I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Rakel Wärmländer about Limbo, the Swedish drama series she co-wrote and co-stars in that kept me up until the wee hours.
Before we chatted, I didn’t realize that Swedish actress Rakel Wärmländer is primarily a comedian in Sweden. Yes, she co-leads the cast of the comedy series Summer with the Family (which is on my to-watch list), but I’d only ever seen her in crime dramas like The Sandhamn Murders, Alex, Gåsmamman, and Beck. And now the character-driven drama series Limbo, in which she co-stars with Sofia Helin (The Bridge) and Louise Peterhoff (Blue Eyes).
Inspired by an actual event, the story centers on three close friends — Ebba (Rakel Wärmländer), Gloria (Louise Peterhoff), and My (Sofia Helin) — in the aftermath of a car accident involving their sons. It’s an event that deeply affects the women individually and collectively, as well as others in their families.
Limbo is Rakel’s foray into both scriptwriting and executive producing, and her acting in it earned her a Female Lead of the Year nomination at Kristallen 2023, Sweden’s equivalent of the Emmy® Awards. From her home in Sweden, Rakel Zoom’ed with me and was very candid about the series. (Text has been lightly edited for clarity and to prevent spoilers.)
LJ: [Limbo] was so absorbing… Watching you as Ebba, you inhabit her character so completely. When you were writing the series, where did you draw from to create her on paper and then to create her in front of the camera?
RW: I think some bits that Ebba has, I have.
LJ: Which parts?
RW: Well, I think I can be quite high achiever. I can push my family and my daughters sometimes, maybe a little bit too much. I might not always see what I have or maybe where I want to go, and sometimes I live a little too fast. I’ve been working as an actor since I was eight years old, it’s the thing that I love the most to do, and sometimes you get a little obsessed if you love to do something, whatever it is. I love my work, and for me to push through this series is — it has taken five years, I think, to do this, and I didn’t even know that I was able to write. I haven’t been writing scripts before, at all…
[The story is] not a reconstruction; it is fiction. But still the arena, the school that we see in the series, it’s my old school. I know this area so well; I lived there for 20 years of my life. So I think, for me, that made it easier to play it cuz I’ve lived it, you know?
LJ: You also, in a way, lived the accident. You were not a part of the accident, but you were friends with the people.
RW: Yeah, I was like one of those girls in the hospital, wanting to come in to [see] Jakob. We were just sitting there for weeks, and we didn’t know what else to do. We just wanted to be there and support, but I think we were mostly in the way. But yeah, we didn’t know what to do.
LJ: It’s understandable. I’ve been in slightly different circumstances for being in the hospital, but spending days, weeks at a time there. I know you ended up reconnecting with the guy who becomes the Jakob character. How did Limbo become an outgrowth of that reconnection, of you seeing him again?
RW: Like how I got the idea?
LJ: Yeah, how did the show manifest after you ran into him?
RW: I was so shocked after I ran into him. You know, it all just came back to me, and wow, it’s 25 years ago and we were kids, and now I’m an adult. I’m a mother of two. And then I started to think about the accident from that angle, which I had never done before, and I got a little obsessed with the thought that. What would you do? I mean, how would you manage? Would you manage at all? If it was my best friend’s child that actually had the responsibility of this, how would I react to my friend? I’m not a bad person, but I think I would, at least for some time, I would hate that child. And you can’t hate a child. It was so many thoughts that went through my head and I was just, wow, this is really engaging me. I don’t want to do crime. I’m a comedian in Sweden, mostly. I want to do something for me, you know? What’s interesting for me to watch? What would I like to see? What questions would I like to see?
And I went to Mårten’s big brother — Mårten is the Jakob character — I went to his brother because I knew him a little bit, and I told him about this idea and what I wanted to do. And I was so ashamed when I asked him. I was so ashamed because I was so afraid that they would think that maybe I wanted to, in some way, use him. So I asked for permission, and I asked what do you think your parents would say and what do you think Mårten would say? He said, “I’m going to talk with the family. I think it sounds great, what you want to do, and I think I understand where you want to go.” So that has been a process, too.
LJ: It was clear that the accident was just a launching point for the fictional story; it wasn’t about the accident.
