Opportunities are for the ones who make them and take them.
In the beginning, Viljar Bøe’s Good Boy seems unassuming enough, unspooling as a kind of quirky romantic comedy. But not for long—not without a kink in its tail, puncturing with situational awkwardness and subversion like retractable fangs. The Norwegian film slots nicely into a growing subgenre—alongside the likes of Kevin Smith’s Tusk, Patrick Brice’s Creep, and Nicholas Pesce’s Piercing—in which characters’ bestial desires find their expression in the language of BDSM, with thorny questions about abuse and consent left uncontrollably open for uneasy, mixed interpretation.
Bøe sets the stage well: “If you have a pulse and two legs, then we’re well on our way,” reads the Tinder bio of young psychology student, Sigrid (Katrine Lovise Øpstad Fredriksen). Economic proof that she possesses at least one desirable quality in online dating—a sense of humor—it also suggests that she might have zero standards. Meanwhile, scanning the site for a romantic partner of his very own, Christian (Gard Løkke) is immediately drawn to Sigrid’s potential vulnerability and lack of self-esteem, or simply her minimum requirement: that he be bipedal. Christian ticks that box and so much more. He’s gorgeous, attentive, well-mannered, sweet—a prince charming incarnate, save for one small eccentricity: his so-called pet dog, Frank, is no ordinary dog but a man in a canine costume sequestered in his stately home. This is, to say the least, something of a red flag even for Sigrid. So what is this? “Puppy play”? In fact, says Christian, it isn’t sexual at all: Frank is a close pal with a traumatic past who simply can’t cope with the stresses of living in the world as a person. Life as a dog is better for Frank, Christian reassures Sigrid—it is his lifeline. Admittedly a weird situation, crucially, this is also when Sigrid finds out that Christian is a multi-millionaire who can offer her the kind of lifestyle she wants and could otherwise only dream of. So while disconcerted, as she should be, gradually, Sigrid comes around to the idea of this atypical domestic arrangement. Sigrid even agrees to join Christian and Frank for a weekend trip to a cabin in the woods. And there, she’ll learn what it truly means to belong to a queasy, quasi-love triangle.
Anthem recently sat down with Løkke, a newcomer with a bright future ahead, for a conversation.
Good Boy hits select theaters, and On Digital and On Demand, on September 8th.
Hi, Gard. It’s a pleasure to feature you as Anthem’s Discovery talent. You have fantastic screen presence. Since you’re new on the scene, there’s still a bit of mystery around you. I know you studied at the Stella Adler Academy in LA this summer. Maybe we can start there.
You’ve called that your “dream school.” Tell me about your experience.
It all started during my first bachelor’s in Oslo at NSKI [University College]. In my second year, I picked up Stella Adler’s book and read it start to finish. I really fell in love with the technique and how precise it was. I wrote a paper on it, and I found the school. I thought, “When I’m done, I need to apply for a course over there.” I planned for years and got a scholarship. That audition process took over six months. Then when I got to Hollywood, it was so surreal. It’s what every kid dreams of growing up watching movies—it’s filmmaking heaven—but my first impression was really sad because of the homeless situation. It seemed worse than it ever was from what the locals told me. So it was hard living right next to the Walk of Fame, seeing that situation pan out each day. But five days later, school started and all the teachers passing me in the hallways already knew my name. I was like, “Wow, what is this place?” The class had 12 people of all different ages from around the world: England, Turkey, Columbia, Spain, and Norway. We just went to work. We got new scenes every day, which we filmed and watched together to give each other feedback. It was a wonderful learning experience. The teachers were very enthusiastic. The weeks went by so fast.
It sounds as though the program lived up to your expectations, meanwhile, Hollywood, as a place, left much to be desired. LA is unrecognizable from even when I went to school there. I also visited Oslo last summer so I know how idyllic it is there by comparison, by a long shot.
Absolutely. Also, due to the SAG strike, there were few productions and auditioning opportunities. The teachers also work in the business so maybe the program was a welcome break for them as well. And I know how important this strike is and how it affects everything. Luckily, within the school, we had the opportunity to audition in front of casting directors who’ve worked on stuff like Grey’s Anatomy and Game of Thrones. I met agents and managers, and there’s been interest. I have representation in Norway as well: Kelly Bricen is a wonderful agent at Global Ensemble Talent. We’re trying to figure out logistics and what the future might hold. I’m really, really excited for it.
