Interview: Greg Poehler, creator and star of Welcome to Sweden

greg-poehler__1The first season of last summer’s surprise hit sitcom Welcome to Sweden arrives on DVD on May 19, a couple of months before the July 19 premiere of Season 2 on NBC.

Created by Greg Poehler (sister of Amy, who also serves as exec producer), the show stars Poehler as a Bruce, a successful New York money manager who falls in love with a Swedish girl named Emma (Josephine Bornebusch). As the series opens, Greg has just left his job and followed his love back to her hometown of Stockholm, Sweden with hilarious fish-out-of-water results.

Disc Dish spoke on the phone with Greg Poehler last week—he’s based in Stockholm while we’re here in Jersey City, New Jersey. Also on the call was actor Illeana Douglas, who has a recurring role on the show as Greg’s mother Nancy. She’s based in Los Angeles. And so, our ten-minute chat spanned some 5,000-plus miles from L.A. to Joisey to Sweden. There’s modern technology for you….

Disc Dish: I actually lived in Stockholm for a year back in the Nineties and it was a real eye-opening experience for me, as well as an opportunity to raise my drinking game. It’s great to see a similar kind of ex-pat experience in Welcome to Sweden—and I’m not just talking about the drinking.

Greg Poehler: That’s great to hear. It seems that pretty much everybody who’s lived here or lived abroad has something to relate to.

DD: Illeana, I’m told you had a helluva time when you were shooting in Stockholm…

Illeana Douglas: It was wonderful. There’s the coffee, the bread, the fish… It was kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy as I worked for IKEA for four years—I did a web series for them—and I was learning about Sweden and I never had actually been there. When I was over there shooting Welcome to Sweden, everyone said to me, ‘You know so much about Sweden!’

DD: Now that the show is so popular, are there others in the ex-pat community who are grumbling things like, ‘I could have done a better show than this—I have better stories!’

WelcomeToSweden_DVD_optGP: Yeah, I’m hearing some stuff like that—people saying things like, “Hey, I was half-way through a script just like that!” Or there are people who said, “I was working on a script like that for five years and pitched it around and it didn’t happen.” Otherwise, the ex-pats tend to be my biggest fans.

DD: Tell me about an average day when one is shooting a situation comedy on location in Stockholm

ID: A typical day of shooting in the U.S. is about fourteen hours. When I was shooting Ugly Betty, some Fridays would go as long as sixteen hours. In Sweden, there would be fighting if there was an eight hour day, because the crew would want to break it down to a six-hour day. Eight hours was inhuman… When I was there, I was put up at the swankiest hotel. From the moment I got there, the environment was so much fun nad festive. And that leds to familiarity on the set.

GP: And it’s very important to the Swedes to get home for dinner.

DD: I remember that from my time there, particularly in the winter. There was a certain rigtual to getting home, lighting the candles, warming up and readying the aquavit.

GP: They’re super family-oriented, very homey. I’m not joking about getting home for dinner. If it gets past five o’clock, people start freaking out.

DD: Tell me about working with Lena Olin, who plays your girlfriend’s mother in the show. .

Josephine Bornebusch and Greg Poehler in Welcome to Sweden.

Josephine Bornebusch and Greg Poehler in Welcome to Sweden.

GP: It’s a joy to work with her!. She’s the last person you see when you arrive at the airport in Stockholm – there’s a big picture of her face and it says “Welcome to my hometown.” When I originally wrote the script, I wrote that I wanted a “Lena Olin” type for her character. When I wrote it, I never actually imagined we would get the real Lena Olin. And as a person, she’s just as wonderful as she is an actress. One of the great appeals of the show is working with her.

DD: How do you wangle your wacky assortment of American guest stars, which include Aubrey Plaza, Gene Simmons and your sister Amy Poehler?

GP: Well, in Season One, we tried to find people who had some connection to Sweden, or who were at least in town for the weekend. Obviously, Amy had me for a connection. Aubrey had a Swedish boyfriend when she was in high school, so she had been here a few times and we met here a few years back. And Gene was on tour with Kiss. We try whatever we can to get some fun guest stars, and that includes calling in favors. That’s definitely one of Amy’s talents and I love her to work her magic.

DD: That’s what big sisters are for, right?

ID: My whole goal was to climb the show business ladder in Sweden. The hell with conquering Hollywood—anyone can conquer Hollywood. For me, Sweden was the thing.

DD: What should audiences be on the lookout for in Season Two?

Greg Poehler (ctr.) with parents Illeana Douglas and Patrick Duffy in Welcome to Sweden.

Greg Poehler (ctr.) with parents Illeana Douglas and Patrick Duffy in Welcome to Sweden.

GP: We’re going to take the same modest approach. We have a lot of exciting guest stars lined up—Jason Priestly, Jack Black and Neve Campbell, who has a recurring role. Amy and Aubrey are back and we also have Paul Simon set to appear.

DD: Whoa, Paul Simon!

GP: Yeah, he’s this season’s Gene Simmons. This year is also going to be a winter season—we wanted to show the other side of life in Sweden. I don’t want to be blamed for any American immigrants coming here thinking it was bright and sunny all the time—I wanted to make sure they saw Sweden’s dark and cold underbelly.

DD: I certain remember those Swedish winters…

GP: They only last for ten-and-a-half months, but you get past it.


Buy or Rent Welcome to Sweden: Season One
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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.