Swedish Queen of Crime Camilla Lackberg Turns to Kenyan Noir, Costume, Horror Pics With ‘Gladiator 2’s’ Alexander Karim, Baker Karim (EXCLUSIVE)

Once upon a time, there was the Swedish queen of crime Camilla Läckberg, steadily delivering international best-selling adult/children’s books, cook books and song lyrics.

Some of her books have turned into series –“The Fjällbacka Murders” – or soon will be – “The Golden Age,’ optioned by Legendary Entertainment.

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One day she met Swedish star actor Alexander Karim (“Gladiator 2,” “The Lawyer”) while shooting the Swedish show “Stars in the Castle” (“Stjärnorna på slotet”).

“We started talking TV, movies, creative ideas and immediately hit it off!” Läckberg tells Variety, in a zoom interview ahead of Göteborg’s Nordic Film Market. There, her executive produced thriller “The Dog,” starring Alexander Karim and helmed by his brother Baker Karim (“Malcolm”), is having its market world premiere.

The Karim brothers and Läckberg are, moreover, now ‘partners in crime’ in Bad Flamingo Studios (BFS), a Stockholm-based film and TV production outfit founded to “break the film industry’s norms and barriers.”

Helene Hillerström Miksche, former head of legal at Sweden’s leading commercial channel TV4, has joined them as CEO and co-owner.

Talking their shingle’s DNA and reason for joining forces, the partners say their different backgrounds and different know-how is the best mix for sparking creative energy, and set the seeds for their banner, with creators at its core.

Their vision is to take control of their own material, stick to what makes them vibe, and have fun along the way, as explained by Läckberg: “Our DNA simply started with creativity-us bouncing back ideas and finding a lot of joy in this. It did not start with business people sitting around a table.”

Just back from filming Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator 2,” Alexander adds: “We have similar questions that we burn for. The challenge was to make productions where we could just solve issues, without making a PSA [public service announcement]. What we want is to make entertainment that means something,” says the actor, recently seen in ZDF eco thriller “The Swarm” from “Game of Thrones’ showrunner Frank Doelger.

Alexander’s elder brother Baker – who had a stint as film commissioner at the Swedish Film Institute in between directing jobs – picks up: “Yes, we need to realise we’re in a different world-with YouTubers, Tik Tokkers. Film production is changing at a rapid pace; creating a nimble creative company could be a way to move along this changing geography that we find ourselves in. With Camilla, Alexander and Helene, we’re a great team. We can move swiftly, take decisions based on where we’re at. And putting a meaning into what we’re doing is key.“

One case in point is “Glacier,” the first BFS production and Läckberg’s first feature film screenplay, which aired on the streaming platform Viaplay in 2021.

Baker’s pandemic pic about a doctor (Lena Endre) who falls for a younger pastor (Alexander) was meant to shake the usual male/female and age gap screen standards. “Normally you have a female lead 15 years younger than her male love interest. So without hitting people on the head, we’ve made an entertaining love story our own way, without bowing to conventions,” Alexander says.

BFS’s second pic “The Dog” due to screen next week as an exclusive market premiere in Göteborg, goes in a totally new direction.

The Dog
The Dog

Filmed in Kenya, with a local crew and partly in English and Swahili, the project is a personal project for the Karim brothers of Ugandan origin, and a way to reconnect with their African roots. “Boy from Heaven”’s Theis Schmidt serves as editor with Baker.

Based on an original screenplay by Baker, Victor Gatonye and George Mungai, the Kenyan noir is set in the criminal underworld of Mombasa. Alexander plays MZ, a small-time drug dealer, hired to drive around a young escort, Kadzo (Caroline Muthoni) to and from her clients. After falling in love with her, MZ wants to rescue her, but she doesn’t, and definitely doesn’t need a man to save her.

Pic producer Olivier Guerpillon (“Glacier,” “Costa Brava Lebanon,”“Sound of Noise”), says Baker shares with his friend and fellow helmer Tarik Saleh (“Boy from Heaven”) “a similar approach of using the thriller genre to show a lesser known reality for an international audience.”

“We’ve taken a U.S. genre and shot it the European auteur way, in Africa. It’s more Godard than anything else”, says Baker, who praises the Kenyan crew and Kenya’s fast-expanding industry, where global streamers are setting foot. “It’s happening now!” he adds, about his new home.

Guerpillon says the pic was line-produced by Kenya’s Zamaradi Productions and financed mainly outside the traditional subsidy model, through equity, and post-production coin from Swedish regional fund Film i Skåne.

On the distribution front, Guerpillon said he plans to separate Africa from the rest of the world and hopes for a streaming pact. “Otherwise it’s a clear film with international and festival potential,” with an appealing genre trope,” he argues.

Horror and Costume

Several other projects are in the BFS pipeline, including a costume drama on which Läckberg has been working for a while.

“When Baker and Alexander first approached me with the idea for this film a few years back and asked me to write it, I was terrified! Then I watched a YouTube video on how to use Final Draft. Now I’m in version 43 of the script!” she says jokingly.

Since then, Läckberg who sees herself first and foremost as a storyteller, simply can’t let go of screenwriting, and recently attended a Robert McKee seminar in New York. “I want to get better at screenwriting and to excel. I just love it!” she tells Variety.

Also on her writing list for BFS is a horror pic, based on her original idea. “Then of course, crime will always be there. It would be foolish not to approach this!” said the author with 35 million readers in more than 60 countries.

Reflecting on the crime genre, Läckberg feels it might be time to offer film & TV viewers different shades of noir. “The world is quite horrible to look at these days, so very dark. We feel the audience is in greater need for a lighter touch,” she observes.

Meanwhile. BFS is also involved in two co-productions:

*A high-end series based on Alexander’s own 2019 novel “The Extraordinary Story of the Sudden Death of Jonas Paulsson,” to be co-produced with Germany’s Intaglio Films.

“I worked with Doelger on ‘The Swarm”’and he approached us,” said the Swedish star actor. The story turns on a murdered writer who wakes up and travels back in time to the day before the killing, to try to prevent his own death.

*The Swedish project “Love Duet,” from legendary Swedish helmer Suzanne Osten (“The Mozart Brothers”), is a ground-breaking AI project in which the young Suzanne (to be played by Sanna Sundqvist) meets the great Ingmar Bergman (Simon Norrthon).

The Vilda Bomben project will be showcased at the Göteborg Film Festival where Osten, Läckberg and Sundqvist will take part in a panel.

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