I did a bit of sleuthing on social media: you got accepted into the Oslo National Academy of Arts, didn’t you? Have you started already? I understand that it’s a prestigious program.
Yeah, we started last week. [Gard flashes his student ID] Norway is a country with a lot of small towns with a lot of distance between those towns. We have a lot of culture, but it’s primarily focused on sports. Still, one thing most people know in all of Norway is the Oslo National Academy of Arts. It’s the school you grow up thinking, “I wanna educate myself there.” It’s the best school in Norway, in some sense. I applied for four consecutive years, and some people apply for ten years to get in. The whole process takes six months and there are three rounds. In the first round, you prepare a monologue and send it in. In the second round, you do a monologue in front of a jury at the school, which feels like Hogwarts. It’s beautiful, scary, intriguing, all at the same time. It’s tall, made of bricks, and by the river. So you go into this dark black box with a spotlight on your face. A jury of five people sit there and stare at you. You do your monologue and an improv. It’s very emotional. They said to me, “You see those stairs? Run up there. There’s a ship in a storm. You are the captain. Now imagine that the people below are your friends. You have to try and save then. Now jump on the floor and swim around.” I did all this and it was so fun. The third round is the most famous and considered the most prestigious. We went from about 700 or 800 people in the first round to a hundred in the second. Then it’s down to thirty people in the third and last round. We spent two weeks with the jury every day at school and went through everything: movement, singing, collaboration, working alone, improv, and interviews—where they really grill you. It’s a really wonderful and scary learning experience. A few weeks after that, I got accepted.
The way you’re describing it, it’s giving me scary tribunal vibes.
Is it considered the norm in Norway to get proper acting training, like it is in the UK?
In Norway, I think you widen your chances if you are educated, for sure, by applying for scholarships and getting a bachelor’s degree. But in terms of getting jobs, the auditions are open for everyone that applies through casting agencies. And it’s as much about networking like everywhere else. The longer you stay in the game, the more persistent you are, the more you meet new people, and the more you do the work and take chances, the more opportunities you have. Good Boy is a good example of that. It happened in the second year of my first bachelor’s before I even graduated. The film is moving really wonderfully around the world right now and about to premiere in the States. I think opportunities are for the ones who make them and take them.
How did Good Boy come into your orbit?
There was an open casting call when I was studying at NSKI. I’d moved from a small town in Norway called Lillehammer, which is where we held the [1994 Winter] Olympics. You might also recognize it from the Netflix series Lilyhammer, which I actually took part in. I moved to Oslo four years ago, not knowing a single person or, really, anything about the environment. I spent a lot of time searching for new jobs and casting calls. I was trying to meet as many people as I could outside of my studies and my part-time job as an art gallery assistant. I think I first saw the casting call on a random Facebook group. I did a self-tape and sent it in. Viljar [Bøe] called me. We got to talking and he asked me to send in another audition. Then we talked again. So we built a relationship around a lot of enthusiasm and mutual interest. I was really curious about Viljar as a director and as a person, and how he came up with this wild concept behind the film.
It’s certainly a unique premise. It was interesting to hear Viljar say that Good Boy found inspiration in stuff like 50 Shades of Grey. Your character is even named Christian. Personally, I was reminded of a different Christian: Christian Bale in American Psycho. They’re both manipulative control freaks that count every calorie. How did you relate?
One of the beautiful and challenging things was that Christian was so far away from me. And that, I could use. We also had the luxury of time. I had months where I could prepare, both mentally and physically, to the point where I knew Christian almost as good as myself. I was able to step in and out of that. I mean, you approach characters with your body and mind, so as long as you’re curious, I think you kind of own them. But personally, I don’t think I share a lot of attributes with him.
Sometimes, considering who you’re being asked to portray, that must come as a huge sigh of relief. I mean, it’s a sad day to be named Christian, right? On the subject of narcissism—how Christian love bombs Sigrid as a way of manipulating her, for instance—it’s something I’ve made note of, almost as a trend, in Norwegian cinema. You have the works by Joachim Trier like The Worst Person in the World and, even more recently, Kristoffer Borgli’s Sick of Myself. Naturally, it makes me wonder about their preoccupations with narcissism. Is it taboo?
