When Anna Asp studied at the Christer Strömholm School of Photography in the late 1960s, many people were convinced she would have made an excellent photographer if she had not subsequently chosen to become a set designer. Bille August was a student at the school at the same time, and their paths were to cross twenty years later when Asp was the set designer for his film Pelle the Conqueror (Pelle Erövraren,1987). Her work on that film earned her the Danish film awards Bodil and Robert.
Asp also trained at the University College of Film, Radio, Television and Theatre in Stockholm. Having worked as the set designer for Roy Andersson’s 1975 film Giliap, she applied to work with Ingmar Bergman. He hired her and passed on his know-how on the role of colours in bringing out an actor’s face: “avoid blue”.
After Autumn Sonata (Höstsonaten, Ingmar Bergman, 1978) she was commissioned to design the sets for the mammoth production that was Fanny and Alexander (Fanny och Alexander, Ingmar Bergman, 1982), a mixture of dreams and nightmares seen from a child’s point of view. Her work on the film won her an Oscar in 1984. As Bergman had wanted she turned the grandmother’s home into a warm, red, all-encompassing and protective womb for the young Alexander.
Her work with Andrei Tarkovsky was enlightening. Particular about nuances of colour, contrasts and image composition, he was nonetheless keen for Asp to be bold, to play with proportions and perspectives in order to create illusions. On the shoot of The Sacrifice (Offret, 1986) she was forced to build a smaller exterior of a house than its interior would suggest, in order to match the height of some pine trees. As it happened, the camera broke down when filming the house as it burnt down, and it had to be built up all over again. This anecdote has become a classic in set design circles.
Asp always works closely from a screenplay and works intuitively from the psychological make-up of the characters. This quality is what has inspired Bille August and other directors to book her services long in advance of a film shoot. During their long collaboration on productions such as August’s The Best Intentions (Den goda viljan,1992), Jerusalem (1996) and A Song for Martin (En sång för Martin, 2001), Asp has made use of the Nordic light with its seasonal shifts. She has depicted poverty in contrast with bourgeois affluence through the interiors she has devised, and has contrasted costumes against their settings with a sensitive eye for aesthetics and form.
Colour is the cheapest element in any set, and Asp is happy for it to serve as a starting point. In Evil (Ondskan, Mikael Håfström, 2003), for which she won the Guldbagge award for set design in 2004, she devised a “Nazi brown” to capture the claustrophobic and penal atmosphere of the boarding school and home.
She gets involved in every aspect of production design, from the choice of locations to the fabrics used for the actors’ costumes. Set design is there to be seen, but ultimately it needs to support the characters and highlight their inner selves. For the Swedish TV series Wallander (2005-2009) she transformed detective Kurt Wallander’s hometown of Ystad into a Swedish outpost observed on camera, and Wallander himself was given an extra human dimension through the tumbledown greenhouse in his garden.
Asp prefers to work from three-dimensional models rather than sketches, since they allow both her and the director to explore camera angles and the effect of the light on people and objects. She also prefers to create historical environments without too much regard for authenticity: her own newly created film universe imparts to the viewer the feel of an epoch.
With her production design for Arn: The Knight Templar (Arn – Tempelriddaren, Peter Flinth, 2007) and Arn: The Kingdom at the End of the Road (Arn – riket vid vägens slut, Peter Flinth, 2008) Asp used a Viking aesthetic, the Middle Ages and fantasy to create a completely unique and spectacular fantasy world in Sweden, Morocco and Scotland. In Beyond (Svinalängorna, Pernilla August, 2010) she recreated the government housing programme conditions that equated both to heaven and hell for the many Finnish immigrants who had moved to Sweden in search of work.
Anna Asp is also active in the theatre and was behind the set designs for an elaborate production of “Tartuffe” at Stockholm City Theatre as well as both costumes and sets for “The Night of the Tribades” (“Tribadernas natt”), the P.O. Enquist play directed by Thommy Berggren at the same theatre.
Louise Lagerström (2012)
(translated by Derek Jones)
Main profession: Other profession
Wallander – hämnden (2009)
Wallander – kuriren (2009)
Wallander – skulden (2009)
En sång för Martin (2001)
Syndare i sommarsol (2001)
Fröken Smillas känsla för snö (1997)
Den goda viljan (1992)
Peter och Petra (1989)
Pelle Erövraren (1987)
Åke och hans värld (1984)
Fanny och Alexander (1983)
Fanny och Alexander (1982)
Barnens ö (1980)
Min älskade (1979)
En dåres försvarstal (1976)
Samma gardin (1972)
Ture Sventon – privatdetektiv (1972)
Den allvarsamma leken (2016)
Wallander – prästen (2009)
Arn – riket vid vägens slut (2008)
Arn: tempelriddaren (2007)
Wallander: fotografen (2006)
Les misérables (1998)
Andarnas hus (1993)
Efter repetitionen (1984)
Bygga bilder (1990)
Samma gardin (1972)
Den demokratiske terroristen (1992)
Guldbagge 2017 Nominerad Bästa scenografi, Den allvarsamma leken (2016)
Guldbagge 2004 Bästa prestation Ondskan (yrkeskategorierna filmklippare, scenograf, kostym, maskör, special effects och animation 2003)
Guldbagge 1993 Kreativa insatser
Bodil (dansk) 1987 Pelle Erobreren (scenografi)
Robert (dansk) 1987 Pelle Erobreren (bästa scenografi)
Academy Award of Merit (Oscar) 1984 Fanny och Alexander (bästa scenografi 1983/Best Art Direction 1983)