GuysLikeU‘s editor-in chief Christian Guiltenane meets gorgeous Edward af Sillén, the very funny and talented writer and director of this year’s amazing Eurovision Song Contest!
This year’s Eurovision Song Contest was heralded a televisual triumph by both viewers and critics. It wasn’t so much the the 26 entries fighting to win that captured the 205 million viewers’ hearts (although there were some tuneful corkers), but the spectacular and flamboyant presentation, show-stopping skits and performances, and the hilariously tongue-in-cheek script that was delivered wittily presenters Mans Zelmerlow and Petra Mede.
Not only that, Justin Timberlake took to the stage to perform his brand new single and Mans and Petra sang a brilliantly witty spoof Eurovision song called Love Love Peace Peace, which is now set to be released due to public demand.
We caught up with the super funny and dashingly handsome scriptwriter and director, Edward af Sillén, 33, the brains behind this year’s set of shows, to find out how he came up with such a glittering TV spectacle that had the world talking.
Edward, the Eurovision was so well received, you must have been thrilled. How was it for you?
It was an insane amount of work, but deeply rewarding. I really couldn’t be happier with the shows. All three of them.
You impressively produced NINE hours of TV that featured not only the contestants performing, but opening numbers, pre-recorded clips and more. How far ahead did you have to start planning the show?
Well…. To start with; the entire production is divided in two parts. The contest and the content.
The contest part work with the 42 competing artists and their performances, and the content part (where I work as writer and director) focuses on the hosts, opening numbers and interval acts, plus pre-recorded sketches and clips.
But still; three live shows in five days… It’s insane.
We started working late last summer. Officially… But of course, the night Måns won the Eurovision in Vienna, I got a phone call from the TV company, and started dreaming about the perfect hosting duo. Petra and Måns were the ones I knew I wanted.
The final itself had the catwalk opening, the contestants, the brilliant Swedish music montage, Justin T, Mans and Petra, the hilarious doc, another Mans performance and then the scoring. It’s exhausting just to list them. Where did the ideas come from? What has inspired you along the way?
Yeah, the grand final was quite a handful. I don’t really know where I get my inspiration. First of all I have a great team around me that I work with. Also I travel a lot, to try and get inspiration from other cultures and other creative people around the world. In this case, with the Eurovision – I’ve watched it for so many years, so there’s a lot of ideas that have lived inside me for such a long time.
Bagging Justin Timberlake was something of a coup!
Yeah. We really wanted to make Eurovision as modern as possible. To make it feel relevant and real. To try and get an international star in the show was always the dream. I couldn’t believe it when I heard Justin was on board. Also I couldn’t believe it when I heard how brilliant his new single was.
Did any thing go wrong or not according to plan?
To be hones, nothing went wrong, apart from my plan to stay off sugar through the entire project. I failed miserably.
Were there any divas back stage?
Sure there were. When 42 countries send nervous stars to compete, there’s bound to be some clashing of egos back stage. Haha. But I’m a gentlemen and will keep the details to myself.
Which of the songs was your personal favourite?
I really loved the Bulgarian song If Love Was A Crime. What a great modern pop song. I hope we hear more songs like that in Eurovision from now on. I also loved the French song and that beautiful ballad from Australia. And my guilty pleasure was that howling half-naked wolf man from Belarus with the 80’s sounding song. How can one not love that?
Love Love Peace Peace was a sensation – what a clever idea.
Wow. Thank you very much!! That was an idea I had carried around for a few years; the idea of doing a big Eurovision parody number AT Eurovision. The idea was too fun to resist! For me it was a teasing love letter to the entire Eurovision. And we tried to get as many references in there as possible, from Loreen to the hamster wheel. But it was during one of my morning walks I thought of the title Love Love Peace Peace and that became the starting point for the entire act. It was great fun to do, but also a nightmare to stage: 45 people, including Finnish monsters, grandmothers and hamster wheels, all in three minutes. It took weeks to make every detail work. But it was worth it.
The humour came across in the show so well. You were poking fun at Eurovision but with a lot affection and respect. It’s clear that you are massive fan of Eurovision yourself?
To me the main question was; What unites all these different viewers and cultures watching? What do they all have in common? And I realised the answer was; The Eurovision. This is what they all have in common, watching the show. So we decided to be funny about the Eurovision, unlike the Malmo contest in 2013 when we laughed at ourselves. And yes, of course I am a Eurovision fan. Truly. I grew up loving it. Bandido by Azucar Moreno from 1990 is a perfect Eurovision entry. Also I really loved I Anixi from Greece 1991. My favorite TV production? Ireland 1988, cause I adore that stage and the winner.
The UK as a whole still dismiss Eurovision as dated and cheesy when in reality as you guys have proved it can be very contemporary and push the boundaries. Do you think that’s why the UK doesn’t do so well at the competition?
Absolutely. The UK has one of the greatest music industries in the world. Wouldn’t it be beautiful if that was reflected in the entries they sent? Having said that; I really enjoyed Joe & Jake this year. But please don’t ask me about last year’s UK entry.
Where do you think we are going wrong?
That’s not for me to say. I just think the key is to take the contest a bit more seriously.
Why does Sweden take Eurovision so seriously? You guys embrace pop and pop culture, we try to intellectualise it?
