Helena Mattson: From Stockholm streets to Hollywood Hills
Text: Helen Cullen | Photo: Press Photo
B orn and raised in Stockholm, Helena Mattson now resides in Los Angeles, California, where the beloved actress has carved out an exciting TV and film career. Performing alongside some of Hollywood’s biggest superstars, such as Alexander Skarsgård, Billy Bob Thornton, Bruce Willis and Felicity Hoffman, this Swedish success story has only just begun. 2014 presented her with high-profile roles in Fargo, Mistresses and Audrey, and with exciting releases primed for 2015, Mattsson’s star is in glorious ascent.
Mattsson’s happiest childhood memories are of performing little musicals, plays and concerts for her parents in their living room with her two sisters. The acting bug bit early and she dreamed of becoming a professional actor. “I always wanted to act,” Mattsson explains, “I was always very shy growing up but for some reason the theatre and the magic of being on stage intrigued me. It was a challenge for me to be brave and put myself out there, but my curiosity overpowered that fear.”
Mattsson’s courage was put to the test when at just 19 years of age she flew to Hollywood on her own to audition for a TV series. It was a daunting prospect that Mattsson recalls with humour: “I left with a backpack, my winter coat and no idea what L.A. was all about. When I landed it was really hot and I remember calling my mom to tell her it was summer and that there were palm trees everywhere.” What should have been just a brief encounter became a permanent move when Mattsson won the the lead role in Warner Brother’s comedy Sweden Ohio,the big break that launched her career.
From Stockholm’s streets to Sunset Boulevard
Mattsson studied acting at Södra Latin, the renowned performing arts school in Stockholm. She believes this education gave her the foundation she needed to cope with her sudden move to L.A. and the sudden, newfound success. “I was very lucky to have that experience,” Mattson reflects. “Apart from anything else, going to school to learn your craft really gives you the confidence that you need to go out there and make brave choices and find your way around this crazy business. We’re very fortunate to have such good acting schools in Sweden and a great love of the arts as part of our culture.” Despite working in America for over a decade, Mattsson believes she is still identified very much as a Swedish actress.
“I believe that your culture always stays with you,” she explaines, ”and I think being recognised as a Swedish actress has been nothing but positive for me.”
It was a challenge, however, for Mattson to soften her distinctive accent. “When I started working, my thick Swedish accent lost me a lot of roles. A defining point in my career definitely came when I started to lose it. I was able to play more American roles at that point, and my career took a turn for the better.” Filming in her native tongue is high on her career wishlist, however, and she eagerly awaits the right project.“I’ve been wanting to film something in Swedish for a very long time; so far it hasn’t worked scheduling-wise, but I’m looking forward to doing it in the future,” Mattsson shares.
Iron Man 2, Fargo and Desperate Housewives
Mattsson’s portfolio of work spans from blockbuster action movies such as Iron Man 2 with Robert Downey Jr and Surrogates with Bruce Willis, to the prime- time television shows Desperate Housewives, CSI and Fargo. “There’s something to be enjoyed about every project, every story and every character that you play but I am very privileged to have worked with some incredible actors,” Mattson reflects. “In particular, I loved being part of Desperate Housewives because I was a fan of the show from the very beginning and long before I ever auditioned. It was such an honour to work with Felicity Hoffman because I’ve always admired her so much. I learned a lot from her and she was so warm and inviting when I arrived on set.”
In 2014, Mattsson worked with another of her favourite actors, Billy Bob Thornton, while shooting the phenomenally successful Fargo. “Shooting Fargo was an incredible experience,” Mattson explains. “We were on location in Canada in the freezing cold, with temperatures of minus 30 degrees celsius and lots of snow, so combining that environment with working with Billy Bob was truly unforgettable.” Mattsson sees every role as an opportunity to develop her craft and learn more about the industry. “Some of the productions, like Iron Man 2, are massive. Hundreds and hundreds of people work on them every day. It’s hard to keep track of everyone but there is great excitement to be involved in a set like that,” she recalls. “Film-making is similar to making a puzzle with millions of pieces, and as an actor you’re just one of those pieces so it’s very inspring to see how it all comes together.”
A long-distance relationship with Sweden
Mattsson has maintained a very close connection with her family and visits Stockholm bi-annually for Christmas and summer holidays. “You come home and sometimes it seems like time has stood still. Everything looks the same and it’s really comforting to know that the city I love is still there,” she explains. “At the same time, however, this beautiful city is moving really fast and new places are popping up left and right so it’s fun too to discover something new every time.” Los Angeles has not misplaced Stockholm in her heart; the two cities are of equal importance to her. “It’s funny because I think of coming to Sweden as going home and then I when I return to L.A. I feel that I am going home too, so both are home to me now.”
The year ahead
Fans of Mattsson will have ample opportunity to see her work in 2015, with two new movies scheduled for release. Something about her, an independent comedy drama shot in LA, presents Mattsson in the role of Jackie. Mattson shares that she had a blast playing Jackie. “She is a really hysterical character; it’s a very light kind of role that I could have fun with.” In contrast, the romantic comedy that Mattsson stars in with Corey Sevier, Win, Lose or Love is a more serious, romantic role with a depth that illuminates the full range of Mattsson’s work. Having accumulated such an eclectic body of work, the future holds great potential for Mattsson to continue to develop a diverse array of performances, and she is open to whatever the industry offers her next. “When you see it, it hits you,” she says. “You immediately know that this is a story that you want to tell and it’s hard to predict when that will happen… but that’s all part of the excitement.”
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