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The Killing – Executive producer Veena Sud on using the Danish series as a blueprint

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The Killing -  Joel Kinnaman and Mireille Enos
Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) and Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) © 2011 AMC

Veena Sud was a writer and executive producer on the successful TV series Cold Case. Her new show The Killing is based on the hugely popular Danish television series Forbrydelsen. It tells the story of the murder of a teenage girl, Rosie Larsen, and the subsequent police investigation, following three distinct stories, the detectives assigned to the case and their suspects, the victim’s grieving family and the local politicians connected to the case.

I spoke with Veena Sud at the TV press day for the series.

Does this case get solved by the end of the season?

The Killing -  Producer Veena Sud
Producer Veena Sud © 2011 AMC

This season is 13 episodes. And every episode is one day in the life of this investigation, and the life of this family, and the life of this political campaign. At this point we’re going to organically follow the story, and whether or not it gets solved at the end of the season is a mystery.

Some shows, particularly with Scandinavian roots like Wallander, have that feeling of being always gray, always dark. You moved this to Seattle; it looks like you were able to get that same feeling.

We shot in Vancouver posing for Seattle. And Vancouver and Seattle are very much like Copenhagen: Close to the top of the world, incredibly beautiful, dark, brooding skies. And it was the perfect match for the tone of the show and for capturing the essence of the story we’re telling.

Is there a difference between a Scandinavian sensibility and an American sensibility in terms of storytelling? Were there any cultural things you had to adapt to make it more palatable for Americans?

I don’t know if it was a cultural difference, but as far as the storytelling challenge and adapting it to the American screen was we live in a society that is incredibly violent, and much more violent than Denmark. Amber Alerts are the norm on the highway, and a missing teenager in a major American city never makes news.

So our biggest challenge was to make us as Americans care about this young girl over a very long course of time.

Is the Danish series still ongoing?

I believe it’s still ongoing.

So the crime hasn’t been solved yet in the Danish series either?

The Killing -  Joel Kinnaman and Mireille Enos
Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) and Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) © 2011 AMC

In the Danish series they solve their crime and they’ve moved on to another crime.

Then will you be departing radically from that series in terms of who the killer actually is since I guess people could watch that series and figure it out?

We are using the Danish series as a blueprint, but we are diverging and creating our own world, our world of suspects and, potentially, ultimately who killed Rosie Larsen.

What are the differences in the characters from the Danish version?

The Danish version has the same worlds. We have taken the worlds and adapted them to America. So in the Danish version there is a political race, there is the story of the female homicide detective and her partner, and the suspects in that world, and the family of the victim. We have taken that paradigm and adapted it to this story.

The differences were we have to be very specific about American politics. So it’s a mayoral race. Their female homicide detective was a very interesting, compelling, strong character. And I love the qualities of the Danish version. And we have been so blessed with Mireille Enos who has come in with all her own strengths and qualities, and really created a deeper back story for Sarah Linden.

The series is about the killing of a minor. Some scenes are very graphic, how do you walk the line between scaring people and respecting human life?

The Killing -  Billy Campbell, Eric Ladin and Kristin Lehman
Episode 1.03 - Mayoral Candidate Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell), Jamie Wright (Eric Ladin) and Gwen Eaton (Kristin Lehman) © 2011 AMC, Photo by James Dittiger

As someone who has worked on and written for cop dramas for a while now, the most important thing in the show was to not pornographize murder, and to see the real cost and the real toll when a child is lost. What you saw on the clip was incredible graphic, and incredibly heartbreaking.

We’re not spending time looking at a dead child’s body and just analyzing that; we’re spending time with all the people who have lost her, and the impact of this loss on her mother, on her siblings, on her father.

What’s it like to identify your daughter at the morgue, what’s it like to make breakfast for her younger brothers the next morning, what do you tell them? And when I was doing research for the pilot I spent a lot of time with parents who had lost their children, expressly for the purpose of telling this story in a way it was authentic and respectful, in a way that I think a lot of television isn’t about murder victims.

Can you talk about casting Mireille Enos?

The Killing - Joel Kinnaman and Mireille Enos
Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) and Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) © 2011 AMC

It was so magical. It was understandably the toughest role to cast on this show. And we went through a very thorough and long process.

There was this one moment in the audition where Mireille was reading the lines, and she was Sarah Linden. I saw her in that field with that dark, brooding sky, and I knew it was her.

There can be grumblings about serialized shows, writers not giving a credible answer, and an answer at all by the end of a certain season. You’ve already said you don’t know if this will be solved by the end of the first season, is that a way of engaging the audience?

For me it’s about telling a story in a way that’s really compelling, and that we are able to go really deeply into the world of the suspects and the victim’s family, and the larger world of what is going on politically in the city of Seattle.

So there is no kind of conscious device about the first season, second season, it’s just telling the story day by day in a way that when the story ends, it ends.