Conversation: Helen Sjöholm: I long to seduce

Afonbladet Söndag 160904


It’s said that a butterfly’s wings across the globe can basically affect and change the life of a human. That a measly small event can make the difference between black and white and between a life in a glittering spotlight and a life in the shadows. For Helen Sjöholm it’s about a choice that two of our greatest stars did – and that led her to Kristina, the big screen, the Swedish scenes and out into the world.
– Without it, I probably would not have worked with what I do today. No, I hadn’t, she says.

She will become a diva. A tipsy diva who set fire to the hearts of men. This is because the time has come to classic Göta Lejon in Stockholm. Helen Sjöholm, yes, not her alone, but Johan Rabaeus, Shima Niavarani, Linus Wahlgren, Johan Rheborg and some more are rehearsing for the premiere of the musical “Kulregn över Broadway”, or Bullets Over Broadway as the model, Woody Allen’s film, was named.
– I yearn to seduce, Helen Sjöholm says and laughs.
– It’s a role I’ve never played before. I tend to be more down to earth. It will be great fun to do something new.

And there is nothing in her appearance that points to anything else than that she means what she says. She speaks quietly, a little pensive, with a fervor and a facial expression that makes you want to listen, but without any major gestures. Every now and then, but only in short phrases, her singing voice breaks through her speaking voice.

It is hard to imagine Helen Sjöholm as anything else than a celebrated singer and musical artist. Of course, she also started somewhere, but the last 20 years have been so full of her voice and movements on stage to the time before fades. Ever since she reached the spotlight as Kristina från Duvemåla, the Björn and Benny-musical with the same name, the roles she’s played and the concerts she’s done have succeeded one another, at venues from Malmö Music Theatre and Globen to Allsång på Skansen, China and the United States. Not bad for anyone, not either for a now 46-year-old woman from Sundsvall.

To say that she’s got where she’s ended up in her career by chance would be to reduce her ambitions as younger. When she got the role which meant everything to her future career – a word she likes to defend herself against – she’d had small roles, or rather roles in small productions, in musicals like The Wizard of Oz and Elvira Madigan. She had trimmed and trained her voice with singing teachers and at Kulturama’s jazz and pop song program, but she didn’t get into drama school.

That’s about where she was in the early 1990s.
– I had just read ethnology at the Humanities program and I didn’t really know what I wanted with my singing, in which direction I wanted to go.
When Björn and Benny searched a Kristina for their musical she decided to apply. This despite the fact that she and many others thought the role was held for Josefin Nilsson or someone else the two men from ABBA had collaborated with before. Some celebrity. But maybe it was precisely Helen Sjöholm’s lack of fame that gave her the role.
– I guess they searched for someone who was blank, someone the audience could embrace as Kristina. It was not just a voice they searched for, it was a character. It was probably a combination of my voice and that I could deliver a line that gave me the part.
– In any case it was brave of them.

The role was undeniably her “sliding door”, the term comes from a movie with Gwyneth Paltrow in the main role, where the story follows two different tracks, one depending on whether the main character catches a train in the subway and another where the doors slam right in front of her. The two tracks in the film then develop in two completely different directions.
– Yes, God yes. That’s safe to say. Without that role I probably would not have worked with what I do today. I had not. It was fortunate in many ways.

Kristina was an amazing success with nearly 500 performances. At the same time also a springboard to a life in the limelight for Helen Sjöholm. With her own tours and concerts with BAO, Benny Andersson Orchestra, with several musicals, with interpretations of other people’s songs and collaborations with the cream of Swedish singers and musicians. In addition, concerts with Kristina- and Abba material in Minnesota, USA and China and a long list of awards and honors as a receipt. But oddly enough, despite all success, Helen Sjöholm sees herself as an amateur.
– I have learned the job from the inside because I don’t have any education, thus I feel like an amateur. It’s probably my driving force. I always think that I probably should do something else. I guess I’m just that kind of person, I pretend it’s not for real, not deadly serious. I just become tense and nervous if I take myself as an artist too seriously.
– But don’t misunderstand me. It is deadly serious when I stand on stage and of course I take my job seriously.

The fact that you choose to see yourself as an amateur, is that related to confidence?
– Nah. I have pretty good confidence, but at the same time it’s varying. I probably get it when I get on stage, then I just do it. But I can be quite worried as a person and think a lot about what others will think. And think, maybe you should do this or that, and what do others do? But on stage that disappears and that characteristic is so liberating. On stage I become brave, I am not otherwise.

