, which will probably have to wait until next year.
Heidi Niemi: http://www.heidiniemi.com/
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga: https://www.netflix.com/gb/title/80244088
Text: Volter Rechardt, Photo: Barbora Mrazkova