Oh, this is a really interesting topic. Because one of the things I was also grappling with while coming to Hollywood was “the law of Jante,” which is the unwritten rule in Norway that says you shouldn’t think that you’re anything special. That’s what makes people reserved. I mean, it’s very normal to walk on the bus in Oslo and see people standing when there are free, open seats. It’s common to see two open seats where only one is occupied. People need to have their distance and their own space. So I am now in the process of discovering how that affects me in meeting new people, just being a person of Norway. I think that links back to the subject of narcissism because there is a desire to want to put a voice or an image on that problem—to try and find new ways to connect with each other here, in a country that’s pretty avoidant of each other in some ways.
That’s super interesting. I’d love to circle back to this conversation when we’re in a better spot to really sit down and talk in-depth. So what are your plans for post-graduation? Do you wanna stay in Oslo? Do you wanna go back to LA? New York City? London, maybe?
Yes to all of that. I would love to work internationally. I’m working on another bachelor’s now to get expertise in theater, and I will continue in my film education because I love to learn. Having a base in Oslo and working abroad would be the dream. I look up to actors like Mads Mikkelsen and Bill Skarsgård—the whole Skarsgård family—so that would be what I aim for.
Do you have a first memory of wanting to perform?
My first memory is: I’m two years old and I’m standing on a stage here in Oslo, breakdancing. These people are watching me breakdance and I think I had just learned to stand on my head. I think it felt so amazing that I even did it on the train. My grandmother asked me, “Why are you standing on your head?” I said, “I’m bored and it’s much better than standing.” [laughs] So that was my first memory of wanting to perform. Apart from that, I’ve done a lot of sports.
That’s your Mads Mikkelsen connection. He told me he always wanted to be a “sportsman.”
Oh, absolutely. Cross country skiing. Ice hockey. I played professional handball in high school. All the sports you can think of, really. Beyond that, I did choir, amateur theater, and played the guitar and piano. In some ways, I never dared to say that acting was my passion, or arts and culture, because in Lillehammer, that wasn’t accepted. There just wasn’t any opportunity, in a way, because we didn’t see that as a career. But then I had my Hail Mary or eureka moment when I was 18 years old. I’d been working as a circus assistant, juggling flaming torches in front of 300 people every day for three years in the summertimes, just thinking of it as a hobby. After high school, I was wondering for the first time in my life, “What do I want to do?” I had promised my family to become a doctor for the previous three years and I had the grades to do it. But this one time before I went on the circus stage, I stood next to my friend, who was a fellow actor and also my boss at the time, and said, “Imagine doing this every day.” That’s when it clicked for me, and I started crying. I went home to my mom and told her I have to try this acting thing, that I know of a school in Norway, that I only know that one and I’m gonna apply for it. I told her, “If I get in, I’ll do everything I can for the rest of my life to make this my career. If I don’t get in, I promise to become a doctor, I swear.” I got in, of course, which laid out these past four years. That’s the whole story.
Thanks for sharing that. This is a cliché, but an important one: we only have one life to live. You do what you really want to do when you have that window of opportunity.
I also wanna ask you about the LACMA cap you have on. I’ve been staring at it nonstop. You clearly have a deep appreciation for art. And film is art, too. It’s like connective tissue.
Absolutely. For the past three years, I’ve been working as a gallery assistant at one of the biggest galleries [Galleri Ramfjord] in Norway. Before working there, I think I had idolized galleries and didn’t dare go inside of them. That changed more recently, and my hope is that more people will seek out galleries and museums. It’s for everyone. My mom and I went [to Galleri Ramfjord] randomly three years ago and they accepted me for this job out of some coincidence. Working at the gallery, I was sweating for a year because I had such respect for the artist [Elisabeth Ramfjord] and the art, and I still do. It’s just that, more and more, I have a deeper sense of understanding: art is what you make of it. The best thing about art are the conversations that revolve around it. If you go to a museum just for the aesthetics, it’s alright. But if you look at something and find yourself disgusted or angry, for instance, and want to talk about it, I think you can find answers to some questions you have inside. Maybe that’s cliché as well. Maybe it’s a pompous thing to say because things that revolve around art can often sound like that. But there’s definitely something to that.