Well, I believe the entire Swedish pop culture, from Roxette to Avicii, originates from ABBA. And Björn and Benny were experts at writing catchy choruses. I think that’s still reflected in Swedish pop music: Very catchy tunes. So the Eurovision is perfect for us – because basically it’s a competition to find out which song has the catchiest tune, in three minutes.
Why do you think Eurovision appeals to gay guys so much?
I have absolutely no idea. Could someone please authorize a proper study! Call Cambridge!
Do you think the show in some ways unifies countries in terms of acceptance?
I 100 % believe so. This show is important. It gives people from totally different backgrounds and cultures a common reference. Fun moments to share together. And that’s what the world needs right now. To focus on the things that unite us, instead of the differences that divide us.
You were very kind to us by ensuring that Mans was flashing that body of his rather a lot this year? Was it hard to persuade him? Or was he more than happy to whip off his top?
Haha. If you spend that many hours a week in a gym and eating beet roots, I would hope that you would want to show the world the results.
Is he as wonderfully beautiful and funny as we saw on the show?
He is truly one of the smartest, funniest and most ambitious people I know. I love working with him. Also, he is very attentive in bed!
Ha! He and Petra were an absolutely brilliant double act. You’ve worked with them a lot haven’t you. They must be a hoot to work with?
I wanted to work with them on this project simply because they’re such brilliant professionals, and so very talented. There’s nothing they cannot do! Apart from shut up! Petra, I’ve worked with since 2008 and NO ONE makes me laugh more than her. It’s always a dream to write for her. She’s also very attentive in bed.
You’ve directed four Melodifestivalens since 2009 – it’s one of the biggest shows in Sweden. You must feel a lot of pressure to produce a show that gets better every year!
Yes, huge pressure. I did it 09 + 10, and 12 + 13. Then I came back this year and wrote/directed the 15th anniversary. Now I’m not gonna do it for a few years. At the moment I am directing and writing for theatre and film full time.
One of our favourite Melodifestiavlen moments was the Your Disco Needs You pastiche from the 2009 final? Where did the idea for that come from.
Haha. Back in 2009? I can’t really remember too well. But I DO love Kylie’s Your Disco Needs You – we tried but couldn’t get the rights for that song, so we had to do a pastiche of it instead. Desperate times…
Take us back to when you were younger. Where did you grow up and what did you want to do when you were older?
I grew up in the suburbs outside Stockholm and always, always wanted to work in entertainment, in some way, theatre mostly and film. But then I saw this show on TV called the Eurovision Song Contest, where I could see other culture’s music and artists. It was very important for me. It truly formed me in so many ways.
Did your big break come easy?
It was a nightmare. I had no way in. No contacts whatsoever. So I started doing stand up comedy when I was 18, just to get my ‘voice’ out there, hoping someone would like my style. When I was 21 I was suddenly working as a writer for some of the biggest comedians in Sweden. I was incredibly lucky.
Were you a good comedian?
It was awful and I’ll never do it again. But it was honestly the only way to get my foot through the door of Swedish entertainment industry. But I wouldn’t say I was a stand up comedian. I was a clumsy amateur for a few years.
What was your first TV break?
I did the Swedish Oscars (called the Gulbagge Awards) when I was 22, and that became my first real door opener.
What advice would you give young guys who want to do your job!
Keep writing, keep trying and keep watching! I taught myself this job from reading every book on the subject and watching every show or film I could afford a ticket to. In school I used to save my money to buy theatre tickets. That’s the best education. Being curious.
At the same time you have worked in theatre too and staged shows for the likes of Alcazar. How do you squeeze it all in?
Yeah, the Alcazar stage show was so much fun to do. A real passion project. And it’s still playing, here in Stockholm. Come over! Well, in between every big job I travel to get away and recharge. I need that.
And you have written two films – is that the ultimate dream?
Film has always been a dream to work with. I honestly can’t believe that dream came true. To sit in a movie theatre and hear people laugh at a film I’ve written. I had to pinch myself. Mind you, I also got to see three people stand up and furiously leave the cinema, so… You can’t win everyone.
What kind of movies did you enjoy growing up?
Comedies mostly. The films of Christopher Guest were always my biggest influences; Best in Show, Spinal Tap and Waiting for Huffman.
You work with a writing partner, how does that work?
I write with my best friend Daniel. It’s great having the one person I trust the most in the world, to bounce ideas off of. We laugh together as we write the scripts.
You’re an openly gay guy… did you have an easy coming out process?
Like for most openly gay people there were a lot of dark times. Finding yourself as a gay teenager, in a time before Grindr and Internet dating… Yeah, it was tough. But no comedy exists without darkness, I believe. So I thank life for it.
Is Sweden an easy place for young gay guys to grow up?
I think today it is, yes. I’m proud to live in a country that truly is very tolerant, and doesn’t get their truths from a 2000 year old book.
Is there much homophobia anymore?
It still exists, of course. But in the capital Stockholm guys and girls can walk openly hand in hand with their same sex partners. It’s beautiful.
You’re a good-looking guy – are you popular with guys?
Am I though? I’m definitely not my type. But thankfully we all have different tastes.
Finally, having achieved so much, What’s the dream for you. What is on your list of things to do?
I truly just dream of getting to continue working with this I love so much: Entertainment. I’m so fortunate to get to write and direct for a living. Hopefully it will last for a few more years.