Knits together a fine story ... Sofie Grabol as Sarah Lund in The Killing. Sarah Lund 4.jpg
I am sitting at a bare table in a room with grey walls. Beyond is a large, gloomy office filled with desks and office clutter. Outside, the weak Danish sunshine struggles against the beginnings of relentless rain.
The door bangs firmly shut, a recording device clunks into life and Copenhagen's most famous detective begins her interrogation - only this time Sarah Lund is answering the questions. Sofie Grabol, the actress who plays her, sits on the wrong side of the table, a gregarious, engaging presence, and contemplates Lund's final exit from this police station.
Filming on the third and last series of The Killing finished a couple of days ago, and tomorrow the room in which we now sit will be pulled down, along with the rest of the set, with its familiar corridors and haphazard filing. (I have to clear a chair of police files to sit down.)
Grabol is finding this difficult to come to terms with. Admirers of the crime drama may also struggle to let go of Lund. She is a somewhat unlikely hero: uncommunicative, occasionally bungling, neglectful of close relationships and family life. But the detective's unshakeable commitment to finding Nanna Birk Larsen's killer over that first 20-hour season was matched only by the fans' growing fervour for Lund herself.
And while plot is inevitably central to a drama that focuses relentlessly on a single crime, it has been Lund's gradual decline - personal and professional - that has made The Killing so gripping; even allowing for a second series that sometimes stretched the limits of plausibility. Lund will not be returning after this outing, Grabol promises. "I think there's a great beauty in ending a story," she says. "It is finished now. I didn't have that feeling at the end of season two. This time, I feel there's definitely not going to be a fourth."
She is clearly finding it difficult to say goodbye, and for a moment struggles to control her emotions. "I feel like I've just stepped off a carousel, but the ground is still moving - so I'm not that formulated about how I feel," she says, tears threatening to spill down her cheeks. "But the last day of shooting was much more emotional than I thought it would be; it was very intense. I had three big scenes, and it was like being in this hurricane. I said goodbye to everyone, went out into the parking lot, got in my car, slammed the door and then just totally broke down."
Across the police station, in another dark, spare office, writer Soren Sveistrup is also beginning to contemplate life without Lund – although, with episodes yet to edit, he has put such thoughts on hold for now. "If you ask me around Christmas, I probably won't answer the phone, and will be crying," he admits, cheerfully. "So it will be tough, but it has been my own decision to stop while the party is going."
Sveistrup will not be talked into reconsidering: the drama was conceived as a trilogy, and has now reached its conclusion. There is more to this than the pressures of plotting and the strain of spending eight years on a project (The Killing first aired in Denmark in early 2007, but was longer in the making). "I want the last chapter to be as good as the others," he says. "There's a lot of bad stuff on television, and I didn't want to become one of the shows that are not working."
While never "not working", it's true that some viewers found The Killing's second series less convincing than the first. In part, that may have been to do with expectation levels; perhaps Sarah Lund's jumper bobbing around Afghanistan was a leap too far. For the detective's final adventure, Sveistrup is returning to familiar themes: a mix of crime, politics and, crucially, family. At a preview screening, the scenes of police creeping intently through woodland closely echo that initial season.
The Killing is intensely personal for Sveistrup, who in person is easygoing and relaxed, but says he is working out his own neuroses with every episode. "The Killing is always about loss. You can lose everything that has a value for you – your soul, really, if you compromise yourself. That's my own nightmare: just to wake up one day and discover it's all gone."
Poor Lund, of course, has had to live out these nightmares. The Killing's strength is that the detective carries the weight of her experiences with her; in the new series, she is beginning to distance herself from work, attempting to have a private life, and is reticent about being drawn into a chase. In the opening episode, we see her preparing a dinner to be eaten from plates, rather than straight from the pan – a big shift. Lund is so reluctant to go into the field she has even taken to wearing heels. Grabol reflects on these changes in her character. "If you lose everything you invest, can you just put everything on the table again the next time? Like most of us when we get older, we tend to think, 'Let somebody else save the world."'
Even for Grabol, Lund remains a mystery. "What amazes me is I've not lost interest after seven years, which is more than you can say about most marriages," she says. "There's so much we don't know about her. In that sense, she isn't really mine – I don't know more about her than you do."
The international success of the series brought inevitable pressures, Sveistrup says. "I couldn't make any decisions and I couldn't write, because I thought everybody would kill me if I got it wrong. Then somebody said, 'And action!' and I thought 'OK, I've definitely got to hurry now!' And then I stopped thinking after that, and it was just my gut feeling. But of course, when you try to end the whole story, you feel a pressure: you want to make the best of it, and you'd hate the audience to be disappointed."
"At the start of the series I felt a bit, I won't say nervous, but tense," says Grabol. "It's special - it's not just like slipping into the old jumper and there it is." Speaking of jumpers, yes: there is a new one – navy with a white pattern. In the style of series two, we also get a pre-jumper jumper, which she wears before being lured back into detecting. Both times, Grabol laughs, she and the producers tried to leave the detective's Faroese knitwear behind, but ended up putting Lund back in it.
Nikolaj Lie Kaas, who takes on the hazardous role of Grabol's new sidekick, tells me a funny story about his first day on set. "I wondered if it was actually a parody - are we doing a spoof? Everyone was talking about 'the jumper' that hadn't arrived from the Faroe Islands, and they were waiting for a plane, coming with it on it. Everything was chaos! I said, 'If I was to make fun of this series, this is the situation I would choose."'
Already, Scandinavian television has served up its Lund 2.0, in the shape of the socially awkward Saga Noren, one half of the Swedish-Danish crime partnership in the much-admired The Bridge. But the team on The Killing are largely diplomatic when quizzed about the similarities: Grabol says she hasn't seen The Bridge; Sveistrup says the comparison is an honour. But the show's producer, Piv Bernth (now also head of drama at DR, the broadcaster that makes the show), takes a different tack. The immediate future isn't about more Sarah Lunds, she says: it's about her male equivalents. With Copenhagen on the map for TV (much to Bernth's delight: she trained in London with a director who always introduced her as "from somewhere in f---ing Scandinavia"'), this seems a distinctly egalitarian, Danish approach.
"I think maybe the time has come," Bernth says. "We're trying to develop stories about male characters - what happened to the guys while women were out doing all these things, saving the world? They went back home and took care of all the kids and stuff, but what happened then?" Danish TV has already explored some of this tension, in Borgen.
In the meantime, Lund must step out once more. And while Grabol's goodbye has been emotional, she admits she's glad in some ways. "I feel a bit like it's a divorce, in the sense that it's a mix between great pain and great relief. It's the right decision to end it – you grieve, but you're also ready to move on."
Guardian News & Media