RW: Exactly. It’s not a remake at all. It is fiction. We have just borrowed the permits and the arena for it. All the families’ stories and everything, what everyone is working with, and all the drama around it is made up. We have been very clear with that, and the family and also the other guys that were in the car, they’re all, actually, extras in the series at certain points. In the first scene of the first episode, there is a guy in the wheelchair… in the first 30 seconds — that is Mårten, the real Jakob. He’s in the first scene. I think that is very beautiful.
LJ: That’s really nice. The way you wrote their stories — Ebba’s, Gloria’s, and My’s — so much of that stuff really happens in real life… I don’t know if it’s human nature to want to root for somebody, so that was really difficult for me. I was rooting for Ebba, I hope [Jakob] pulls through for her sake so that she doesn’t fall apart, but then that pivotal scene at the country house between the three friends, the implosion, basically, of their friendship, that was the point where I think I was like, wow, I don’t like her. But it was so understandable at the same time, I was so torn.
RW: I’m glad.
LJ: Was that intentional?
RW: Yes, because I think we are all just aspects, you know? We are everything. We are evil and we are lovable… We wanted to have that cuz no one is perfect. Ebba’s not perfect, but she goes from being a quiet — she learns. She has her journey, and she’s a better person in the end. She’s not perfect. I mean, what is that, even? Of course we wanted it, because otherwise it’s not real, to me, at least. No one is perfect. We’re all egoists. We are all scared. We are everything, I think. So, in some extent, Ebba also has to be a bitch sometimes, or I don’t think you would like her, because then she would be an ideal, and she’s not. She’s pretty hard. I was so tense just writing her, and I was like, “My god, am I also supposed to act this out? I’ve been doing that for a year here in my room. Now I’m gonna do it again.” I was so — I didn’t want to.
LJ: You didn’t want to do it on screen?
RW: No. I was so tired from writing her. When we started the shoot, I was, like, “My god, how am I supposed to find the strength to do all those things? I’ve already done them so many times in my head and in my body.” I was just so tired when we were starting. But then you just do it because you do it.
LJ: Was it cathartic for you, then, when you were done?
RW: It was. But I was very tense in my body, so sometimes some parts of my body would start to shiver. I went to a massage person, and they said, “You are so tense in your muscles, your muscles have been tense for such a long time,” so they had a really hard time to relax [me]. So that was interesting. But now I’m fine.
LJ: That’s good! So, I get the limbo in Limbo — everyone’s life is in limbo at the end of the series… But at the same time I felt a sense of hope, and I think a lot of that had to do with Gloria’s character… and My…
RW: … She realized that she actually has a child, in some way, and maybe that’s okay.
LJ: … I have to say, you did a magnificent job writing this series. I haven’t been so engaged and so absorbed in a drama, just a straight-up human story drama, in a while. I’m big on crime stories and I pour myself into those, but when it’s just people…
RW: Yeah. It’s a very simple story in one way. It’s about the big things and the small. We don’t even show the accident; it’s not even important to us. We’re just into the effects, what effects does it have? That’s what’s interesting for us. I’m so happy with your words. It’s really warming. I put my heart so much in this and I’ve been working so much with this, so I’m very happy. I think it’s crazy that I’m talking to you now on the other side of the world and you have watched my TV series.
LJ: Yes, I have watched your TV series and I love your TV series. If it hadn’t been so late in the evening, it’s very possible that I would have watched all six episodes all at once, but it got to be stupid o’clock in the morning… I’m sure tons of other people have told you already, but it really is an incredible series. It got me on so many levels and I reacted in so many different ways. My emotions were all over the map.
RW: I think I understand what you’re saying. Maybe some of it is because it’s quite honest, I think. I mean, I have used quite much from my own life. I’ve been together with my husband for 20 years… When I have been writing those scenes between Ebba and Fredrik, I have fantasized about if it would be me and my husband, how would the lines go? What would we say to each other? So I think, maybe more than people know, and maybe that’s good that not so many know exactly what parts, but we have all put in a lot of real stuff in this. So I think maybe that shows. And we are pretty honest. We are not best persons.
LJ: It is a very honest series and that is part and parcel of what had me be emotionally all over the place during the show… And the thing is, it wasn’t just one character that I was relating to. It was all of them — the three women as well as the husband — as a viewer I was feeling what they’re feeling but also responding as someone who’s an observer… It’s really rare when I have responded to a show like that. It’s brilliant.
RW: Thank you for your kind words.
Limbo is currently available for streaming in the US and Canada exclusively on Viaplay.
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