On the rocks

Nicolaj Kopernikus and Kim Magnusson on the Oscar-shortlisted Stenofonen

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Louis Næss-Schmidt and Jesper Christensen in Nicolaj Kopernikus’s Oscar-shortlisted Live Action Short Film Stenofonen
Louis Næss-Schmidt and Jesper Christensen in Nicolaj Kopernikus’s Oscar-shortlisted Live Action Short Film Stenofonen

Nicolaj Kopernikus’s Oscar-shortlisted Live Action Short Film Stenofonen, produced by two-time Oscar winner Kim Magnusson (Anders Walter’s Helium and Anders Thomas Jensen’s Election Night), scored by Halfdan E and shot by Henrik Kristensen, stars Louis Næss-Schmidt (The Chestnut Man), Jesper Christensen (Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, Martin Campbell’s Casino Royale), Lars Ranthe, Patricia Schumann, Joachim Fjelstrup, Caspar Phillipson (JFK in Pablo Larraín’s Jackie, opposite Natalie Portman and in Andrew Dominik’s 2022 adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ novel Blonde), and Kopernikus.

Nicolaj Kopernikus with Kim Magnusson and Anne-Katrin Titze: “I was so happy that my son said yes to playing my father as a 12-year-old kid back in the 1950s.”
Nicolaj Kopernikus with Kim Magnusson and Anne-Katrin Titze: “I was so happy that my son said yes to playing my father as a 12-year-old kid back in the 1950s.”

In the first installment of my conversation with Nicolaj Kopernikus and Kim Magnusson we discuss father/son relationships on and off the set, casting Caspar Phillipson as the Hallo-Hallo radio host, a special photograph, the location of the beach, cutting a line from the script, and the missing magic tricks.

There are moments in our childhoods that remain with us forever, as though they were captured in amber, waiting for release. Jørn [Louis Næss-Schmidt] is 12 and on his way to summer camp by the Danish seaside. He is looking forward to playing the violin for his friends there, only he won’t, because his father [Lars Ranthe] will not allow him to take the instrument along, as he considers his son’s musical prowess insufficient, protecting him from embarrassing himself, as he puts it.

The mother [Patricia Schumann] looks on and it clearly pains her. She does nothing to help her son and although her own suffering under the dominant pater familias is hinted at, her story isn’t further explored. Instead the film journeys on with the boy’s rocky road to, at least, musical self-esteem. Director/screenwriter Nicolaj Kopernikus plays a version of himself, opposite Jesper Christensen as his aged father, and cast his own son in the role of his dad as a 12-year-old boy in the Fifties. A throwaway object found on the beach, in this case a stone shaped like a slender wooden last, can carry an untold tale and a tune to boast.

From Copenhagen, Nicolaj Kopernikus and Kim Magnusson joined me on Zoom for an in-depth conversation on Stenofonen.

Anne-Katrin Titze: First of all, congratulations for being Oscar-shortlisted!

Nicolaj Kopernikus: Thanks a lot!

AKT: This film is a family affair, isn’t it?

NK: It is a big family affair. First of all it’s a tribute to my father.

Nicolaj Kopernikus on Louis Næss-Schmidt as Jørn: “I had a wonderful working relationship with my son.”
Nicolaj Kopernikus on Louis Næss-Schmidt as Jørn: “I had a wonderful working relationship with my son.”

AKT: And you have your son play your father, which is really quite remarkable. And you are in the middle. Then of course there is the grandfather who plays a pivotal role.

NK: Exactly. I was so happy that my son said yes to playing my father as a 12-year-old kid back in the 1950s. Of course I have a very nice family relationship with my son, a loving son/father relation, but it’s also very nice to have a working relationship, a professional working relationship. That was wonderful.

AKT: I see that Kim is here to join our conversation. Kim, hi! Are you in Copenhagen as well?

Kim Magnusson: Yes, I’m in Copenhagen.

AKT: Nicolaj and I were both early, so I already started with my congratulations for being Oscar-shortlisted, which is not the first time for you.

