Even if you’ve never heard of the Sveriges Kreditbank, you probably know a little something about the robbery there in August, 1973. That’s when a lone gunman strolled into the bank in central Stockholm, fired off a few rounds from a submachine gun, and took four people hostage. Over the subsequent six days, alongside an accomplice who later joined him, the captor and captives formed a beguiling bond, spawning the term “Stockholm syndrome,” and, 45 years later, a new psychological drama starring Ethan Hawke, written and directed by the London, Ont.-born filmmaker Robert Budreau. The Globe and Mail spoke with Budreau recently at the Toronto offices of distribution company eOne.
Firstly, could you help Canadian taxpayers understand why they should be supporting something like this film – which is officially a Canadian-Swedish co-production, but doesn’t seem obviously Canadian?
We live in a global marketplace. And so, I think the definition of what’s Canadian is different now in the age of the internet. This film is Canadian because it’s told by a Canadian creator - myself - it’s funded by Canadians, it’s shot in Canada, it employs Canadians: so, there’s the industrial mandate. But there’s also the creative approach to it. A story does not need to happen in Canada to be Canadian. And it’s actually more important to be exporting our Canadian creators and stories, because we’re fighting the behemoth of Hollywood.
Speaking of the behemoth, this film is very aware of the American cultural influence. Lars, the central character, frequently references Hollywood movies: He demands the same getaway car that Steve McQueen had in Bullitt; he refers – it seems without any sense of irony – to Bonnie and Clyde. Or am I making too much of that?
No. When I did my research for this project, one of the things that really jumped out at me was that this character was obsessed with Americana. Before he did the robbery, he watched Steve McQueen’s The Getaway multiple, multiple times. We really ended up leaning into that quite heavily, from his costume – which is a hodgepodge of Easy Rider – and then you’ve got the Steve McQueen references. It also allows us to have a bit of fun with the bank robber genre. There’s something romantic about these American outlaws that people kind of like.
It certainly seems like a more innocent time. And Ethan Hawke, who plays the main robber, comes off more of a boyish goof than a menace.
One of the things that attracted me to the story was, Sweden in the early seventies was this idealistic socialist society. They’d never heard of a SWAT team; the Prime Minster had his phone number listed in the phone book, and he’d take about 50 calls from citizens every night. So, you could just call up the Prime Minister, have a chat. That’s a different world. So it was very much a coming-of-age for Sweden, because they changed after that.
Hawke’s character in Stockholm has similarities to Chet Baker, whom he played in your last film, Born to be Blue.
There’s a certain childishness, which is kind of endearing. That’s what’s so conflicted about them: on the one hand you want to strangle them, on the other hand you want to hug them. So you’re torn, and in both cases it’s women who tend to fall into that, because women have this slightly more nurturing thing, and I think they put up with a lot of [crap] from men. It creates these kind of odd, interesting relationships. That’s what Stockholm syndrome is about, this subversive, paradoxical kind of bond. It’s hard to kind of imagine it, but that’s the point.
As a male director and writer, what kind of a challenge is it to portray the women as those kind of maternal figures without making them look like – well, like fools?
Yeah, it’s a big challenge. In Stockholm, I really wanted Noomi Rapace’s character [a hostage who falls for her captor] to be strong and kind of be making her own decisions. Noomi is a naturally spunky, tough woman. It was important just to make it feel not like a victim movie, but actually invest her with some power.
Do you understand Stockholm syndrome now?
By definition it’s kind of this almost puzzling bond that you’re not supposed to quite understand, because it doesn’t make sense. So I’ve just kind of come to terms with the fact that humans do very strange things when they’re trying to survive.
One of the film’s backers is Jason Blum, the head of indie studio Blumhouse, who produced such massive small-budget hits Get Out and Us. How did he get involved?
He’s one of Ethan’s best buddies in life. He was a big fan of Born to be Blue, so he was anxious to be involved. He helped us behind the scenes with certain things, like cash-flow financing.
So, he just pulled out his credit card?
‘Thank you, Get Out!’
‘I just made $20-mil on my last opening!’ Yeah, he’s phenomenally successful, and on such an interesting indie model.
Are there some lessons in that model for Canada?
Absolutely. Often, our budgets tend to be even bigger than Blumhouse budgets, but we don’t also have access to some of the talent and the other things that people forget about – and there’s a lot of value there.
Relationships to Universal [Studios], things like that. Whereas here, you might get larger budgets and more government subsidies, but you may not be working with talent, or different pieces, that mean as much internationally. But the other thing people forget about is, as successful as Jason and Blumhouse are, they make a lot of movies that you don’t hear about. Nobody celebrates the movies that you don’t hear about.
Stockholm opens April 12.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
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