Lost in the fog

Ingvar Sigurdsson on braving the elements to make A White, White Day

by Jennie Kermode

Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir and Ingvar Sigurdsson in A White, White Day
Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir and Ingvar Sigurdsson in A White, White Day

Currently showing as part of the Edinburgh international Film Festival’s online selection in partnership with Curzon, Hlynur Palmason’s A White, White Day is the story of a police officer trying to come to terms with the death of his wife in a car accident. Increasingly convinced that she was having an affair in the weeks leading up to her death, Ingimundur (Ingvar Sigurdsson) becomes obsessed with finding out the truth, and Palmason combines escalating tension with moments of absurdist comedy as we find ourselves uncertain where the bereaved man’s quest will take him. I talked to Ingvar back when the film was screening at the Glasgow Film Festival and he began by telling me what brought him to the film.

Ingimundur tries to adjust to bereavement
Ingimundur tries to adjust to bereavement

“It’s just the director,” he says, a little out of breath as he makes his way up one of the city’s steep hills..”I worked with him before on his graduation film from film school. He had this idea to make this film and so he wrote it with me in mind. I knew it was coming up – he was always sending me drafts and some ideas, for about five years.”

Does that mean that he was involved in the development of the character?

“Yeah, but I always say that he created this character and I just came into this exciting recipe. He has a special way to tell a story. I respect him as an artist so even though we had an interesting dialogue about it all the time I was not coming in with great ideas, I was more like to fill in the picture.

“It’s a huge character and it’s a great responsibility to have it but I never felt over-pressured. I was with good people, a great director and in good company with fellow actors, so it was a challenge but I never felt like it was too much, you know? Even though it was hard work.”

Ingimundur is going through a very difficult period of his life when we meet him. Was it hard work inhabiting a character who was dealing with so much grief?

“It is but at the same time it’s very humorous. The situations he’s dealing with, the psychologist, the business with the police and the girl. It’s so rich with all kinds of emotions in it and relationships. There’s a lot of love in it and a lot of funny situations. When you have that mixture, even though you’re grieving all the time it is very amusing and fun to work on.”

Ingimundur has to visit a psychologist
Ingimundur has to visit a psychologist

The girl he refers to is Salka, Ingimundur’s granddaughter, who is perhaps the person who helps him most because she won’t permit him to sulk. She’s brought to life by a fantastic performance from young Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir. I ask Ingvar how he and Ída developed their onscreen chemistry.

“It was strangely very easy,” he says. “We didn’t have to do anything. We met coincidentally three weeks before. I was at a swimming pool and she ran up to me and said ‘You’re going to be my grandpa!’ And I said ‘Yes!’ and after that it was easy.

“She is just a miracle, I think. She’s from Heaven. I couldn’t ask for anything better from her as a fellow actor and a friend. Even though she was very much a kid and very playful and she could be very tired – it was cold and it was in the middle of the night sometimes – but she was always very professional when the camera was running, and never a problem. She was there for me and the film, and I was there for her.”

Was it a difficult shoot, given those circumstances?

“Yeah. I was a low budget and we were in the middle of nowhere. Of course we were well taken care of. The make-up and costume were really, really fabulous people, but the tunnel scenes were very difficult in the sense that we were wet and cold, and even though it doesn’t show because it’s Iceland and it was daylight when we were shooting at night time, it was the middle of the night. But that’s a part of the parcel of our job, you know? For me, when we’re shooting difficult scenes like that the good thing is that you are surrounded with fantastic people.”

How does he feel about all the praise he has received for his performance?

Strange things happen out on the road
Strange things happen out on the road

“I was not expecting anything,” he says. “It’s a difficult character... You often hear people say, ‘Why tell stories about white middle aged men?’ But when it’s cooked like that, when you are working with a director that has such a different approach when telling stories, I like that. I found a lot of ways and I saw all sorts of possibilities to make my character very exciting, but I’m not super surprised that I got some awards because the nature of the role is like that.

“It’s funny because he’s an old fashioned guy, he’s a simple man. He doesn’t need much. He just needs a good wife and a family. He wants to be strong for his family and to provide. He needs a steady job and a regular income. It is funny to see those kinds of characters in a situation they hate, like being with the psychologist. For a character like Ingimundur there is so much bullshit in this world. Like pretentious things, you know? He doesn’t have the tools. It wasn’t in the picture to lose his wife. He just cannot handle it.”

When we talk, he’s preparing for a music video shoot with the band Of Monsters And Men – a very physical job, he says, with lots of dancing. I ask him what he’ll be doing after that.

“I am preparing a TV series about people living under a volcano in Iceland. When it starts it has erupted for over a year.” He’s also preparing for several small international roles, he says, but he’s afraid to talk about them. Such is life in the film industry.

A White, White Day will be available on digital platforms in the UK from 3 July.

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