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The black sheep

Kathrine Johansen in her dressing room.
Kathrine Johansen in her dressing room.

Kathrine Thorborg Johansen comes from a family consisting mostly of doctors, but that doesn’t make her regret having become an actress.

Johansen, currently playing in Doppler and It is better to cut it off than to go through life, is sitting in her wardrobe on the second floor at Trøndelag Theatre and reflecting on why she became an actress. She started studying drama at upper secondary school when she was seventeen, and followed up with another year studying theatre at Romerike Folk High School.

— Both of my parents are doctors, my sister just graduated from med school, and my brother has just decided to study physiotherapy. So it is very clear who is the black sheep in the family, she says. After folk high school she was admitted straight into the Theatre Academy.

They probably thought that: «When she was admitted there, then everything will be okay.» Right now she plays the daughter of Erlend Loe’s character, Andreas Doppler, in Trøndelag Theatre’s adaptation of the book.

— In essence we’re talking our way through the book, and in addition to that we have added lots of scenes. In the book, my character,  the fourteen year old daughter who is obsessed with Lord of the Rings, is present in three pages or something. But in the play, I have a pretty big role, because we developed the character pretty far.

Wannabe artists

Johansen has very many family members working in the health industry, but was particularly attached to her grandfather.

— He was like a pioneer who broke out of the working class and went to university …

She puts on a voice and makes some high-grade gestures with her arms to indicate how big it was.

— … and became a doctor, but he was painting on the side. I remember that he told stories about his mother who was also a poor working woman. She stood over the kitchen sink in the glow of a candle and read fiction. People in my family have had a creative germ in them, but not professionally.


When asked what inspires her as an actress, she’s almost overwhelmed because she thinks the question is so big. She stops herself in the middle of sentences, apparently to reflect on what she has said and to search for points of reasoning  in the argument she’s building.

— It has to have something to do with why we need art in general in our society – what we’re doing with it, or what we get out of it. I think it’s about how … sometimes you can change people’s lives and people’s perception of the outside world … or themselves. One can also create a different or larger space for thinking and reflection. Sometimes it can also be lovely to escape into another reality or discover new perspectives.

Calling for attention

When actor and Bergenser Helge Jordal recently turned seventy, had a long portrait interview with him, in which he compared the theater with finding good ways to tell stories. Some actors gets the audience listen more intently than others, he said. Johansen agrees that some actors manage to call upon attention better than others.

— I feel it has mostly to do with devoting oneself to one’s work, or having a genuine desire to tell something, or conveying a mess … oh, I hate the word «message.» Or that they want to reach the audience or fellow actors, and therefore manage to set themselves free. It is almost impossible. There are some who get it right, and they are absolutely amazing to watch.

Johansen finds there’s something moralizing over the word «message.»

— I get the feeling that «now we will be picking up this theme, and thus the audience should think so and so.» In my short professional career of two and a half years I have learned that every audience is different and should experience a play in their own way.

Johansen prefers plays that do not have a clear moral or a clear message, which would rather pick up a theme and examine it, so the audience can do some thinking for themselves in regards to what they think about it.

— On the other hand, merely by picking up a theme, you are saying something about it. This message can be changed merely by the actors positioning themselves slightly differently on stage, for example.

Being an actress, she has wide and varied tastes.

— I love film. If I could have free reigns I could see myself working with the Canadian director Xavier Dolan. He made the film Mommy, which is fantastic. And finally she exclaims «And Ruben Östlund, of course!»