• Interviews

HFPA in Conversation: Dome Karukoski, Melodramatic Storyteller

Finnish director and writer Dome Karukoski loves drama. He tells HFPA journalist Tina Jøhnk Christensen that as a child he watched Macbeth on the BBC. “My mom always tells me this story. When we were living in Cypress, the only English language network was the BBC. So, as a child, born in Cypress and living there until the age of four-and-a-half, I would just watch BBC constantly. And they had adaptations of Shakespeare.”

Later he moved to Finland with his mother, Ritva Karukoski, who worked as a journalist. “I thought I would be a lawyer or a journalist like my mom is. She was covering the Middle East in the 70s so she had a very explorative and interesting life. That felt intriguing.”

But when he met his father, American actor and writer George Dickerson, at the age of 14, he realized his passion was in the arts. “After that I kind of started seeking the possibilities of being an artist in something, self-exploration, whether it was an actor or something else. I applied to an acting school a couple of times but I didn’t get in. They told me I was too dominant to be an actor, I don’t listen enough, which is pretty much something my wife still tells me, so that hasn’t changed.”

In 1999 he applied and was one of only three new students admitted to the University of Art and Design Helsinki to major in directing.  “I got into film school with my first try and that’s very unusual. I hadn’t basically done anything, I hadn’t done short films, we didn’t even own a camera, we were very poor when I was little.”

His first movie, Beauty and the Bastard, premiered in 2005. He filmed six movies before his first international project, Tom of Finland, in 2017.  “I did two biopics back-to-back. I first did a film about Tom of Finland, a renowned gay icon and artist and then I did a film about Tolkien, with Fox Searchlight Pictures. They were non-related, I just ended up doing them side by side. They were always intriguing as an artist to look at someone else’s life.”

After that, he wanted to do something different and directed the British TV show The Beast Must Die. It is a story about a mother who has lost her child and is on a vengeance trip. “I read the pilot. It was a thriller and I had basically never done a thriller before. I wondered why it is being sent to me. I soon understood why. It is a thriller but within itself is a very strong drama about parenthood and what are you ready to do and it’s very spiritual in many ways.”

Is there anything common in his stories? “There is a very strong melodramatic sense in my storytelling, there always has been.”

Listen to the podcast and hear why he decided to have his own writer’s room; why does he feel like an outsider; what appealed to him to direct the TV series The Beast Must DieTolkien as his first English language project; what he learned about international filmmaking when he was filming Tom of Finland and why he wanted to make a movie about Touko Laaksonen; how are gay rights in Finland now; and what he’s doing now.