Speaking of the stage, do you have a dream role?
– More people I’d like to work with. Actors like Rabaeus, he’s a little bit crazy, and the whole gang in Bullets Over Broadway. Tommy Körberg I’ve listened to a lot, I’m so fond of his voice. And Jan Malmsjö, Marianne Morck… I would love to be a Meryl Streep of musicals who get to do many different roles.
– There is a show called Next to Normal that I would like to do, but nothing else concrete.

You’re very well known as a performer, but quite unknown as a person. Is that something you have chosen? Do you have high integrity?
– Yes, I have. And there is probably a mutual disinterest in my personal life. I have not been reticent, but I have no interest to show it. At the same time I’m quite unexciting. I had a good upbringing, am married and have three children. What is special about me is when I enter the stage.
– I think it’s easier to sit like this and talk about what I do. I don’t think it’s very fun to talk about myself. It doesn’t feel suitable to be in “Så mycket bättre”. It’s a great program and I really like to meet and get to know colleagues, but then you should also feel comfortable talking about yourself.

But you must have some skeletons in your closet?
– Ha, ha, no, I have a little time-is-running-away-anxiety, but nothing else to show.

What is your relationship with your songs, such as “Du är min man” with BAO, that was on the Swedish charts for an eternity?
– Some songs have become big, but I see it like I play different roles. The songs become different parts of my career. For example, I see myself as a chorus singer in BAO, where there are 16 people in the band and we bring a whole dance floor when we are out. It’s great, but BAO is not me. “Du är min man” is not the song I’ve loved the most, but with BAO it’s such fun to do it.

– What’s complicated is that I don’t write my own material. I would love to have the ability to write my own songs and I can get a little jealous of those who have their own material, but I have tried. The interpretations will be what comes from me.
She of course means interpretations of songs, but the task she now faces is also an interpretation, the one as Helen Sinclair in Bullets Over Broadway – the amazing story of 1920s New York where a screenwriter gets jack from a gangster to set up a show where a woman without talent should have a role, where a bodyguard is a genius, and where the producer gets problems neverendingly. But it’s also the story in which Helen Sjöholm is going to become a diva, a role she has never had before. From a layman’s point of view it will probably be a challenge. Because from a layman’s view, she is in real life more like her previous roles – grounded. As far from a tipsy diva as you can get.


And now I want you to draw a self-portrait?
– Oh, that’s the worst. Jeez, my God! You don’t understand how bad I am at drawing.
Oh, go ahead with something simple.
– It’ll probably be a stick man for me. You don’t need to take this so seriously, do you? It’s art, it should be fun!
After 10 seconds:
Well, this beginning looks really good. Is that an oyster?
– Ha ha, it feels like a nude portrait. This is the wee-wee, you see, ha ha. This gets so ugly you can’t fathom it.
After two minutes:
And that, is it flags?
– No, no, it’s small tunes. Say it with tunes, that’s me.
– No, now I give up, it will be like that.



1 …saw a movie at the cinema: “Ha ha, when do you see a whole movie on the couch? We saw Karate Kid with (son) Ruben a few days ago and he liked it a lot. But the cinema? Yes, it was Zootopia. It was not bad at all, among the better of the genre.

2 …got furious: “I can be pissed at intolerance and what the world looks like. And with three children at home, the chances of a temperature rise in temper increases, but fortunately it is not lasting long.

3 …did anything illegal: ”A few days ago, we got us a toothbrush from ICA, but we remedied. Yes, me and a friend went from Rival without paying the other night. We were so taken by Lisa Nilsson’s singing that we just left. But afterwards, I called and confessed.”


Helen Sjöholm.
Age: 46 years.
Occupation: Singer, actress and musical artist.
Family: Married to sound engineer David Granditsky. Three children; twins Samuel and Johanna, 4, and son Ruben, 9.
Lives: in Stockholm.
Current: Plays the role of Helen Sinclair in Bullets Over Broadway, the musical based on Woody Allen’s Oscar-winning movie by the same name. The show will premiere at Göta Lejon in Stockholm on Saturday, September 10.


I’m still a bit puzzled. When I said I thought she looked a lot like Lena Olin Helen Sjöholm replied: “Now I blush, that was the most flattering I’ve heard in years”, but also that “you are terribly funny”. What does that mean? Did she believe me or not? In any case she didn’t seem to agree with me, but added that “when I was young and beautiful I looked like Jennifer Aniston. But that was then, now I just look like my mother”.