Hi Alma, who are you?
My name is Alma Pöysti and I am an actor. I graduated from the Theater Academy in Helsinki in 2007, and have since worked in Finland and Sweden, and a little in Denmark. I have mainly worked in theater, but in recent years I have worked in front of the camera in films and TV series. I am a Swedish-speaking Finn, Swedish is my mother tongue, but I also speak Finnish, English, and a little bit of French.
Did you always know that you wanted to be an actor?
No, I didn't always know that, but I’ve had a strong passion and love for theater since I was young. But that I would become an actor was perhaps not a matter of course, but something that I have found over time. It is a fact that many of my family members have worked in theater for several generations, so it has been a very present art form in my life, which still does not mean that there would have been any automaticity about becoming an actor myself. But the love and fascination for theater and acting have been with me for a long time. To then dare to become one myself and believe in it was another choice. It felt like it needed to be a conscious choice, not something one can just give a half try in, but one must be goal oriented. Maybe it was partly due to my family background that it did not feel like I could just go and play a little, but that it must be serious if I am to venture into that course.
Were there any other professions you were considering?
I have worked as a guide and as a caretaker. I've always been interested in literature and humans, so maybe something within the humanities. Or an adventurer! I love to travel and meet different cultures, people, and languages. But acting is so fantastic in that way, that it can combine everything I'm interested in, there is so much to develop, and you are never, never, never ready. There is so much to learn both physically, philosophically, analytically, and psychologically… it unites everything, it researches what it is to be human. So, I'm happy that my professional life has become an actor's.
The film Tove is our opening film at our Finnish film festival Finn Filmnapok in Budapest in February. Do you want to tell us a little about what it was like to shoot the film?
It was an incredibly lovely working group, the director Zaida Bergroth and the photographer Linda Wassberg had a wonderful collaboration. And I got to be there, we became a triangle that felt strong, brave but also sensitive. It was a great collaboration with the whole team, how we worked within the world of film and the details in it. I worked quite closely with e.g., the costume designer, the set designer, and the graphic designer. Together we brainstormed ideas to create a whole, and actors do not always get that opportunity, which was incredibly valuable. In general it was a pretty risky endeavor, I have called it a mission impossible, how can you make a film about Tove Jansson? Zaida said, "This can only fail, but let's fail in an interesting way", and once she said that it became quite redemptive, because then we could let go of the pressure. Making a biopic is difficult, how can you do a person's life justice in two hours? It feels presumptuous to even try. It was a wise choice to limit the film to 10 years of Tove Janssons life, because you can capture very important turning points, but also not claim to tell her whole story.
It was a big endeavor that struck me when I studied Tove. For me, it all started with research and rehearsals in 2016 when I played Tove Jansson at the Swedish Theater in Finland 2017 in the play Tove by Lucas Svensson. For that role, I did fairly large preparatory work that I could then immerse myself in during my role for the film. I took lessons in painting and drawing; I sat and practiced her handwriting. We had a lovely graphic artist, Sandra Wahlbeck, an artist who has worked a lot with film, and she and I sat there in the basement of Helsinki-filmi and thought about the order in which different lines are drawn in a Moomin. Then we compared our hands, and it was a strange coincidence that we happened to have similar hands. So, we became Tove's hand, so when my abilities were not enough, Sandra could come in and save me.
The film is filmed in real film, it was completely in Tove's spirit. It was great that they invested in it because it is quite expensive to do so, but it was an aesthetically wise choice. For me, it was a lot of technical things to learn about camera work, because I have mostly worked on stage. It was a pretty big and revolutionary journey in many ways, to get to make the film.
The film has been well received by both audiences and critics, it has won many awards and been seen around the world. What kind of response have you received?
It's great because I get personal and kind thank you messages from people from everywhere. From Cuba to Japan and the USA, from all parts of the world. It seems that regardless of where you come from, people find their way into the film and absorb it. Many write that they want to enjoy life a little more after seeing that movie and want to go home and dance, and it's absolutely lovely. Then there is a different kind of response, there are some who have written that they may not want to be more like Tove Jansson, but that they would like to live a little more like themselves. Apparently, the film awakens such thoughts or desires, and it is incredibly nice that it has such an impact on someone who sees it. And it’s completely in the spirit of Tove Jansson, what she awakens in people is completely universal, completely independent no matter if they live on the other side of the globe. There is some kind of humanity that is recognizable and humor that works in different parts of the world.
What has your relationship with the Moomin world been like before you took on the role of Tove?