KM: No, but every time is still like a first time. Every time is still very exciting and you get very honoured in a way. It’s still a thrill.

AKT: You have two films in the race this year.

Jørn in later life (Jesper Christensen)
Jørn in later life (Jesper Christensen)

KM: That’s right, we have two films and they are not at all similar but they are both personal stories.

AKT: Nicolaj, you were talking about the working relationship with your son. Is your father still alive?

NK: No, he died two and a half years ago. So he was not able to see the movie or have an opinion about what I’m doing. Yeah, I had a wonderful working relationship with my son. We drove to the set together in a car as father and son and when we came to the set he was very professional and like all the other actors. He was very good.

I remember one episode where we were sitting at the beach and I had written a long line for him and he said “Father, this is a really bad line, I’m not able to play that.” I said “Can you at least try?” And he tried. I must admit that it was bad and we took it out and we did something else. He wasn’t afraid of me and a real professional. At that time he was only 12. Now he’s 14 and he’s in a lot of other things. He just finished a Netflix TV show called The Chestnut Man and a couple of other things.

AKT: What was the line he didn’t like?

Caspar Phillipson as JFK with Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy in Pablo Larraín's Jackie
Caspar Phillipson as JFK with Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy in Pablo Larraín's Jackie

NK: It was a long line; he was standing up and throwing the stones - this is not music, it has nothing to do with music and I’m a fool. Instead of saying all these lines he was just standing up and walked away. I found out the movie was best without a lot of words, but with a lot of music and a lot of atmosphere in the images. You could feel the emotions more instead of talking.

AKT: I liked the casting of the radio host. People might know him playing JFK in Jackie, opposite Natalie Portman. It’s funny, because it almost feels like a meeting JFK moment for you father when he is on the Hallo Hallo radio show. Good choice!

KM: Caspar [Phillipson], the actor, he is a great guy and so stylish in a way. He has that, you can’t say old-ness, but he can play these characters so well, from that time.

AKT: The era, yes.

NK: The casting process was really nice for this movie. I know how people say casting is everything, but it is really something. It’s really important. Caspar is very good at words and he’s able to speak like you did back in the 1950s. There is actually a little bit of my father in that scene because the thing that comes out of the radio is the original part of the music he played on the stones on Hallo Hallo, that program. The head of the sound department, Asger [Midjord Rasmussen], he said can we use that music? So he’s in the movie.

Stenofonen poster
Stenofonen poster

AKT: I also had a guess. The photograph we see twice, of a boy and a baby, which shows up in the Fifties and stands on the dresser later on, is that an actual family photo?

NK: It’s so nice that you could see that! Because it’s my father holding my father’s brother. There are 13 years between them. I found that picture and put it in a frame. I’m very happy that you saw that because when you do personal stories, you take a risk because you actually put a lot of things into the film that the audience might not see or might not have any clue about. For me it was important to just go all the way with the personal things because nevertheless, hopefully you can feel it in a way and I’m so happy that you could see that picture.

AKT: Where was the scene on the beach shot?

KM: It was up north, the top of the main little island we have in the Kingdom of Denmark, called Zealand.

AKT: It looks beautiful. Gregers never got to do his magic tricks! Did you film that scene? It’s funny that he gets referred to twice and doesn’t get to show anything. I was wondering if there ever was a little boy named Gregers?

KM: There was!

NK: In the first draft there was a long scene with a Gregers and stuff like that but we just cut it out. We didn’t need it. We never shot it.

AKT: I’m glad. That was my point, no little boy cast as Gregers was cut out of the movie! Thank you so much, I enjoyed your film.

NK: Thank you for hosting us!

MK: Thank you for being there and writing about it and liking the movie.

Coming up - Nicolaj Kopernikus and Kim Magnusson on personal relationships and good stories, filming during Covid, the children at the beach, and a connection to Martin Strange-Hansen’s Oscar-shortlisted Live Action Short Film On My Mind.

The final five nominees are scheduled to be announced on February 8, 2022. The 94th Academy Awards ceremony originally scheduled for Sunday, February 27 will be held on Sunday, March 27, 2022 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.

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