If pop-culture is to be believed, Iceland – and indeed much of Scandinavia – must have more murderers than anywhere else in the world.
Adding to Nordic noir’s already venerable reputation this year’s worldwide release of Icelandic drama, Trapped (Ófærð), further cemented Scandinavia as the hot-spot for crime thrillers. It’s an irony which Ilmur Kristjánsdóttir is quick to acknowledge and laugh at.
“In Iceland, the murder rate is, like, one per year,” she deadpans.
Ilmur, who played police officer, Henrika, may not have been Trapped’s protagonist, but her role assisting Andri, chief of police, solve one of the grisliest crimes Iceland has ever seen, endeared her to audiences around the globe. You can even buy a Henrika mug.
As it turns out, Ilmur also has a soft spot for the character.
“Henrika is very special to me,” Ilmur admits. “I’m a very chaotic person, and her inner calmness has taught me a lot. As a character I think she’s someone you want to learn more about.”
With rumours of a second series of Trapped in the works, audiences may well get the chance to become acquainted with Henrika once more.
In order to get to know Henrika, Ilmur spent time with one of Iceland’s female police officers who worked in a remote village.
“I could feel her energy immediately,” she recalls. “She was very straight to the point and knew where her marks were. I tried to give Henrika some of that – I wanted her to be an honest person.”
Ilmur sees some notable differences between male and female law enforcers.
“Women may not be as physically strong as men, but psychologically they have more strength,” she notes.
“If there’s a female police officer then men calm down. When they see a male police officer, they get even more angry.”
Reflecting on the success of Trapped and the world’s seemingly insatiable appetite for Scandinavian crime, Ilmur puts it all down to Iceland’s strong tradition of storytelling.
“Icelanders believe in trolls and fairies. When you stare into the darkness of the mountains for much of the year then your imagination starts to take control. When it’s dark and cold, you invent stories that keep you excited – or maybe even scared.”
For much of her professional life, Ilmur has been in the business of making people laugh. After graduating from university she began performing as Pippi Longstocking before writing and acting in an all-female sketch comedy series, The Girls (Stelpurnar).
“There had been lots of talk about how comedy had been so male-dominated,” she says. “Our show was a way of proving that girls are funny.”
Her reputation as Iceland’s funny woman meant that it as “a bit risky” to place her in Henrika’s boots, though Ilmur is quick to point out that she too is “a serious person – but that’s not how people see me.”
Perhaps that perception is about to change now that she’s entered politics as chief of Iceland’s welfare committee.
Admittedly, it was “the idealist in me” which made Ilmur take the leap off the stage and into parliament.
“I think it’s very good to live here in Iceland – especially for women. We’re are far in front when it comes to equality,” she says.
“But you can never sleep, there’s always more work to do. You always have to be awake and on the move.”
MY ICELAND: Ilmur’s favourite places
The Snæfellsnes peninsula: I have roots there and, as a teenager, I worked in a fish factory there.
Ásbyrgi: the nature is so beautiful.
The National Museum in Reykjavik: I love the history. It’s nice to hang out there.