Heartless sees Julie Zangenberg playing Sofie, a teenage vampire who enrols in mysterious school with her vampire brother Sebastian (Sebastian Jessen) and falls in love with Emilie (Julie Christiansen), the headmaster’s daughter, who has secret powers of her own. Zangenberg spoke to us about starring in the new show from Walter Presents, Channel 4’s streaming service…
What attracted you to Heartless, and how did you get involved?
Well, I got involved really early in the process. The then director contacted me and said he’d had this idea for many years, and he was seeing me as the Sofie character, and he told me about it and what it said to me was every actress wants a role with levels like this, a complex character that also makes a shift and goes through a journey.
So that was what appealed to me at first, and then there were all these elements like we need to do something socially realistic on one hand and then at the same time do something supernatural. That was appealing to me too, the challenge in that. And also that we wanted to do something that spoke to young people, like not speaking down to them, but making it relatable in many ways. And I felt it was very interesting also to play a young strong woman who finds out that she’s gay, and doesn’t feel ashamed about it and doesn’t have the whole [adopts tortured teen angst voice] ‘Oh no, what will my mother think?’ thing, it’s more that she comes to terms with it really quickly. And I liked that modern twist to it.
I liked how it was presented very naturally; there wasn’t any angst involved in the relationship, it was just them falling in love.
Exactly. Two strong young women who stand by who they are.
How did you work on the relationship together?
Well, I knew Julie a little bit before this, but obviously you need to spend some time together, we needed to just hang out. And then try to find out what the connection is and what their relationship is, so a lot of time together and a lot of working on the scenes.
What kind of preparation did you do for the role?
It’s kind of technique-y, but for me it was important that I didn’t look too much like the vampire genre, that I didn’t look too much like what has been done before. For me, to make it realistic, I looked much more to like Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted, Evan Rachel Wood things, you know more of people having psychological issues and dealing with that by becoming very tough and self defensive and cutting off a lot of empathy. That was more interesting to me, to kind of make it more realistic, that she has this supernatural power, but the way to deal with it is that she becomes colder. I felt that mechanism was more interesting.
Were you much of a vampire fan beforehand?
I was and I still am – I love everything supernatural and period pieces like Vikings or Renaissance movies or things going on in completely different time periods, I love that. I love the escape that can give you, but at the same time I also like social realism dramas and also a lot of what the Scandinavians are known for. But also the Brits. I like that sort of thing, actually it’s more like a European phenomenon, I think. So I like the mix of both, but also definitely vampires and I am a huge Twilight fan. Yeah.
Do you have a favourite vampire movie?
I don’t have a favourite, I just like the genre.
What was the hardest thing to get right overall?
Well, if you get the task of having to play the role of child who’s going to school, who finds out she’s a lesbian and she has this power that she has to suck the life out of other people in order to survive, and she has to hide it from everybody and she killed a lot of people and she doesn’t feel regret, but we still need to bond with her, that was a challenge all in all [laughs]. There were a lot of challenges, but making her mine and making her someone we understood and could relate to, that was kind of my main thing in this.
Your characters suck the life force from their victims. Were you secretly disappointed that you didn’t get to do the whole blood and fangs thing?
No, because actually, I’ve done a lot of comedy and I’ve played a vampire a couple of times before. So I got that urge satisfied before, so no, I was okay. I’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of crazy roles in my time, so I just really enjoyed doing this.
Where did you play a vampire before?
In like the Danish version of Saturday Night Live. It’s called Live From Bremen, and I did four seasons of that in Denmark. So in every show you play like twelve different roles and it runs for a long time.
So it was a Twilight parody sort of thing?
Yeah, but I played everything there, from like an orang-utan to everything else.
How do you play an orang[utan?
That was a lot to do with the costume, and then just trying to get the body language of the monkey.
I’ve only seen the early episodes of the show. Does somebody turn a light on at any point?
You know what? It is very dark, but it became something people were discussing, so it becomes lighter, let’s just say that. Yeah. But I get it, turn the brightness all the way up on the screen, yeah.
How would you sell the show to somebody who was thinking about watching it on Walter Presents?
Well I think, like we spoke about, the mix of something supernatural and at the same time very realistic – that appeals to me, anyway. Just the task in that and I think it’s also nice that it’s supernatural but it’s not something we’ve seen before – you know, we’ve seen the vampire thing lots of times, we know the stake through the heart and garlic and sunlight and they’re done. So here it’s much more like where do they come from, what can they do, how do you kill them or how do you solve their mystery and will they become real people? All of that, I think is very intriguing. And then I think it’s just a really nice to have a series for young people that also speaks to other generations.
What sort of things do you like to read and watch for pleasure? Particularly sort of fantasy / sci-fi stuff?
Well, I have to admit that I don’t have as much time to read as I would like to and it becomes very script-based, what I read.
Apart from all that time you spend watching television…
That’s true, but that’s easier in some ways, it doesn’t demand your attention in the same way – I can be on my computer working and still watch TV series. And I think that it’s amazing that when you ask me that question, still Harry Potter comes to mind. Because that was kind of like the first genre-based thing that really captivated me and millions and billions of others. And I’m still a huge Harry Potter fan today. And I lived in London, and we lived in Bushey in Watford, and part of our building was in Harry Potter, and that was a huge deal for me.
Heartless is available to watch now on Walter Presents. For more news about the latest TV series, pick up the new issue of SciFiNow.