Interview: Sebastian Jessen opens up about Heartless

Sebastian Jessen opens up about Heartless

DIY spoke to Jessen about playing one of two twins, who are on a quest to discover exactly who and what they are.

If there’s one thing the Danes are great at it’s compelling dark drama and with supernatural thriller Heartless they certainly continue that great tradition.

Currently streaming in its entirety on Channel 4’s All4 digital platform as part of their foreign language drama collection, Heartless follows teenage twins Sebastian (Sebastian Jessen) and Sofie (Julie Zangenberg) who conceal a dark secret - that in order to survive they need to suck the energy from people. Together the twins embark on a quest to discover who and what they are, enrolling in a mysterious, elite boarding school which may contain the answers they are seeking.

DIY spoke with actor Sebastian Jessen about playing the moody, brooding Sebastian.

You made Heartless a while ago and now it’s come back to haunt you so to speak. How does that feel?
Scary! No it’s wonderful. We made the first five episodes in 2013 and then in 2014 we did the last three. I’m just enjoying it.

Did you ever imagine that this show would be something you’d travel to London and be talking about two years later?
I was hoping for it but I wasn’t expecting it. It’s great, it’s found its international audience.

What has the feedback been for the show?
I’ve heard only good stuff and people who have contacted me on Facebook and Instagram are writing, ‘We love it! It’s amazing!’ [laughs] That’s just flattering, it’s amazing.

The show’s audience is late teens/early twenties and they’re pretty well versed in things with a supernatural flavour. Did you feel that now was the right time to tap into something like this?
I just thought it was perfect timing and I think this series has a bit more on its heart than the other ‘vampire’ series.

Was the fact that it doesn’t include the usual vampire trappings like coffins, fangs and crucifixes what interested you?
Yeah it did, I think there’s more layers to this one. It’s not just a teen series with vampires, it’s something more.

What’s interesting is that the two main protagonists are siblings, twins in fact. So in a way there’s more at stake…
Yeah definitely. It’s much more powerful than just friends or girlfriend and boyfriend or whatever. The family thing is very powerful. It’s more like a love story between the main characters in all those series and this wasn’t. I really liked that.

There’s a mystery element to the series with the twins searching for information about their mother and what they are. Did you have any input into that?
That was kind of written out already but we worked on the scenes everyday when we met on set. On the words, what we liked, what we disliked and stuff, so it was a work in progress. The story was ready, that was decided [from the start].

How much of yourself did you put into Sebastian? Presumably as an actor you always put something of yourself into your characters?
Of course you do, and I did. How much? That’s a tough one, I don’t know! 20%? [laughs]

He’s quite brooding, he’s not a happy boy!
No he’s not and I am so that’s something different but obviously something [of myself] yeah.

Is it tempting to lighten him up a little bit? Do you find it difficult to play a character who has all this heavy stuff weighing on him?
It is. But I don’t think it’s the right thing to do to lighten him up. Yet. Maybe in the second season…

Are you guys getting a second season?
Maybe… who knows? That would be exciting, yeah! It’s really important that you like it in England and France as well. You are the guys who can decide whether or not we’re gonna make any more.

Does it feel like a self-contained story? Does it have a satisfying conclusion or is there scope for more?
It has a beginning, a middle and a very open ending.

When you filmed it were there plans to continue after the eight episodes?
Yeah, we hoped. The ending is so we can continue.

And you would want to come back and play Sebastian?
Yeah, I would love to! That would be wonderful.

Are you a fan of horror?
Not really.

There’s not a lot of horror coming out of Scandinavia, it’s more likely to be reality based thrillers…
There’s a lot of thrillers but not a lot of horror. I think we are very much attracted to real stuff, real stories and realistic things. I think it shows in everything we do. They’re very close to reality and I think that’s what we like so that was also why I was a bit scared going into this actually.

How well was it received in Denmark?
It was received okay. We’re a very small country. We had a fanbase.

They must be desperate for a second season as they saw it two years ago!
They are. They’re writing all the time, ‘Come on!’

Were you inspired by any horror films or series with regards to playing Sebastian?
Actually we were focusing on not making it a vampire thing. So all the vampire stuff like garlic and sunlight and everything is not present so I was focusing on not really knowing too much. This is a new thing.

Is it difficult finding a balance between making the series scary without alienating a young adult audience?
It was pretty much up to the writers to find that balance. It was difficult, we had to create something new and we did. It had to be a bit scary but you’re right. I think we found the balance.

What’s cool is the twins don’t really know what they are either so the audience discover things at the same time as they do. Was there discussion about how far you take their powers etc?
Yeah, there was. As I said we had to make it up from nothing so it was up to us to find out what we were. It was difficult. I liked the fact that we weren’t vampires, it would be too easy and we’ve seen it all before. It wouldn’t have got the success it has gotten.

In the first episode, we get the sense that Sebastian is the one who struggles with what he is and is perhaps a little softer than Sofie who seems a little more in control and accepting of their situation would you say?
Yeah but that changes!

In terms of relationships, the twins have just had each other for a long time and now they’re at the school and having to interact with other students…
It’s a tough one because Sebastian is not allowed to get close to anyone because then they will die. That’s a bit struggle for him so he’s trying to have some kind of distance but of course he’s drawn to all these beautiful women [laughs] and he’s a teenager but he can’t be what he wants to be. It’s a tricky one.

How did you find going back to school and being in uniform? Even though you’re acting does it bring back any latent anxieties?
In Denmark we’re not used to uniforms - that’s just boarding schools so that was new to me. It was just funny [laughs]

Where did you film Heartless? It looks like a proper house…
It is. It’s about and hour and a half from the capital. Some days we slept at the place but I could get home.

I saw you in the wonderful Love is All You Need opposite Pierce Bronsnan - do you want to do more movies and perhaps more in the English language?
Yeah, definitely that would be wonderful. I would love to, I have a manager and an agent working on it.

What else are you up to?
I’m working, I do a lot of voices for cartoons. From English to Danish. I’ve done a lot of series, I’m Spider-Man. Anakin Skywalker in Clone Wars, that’s me as well. I’ve been one of the Turtles [proceeds to give us a sample of his Danish Turtle, pizza being the only discernible word] it’s just the same stuff in Danish! [laughs]

Heartless is available as part of the Walter Presents service on All4 now.

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