Ragnar Bragason - Interview

28. Feb 2013

Ragnar Bragason new

Ragnar Bragason, director, producer and a playwright has made a prominent career within the Icelandic film industry and television with films such as Bjarnfreðarson, Children, Parents and in television he is known for Næturvaktin, Dagvaktin and Fangavaktin. Laburnum is his first theatre piece. PAI sat down with him to talk about his theatrical debut, methods and ideas in contemporary theatre.

What is a hot topic for you as a playwright today?

I am eager to tell stories, realistic stories. An author always writes from his/her own experience, knowledge and interest,though he will not always be aware of it. In my case it is stories of families, communications and some kind of related dis-functionality. There is a certain tone in my work. The tone that I have applied is a mixture of comedy and drama which suits me very well. My emphasis is on writing weak characters rather then strong ones, strong sympathetic characters do not interest me much. I find it much more amusing to elevate idiosyncrasy. Explore deficiencies instead of focusing on virtues or qualities.

My method is to create characters and deliver them to actors early enough in the whole process so that the actor can absorb and become the character. To see interesting characters deal with interesting circumstances is key, for a play, movie or a TV show to work. Everything else i.e. technology and surroundings are merely a bonus. My main concern is that the actor will work as his/her character, because if he doesn’t then the story will not work nor succeed.

Is Laburnum conceptually different from your previous work?

I knew from the start that I would be dealing with similar themes as before, i.e. a contemporary piece about Icelandic reality. The concept of the storyline was already there from the beginning, I wanted to focus on realism and not to expand the theatrical form. I much rather wanted to test my story and see how it would function within the theatre. I had no intention of re-creating myself. I seldom conceptualize my work in the beginning; this is something that comes later on even after the story is ready, when I get another, more distant perspective on the story. However, Laburnum is in sync with my previous work i.e. realistic.

Do you feel you are extracting the essence of our present in making these tragi-comic characters?

First and foremost I am thinking of what is dramatic and interesting. People floating in oblivion do not shine presumptive of drama. I try to the extreme to avoid consciously thinking that I am in any way reflecting the present, I think it inevitably and subconsciously just happens when a modern man writes a contemporary piece. I never consciously sit down to tackle a certain subject matter. Usually the characters just pop into my head and then they start to develop and mature. I then bring them to the actor and together we finalize each character I use in my stories. This process can take up to 3-5 months with conversations and in close relation with the actor. The story itself unfolds in its basic structure early on but then develops in consideration to the character.

I am very much intrigued and excited about constructing a character, introducing it to the audience to the extent that they get a good picture of the character and then try to deconstruct its characteristics. I want the audience to get a look behind the mask, whatever this mask will reveal, whether people hate the character or not. I find it interesting to deconstruct people’s opinion of the characters they see. No person is primarily evil. There is a reason why people become who they are, good or evil, and if there is a theme within Laburnum as within my films then it is violence and how violence breeds more violence and how it is our communal responsibility as well as personal to break the vicious circle.

I use this kind of character revelation or deconstruction because of my own experience with people and my preconceptions of other people. 10-15 years ago I tended to assume thingsabout people before knowing them, and over and over again I realised that I was judging people presumptively, often to the extreme of disliking them before getting to know them. Once I did, my opinion often shifted from the negative to the positive. It interests me why I was so judgmental and in general why we tend to be judgmental. Today I try not to judge anyone beforehand, but I use this experience in my work to construct characters that initially have a negative effect on audience but through deconstruction the audience sympathizes and even grows to like this them. When researching for characters, I especially focus on people who affect me negatively because it interests me why this person decides to appear negative to the world.

What is next on your agenda?

Besides my film project Metal head, scheduled to open this fall, I am working on a new TV series, and at the same time I am cooking up a film version of Laburnum. I will use the play as foundation for a new script based on the events in Laburnum but out of the apartment and follow the characters as they get on with their lives.

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