The girl who would be king

Malin Buska on walking in Greta Garbo's shoes.

by Jennie Kermode

Malin Buska in The Girl King
Malin Buska in The Girl King

Nobody really expected much of Kristina of Sweden when she came to the throne. She was, after all, a girl, and an unconventional one at that. In the 22 years of her reign, however, she revolutionised her country, ending its reliance of expansionism and setting it on course to become the sophisticated, intellectually focused nation we know today. Her story has been told on screen three times, most recently in Mika Kaurismäki's The Girl King. We asked its star, Mallin Buska, how she felt about following in the footsteps of Greta Garbo and Liv Ullmann.

"You know, Greta Garbo did a really great interpretation but I needed to make my own version of her," she says. "I needed to find her spirit and her heart and take Kristina into myself. Of course it was scary because she was a fantastic person. I knew a lot about her before I got the part because I’d always been interested in history, and then when I was cast I read her diaries and read almost every book about her that I could find. I also read about the philosophy and the poltics of the time.

Malin with Alekko the horse and Sarah Gadon, who plays the woman she loves.
Malin with Alekko the horse and Sarah Gadon, who plays the woman she loves.

"I went to Rome to see the apartment she had when she lived there. Then I was isolated in a cottage in Finland for about half a year. I did a lot of horseback riding and reading. I learned to ride when I was a child but I needed to take horseback riding up again so I started to learn and to get to know the horse that we have in the film. He and I became friends because he was the only person I was hanging out with for a long time. His name is Alekko."

She did all the riding and stunt work in the film herself, she says; it was plainly very important to her to connect with her character physically. This is reflected in her rendering of Kristina's famously masculine body language. "I think that came naturally when I started to read about her – my body just followed my thoughts. The way she walks and everything just came with all the information about her. It’s not my natural movement."

When I later spoke with Kaurismäki, he told me that Malin's middle name is Kristina, after the queen. This wasn't something she raised herself but her interest in the woman she portrays is clear.

Kristina engaging in swordplay.
Kristina engaging in swordplay.

"I think she was before her time and she still is before our time really. She was sleeping three hours per night and she had a teacher she woke up in the morning because she was determined to educate herself and educate her people. Also the thing about her and the reason there are so many interesting stories about her is that she went her own way. I’ve also tried to do that in my life. It’s so easy to make choices based on others’ expectations and start to behave in certain ways because of other people thinking that you should. I just love how she was behaving. She was raised as a boy and I think if we raised our kids to have the right attitudes – you know, just raised them as people – things would be a lot better."

The film was also exciting for her as a fan of the director's past work. "I really liked his previous films. I’d seen his music documentaries and his other really cool films. I really like him as a director, a lot. He saw one of my earliest films, Happy End, so he sended me the script. I was reading it and I liked it so we had a meeting and I got the part. We know each other pretty well now but he’s not a talkative person so we had a sort of silent conversation on the set. He knows what he wants but he doesn’t speak that much.about emotions and stuff."

It was her first film in English. "I’d never done it before. It was a bit difficult. I was super bad in English, I just couldn’t express myself that well. Then, of course, I really enjoyed it. You can learn everything if you really want to." She'd be happy to do it again, she says, after such a positive experience, and though at this point she has no idea what her next project will be, she's excited to see what the future might hold. "I love learning new things. That’s the thing with acting – I love every part of it!"

The Girl King is available on DVD from December 8.

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