I have realized that even before I could talk, I got to read Tove's stories because in my family we read a lot for each other, Moomin, Mymble and little My and Who will comfort Toffle? were among my first books. I have realized that when I started talking, I already had a lot of those Tove words in me. So yes, I have read a lot, over time I started reading the short stories and the adult literature and got to know her as an artist. Now I have probably mostly read of and about her. Some books I have read quite a few times already, and it's fun to go back to those books I read as a child. They change in meaning over time, when you get your own experiences in life, things start to mean something else even though you return to your old, dear stories. It is also very typical of Tove; she manages to entertain both children and adults at the same time with the same text.
I have worked a lot with Tove's material in addition to these portrayals of her. I am now reading her short stories as audiobooks for Förlaget (Finnish book publisher), and in that way, this journey continues in a slightly different form.
You will visit Budapest during our film festival in February. What is your relationship with Hungary?
I've been to Budapest when on interrail, it was for only a day or two 20 years ago. So, I'm looking forward to getting there, it's a very beautiful city. I look forward to discovering Budapest because I cannot say that I am particularly familiar with it.
What I know about Hungary and the human rights situation there is very worrying, but that's why I'm extra happy to get there with the Tove film. I hope it can show how Tove saw love, that it does not matter what gender one's love is, it is about the person one falls in love with. The important thing is to love. I do not know how much room there is for such discussions in Hungary.
It will be exciting to get there and meet the audience and have conversations about the film. Maybe also on that theme because it's so important. I'm very happy that this film has been shown in Russia, in Poland and now in Hungary. For example, I thought it would be censored in Russia, but it wasn’t. It has not received much attention either, there are different ways to silence something. It feels good and very important that it’s shown in countries where it can have a different meaning to people who belong to sexual minorities, that it can be inspiring or uplifting or give a little courage.
Have you had the opportunity to travel elsewhere in the world with the film Tove during this time?
To Germany and Sweden. We were at the film festival in Lübeck and then I was in Bamberg this summer, and we have been to the Gothenburg film festival. But physical travel has been quite scarce. However the film itself has traveled, it has been to 60 countries, it just premiered in Japan. It has gone very well for the film, and it is quite unusual for a Swedish-speaking film from Finland to have such a wide distribution.
It is growing all the time, we get new distributors, we will have a premiere in Germany in March, and we just got a French distributor. There are still large countries that have not yet released it because they have been waiting for better timing due to the pandemic. The film itself is allowed to travel, which is the most important thing, although I would like to travel with it. That's what's fun, to meet different audiences from different cultures and different parts of the world. It's exciting to see how it resonates.
It's also fun that people around the world hear what Finnish-Swedish sounds like, I think that is a bonus.
Do you have any other projects at the moment?
Plenty. I've been filming all year really, everything from TV series to films. Right now, I am filming a film where I have one of four main roles. Unfortunately, it is not public yet. This summer I filmed Events by the Water with Mikael Marcimain, which will be a TV series based on Kerstin Ekman's novel. I have been in LasseMaja, where I play Barbro Palm and I have been in a police series, Harjunpää, where I play a police officer. Then I also made three short films at the end of the summer. A lot is going on, but it’s a lot of fun. In February I will do a collaboration with Cantores minores, Helsinki chamber choir, and the Uusinta ensemble. We will perform “Bygden” by Erik Bergman and Lars Huldén. I am the reciter.
I've had incredible luck with the timing of the Tove film because the film jobs started coming after it. If I were to remain in the working environment I was before the Tove film, I, like many other freelance actors who work in theaters, would be completely stranded when productions are postponed or inhibited. Luckily, we can film, but things are very uncertain in the industry in general.
Anything else you want to say to the readers?
I hope they come and see the movie and that they enjoy it. They are welcome to come there and have a glass of wine and I hope they will have an experience. And if it is someone who does not know Tove Jansson, I can only congratulate them and say that they have something fantastic ahead of them to discover, a really fierce person. The film can work as a gateway for that. Especially abroad, many are not really prepared for this. Many have had the image of Tove Jansson as an old fairytale lady. And many have discovered her as a visual artist through the film, which is gratifying. It's nice, it was still what was most important to her, so for Tove's own sake I'm so happy that the film has been able to highlight the art.
It's funny how new Tove Jansson paintings are constantly appearing. It was just like in the movie that during the war she paid a lot of her bills with art, it was a strong currency during the war, people reckoned they could always sell art again. Still, Tove Janssons earlier unknown paintings can appear. Paintings she had paid the dental bills or firewood with. It's amazing.
Name: Alma Pöysti
Education: Master of Theater Arts, Helsinki Theater Academy (2007)
Residing in: Southern Finland
Hobbies: In addition to reading, beekeeping is a new hobby that I started with during the pandemic. I have two hives on an island in Lovisa.
Favorite Moomin character: Everyone, but I have a soft spot for Susanna in The Dangerous Journey. Susanna is an angry and curious girl.
Picture by: Marica Rosengård.