Swedish actors Sofia Helin, Anja Lundqvist, Julia Dufvenius and Elin Klinga star as four middle-aged friends struggling with stifled sex lives in new comedy “Lust,” coming to HBO Max in March and premiering at the Berlinale Series Market. Balancing lighthearted comedy with a more serious focus on topics such as sexual harassment, marriage counselling, and personal identity, the show offers entertaining relief while spotlighting the under-examined world of womanhood over 40.
Developed from an idea that originated with the actors themselves, “Lust” stands out as one of few recent comedies wholly devoted to middle-aged lead female characters. Producer Sandra Harms says: “The actors came with the idea to make something on the topic of female sexuality over 40 because they noticed that when they passed 40, the characters they were offered to play were increasing lacking sexuality. They said there must be so many stories here that aren’t being told, which I thought was really interesting. We sat down to talk about how to tell this and pretty quickly we landed on comedy.”
For Harms, writer Frans Milisic Wiklund seemed like the perfect fit to take on scriptwriting duties. “The obvious writer choice would have been a woman,” she says. “But I just thought this was so perfect for Frans. He’s really good at striking a modern tone and exploring themes of sexuality.” Wiklund acknowledges that his presence did feel like “the elephant in the room” at first for a show about the sex lives of women, but that the collaborative nature of developing the story gave him the confidence to take the project forward. “The actors told me a lot of personal stories,” he says. “They were very open and I tried to build all of those ideas into the show.”
“They were almost like therapy sessions,” Harms adds. “They were really long meetings and we didn’t really know where we were heading but everyone opened up and that created a trust in the project. That’s why we have this female spirit that Frans has captured so well because they all shared so much.”
Each 30-minute episode pays equal attention to the show’s four characters and their erotic misadventures. Whether its Nadia (Lundvist) having an affair with her gangster boxing instructor, or Anette (Helin) carrying out a government study in Sweden on sex and women’s health, “Lust” explores each woman’s journey to understanding their desires and how to unlock them again in later life. The humor keeps this uplifting but doesn’t strip away from the poignancy of the narrative and its potential resonance with audiences both in and outside of Sweden.
Initially, Wiklund thought 45-minute episodes would suit the series better. He explains: “It was really hard getting the scripts down to 30 minutes, but I think it was the right choice in the end because it forced me to focus more on the funny, and then see whatever seriousness could fit into that.”
Director Ella Lemhagen joined the project in its later stages, but she felt she benefited from the show’s balance of comedy and severity. “I was grateful that they made it more of a comedy because that gave me the possibility to lean into the darker side more,” she says, “knowing that the comedy was always there. I could trust that it was funny so that made it more comfortable for me to go into the more serious topics.”
The team explains that shooting under COVID-19 restrictions was a new kind of challenge, one in which they were strongly supported by HBO Max. For Lemhagen, it was the restrictions on facial expression due to mask-wearing that forced her to adapt her directing style. “Now I realize, when I direct actors on set it’s so much about the way you look at each other, the small glances to convey ideas.” The possibility to include COVID-19 within the narrative itself did come under discussion but Wiklund says: “We all felt pretty quickly that we didn’t want to do that. It just takes over everything, and it would become a show about having sex during COVID, which was not our intention.”
All three express their keen desire for the show to find a way to continue after this first series of eight episodes. “You really grow to like the characters and it was hard to leave them even for me,” Lemhagen says. “So I would like to spend more time with them if possible.”
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