It turns out that doggy bags don't necessarily translate as a concept overseas. When a reporter at the NBC summer press day recounted a story about how a friend was met with a horrified expression when asking for one in Sweden, “Welcome to Sweden” (premiering July 10) creator/executive producer/star Greg Poehler laughed. “Yeah, you don't take food home from restaurants in Sweden. We didn't put any doggy bag jokes in the show season one, but we may use it in season 2. Can we use that?”
His sister Amy Poehler, who is also an executive producer of the show, got immediately to business. “Are you in the WGA?” she asked.
“Welcome to Sweden” may have some familiar faces — Amy appears in a recurring role, Lena Olin and Patrick Duffy play parents of the main characters, while cameos from Gene Simmons, Will Ferrell and Aubrey Plaza also pop up in season one — but it distinguishes itself by being shot almost entirely in Sweden. “We were very lucky to have such a talented cast and crew, so we shot very fast. Sweden as a background cannot be beat,” Greg said. How was it different from an American production? “Culturally, the set was a little quieter.” Oh, and craft services were better in the U.S. “In Sweden, I had to wait in the back of the line for the food.”
The story about a “celebrity accountant” who quits his job and moves to Sweden for love is close to Greg's heart and experience. “I was a lawyer for 12 years in New York and Sweden,” he said, noting he also moved to Sweden to follow his heart. It was only when he started doing stand-up in his new country that he decided to also follow his passion. “It was a catalyst for this career change. Two years ago I sat up in my attic in Stockholm on a snowy, winter day and wrote the pilot. I didn't know if anybody would ever read that script, but I dreamed really big that day, and it's very rare in life when the reality of a situation happens. It was something I always thought that I could do, but I thought it was too late, that it was something you had to do early on in life, so for me to be able to do this in my middle age is amazing.”
Of course, it helped that he had his sister Amy in his corner, though he says it wasn't that obvious of a connection. “I sent Amy the script just so she could check the font,” he said. “I wanted to make sure it looked like a script. I'd Googled how to write a script, then sent it to her to make sure it looked right, and she really liked the script and said she wanted to produce it. I knew she wouldn't want to be involved in something if it wasn't good. We've had several family members pitch her unsuccessfully.”
“I always knew he was a funny writer and I'm glad you know that, too,” Amy said.
Amy was quick to point out that the show, which is already airing in Sweden, “is not making fun of anything that happened in Sweden, but it's about love taking you somewhere else and to celebrate what makes Sweden so excellent and what makes it so weird, like the U.S.”
The Poehlers may also have reason to feel fond of Sweden, as Greg notes, “I was the head writer of the show and producer and creator and show runner, and none of that would have happened [if we had shot it] in the U.S. Keanu Reeves would be playing the role of Bruce. Maybe he'll play him in season 2. But when I first wrote the script, I thought we'd get an American actor because no one would let me do it. It was a struggle to convince people I could do it. But in Sweden, there's not many American actors.”
As for how the show is being received in Sweden, he said, “The show has been amazingly well received there. Not just reaction, but the numbers are gigantic. We get a share of close to 50 percent of people watching television. It's a crazy hit there.” TV4 has already renewed the show for a second season.
He isn't necessarily getting mobbed in the streets, though. “It's just been three weeks, but Swedes just stare. They don't really come up to you.”
As far as the cameos, fans might be surprised to hear Will Ferrell speak fluent Swedish. “His Swedish is great. His wife is Swedish, and we roped him into a cameo, so it was very, very nice of him,” Amy said. “He was in Sweden at the time. Our goal is to get as many Swedish actors as we can on the show.”
But the Poehlers initially didn't seem to be entirely familiar with the Skarsgard clan, which includes Stellan (“The Avengers”) and Alexander (“True Blood”). “Oh, yes,” Amy said after a moment. “We are heavily stalking them. But they're staying a little skarsguarded right now.”
Are you planning to watch “Welcome to Sweden”?