Interview with Marie Østerbye, season 5 writer and showrunner for Rita

Marie Østerbye

When I contacted Christian Torpe to talk about season 5 of Rita, he said, I wasn’t very involved in season 5. You have to talk to Marie Østerbye. She ran the season. He put me in touch with her and she agreed to answer my questions about season 5 of the Danish hit series, Rita.

Here we go!

Q: Let’s jump straight to the end when Rita pulls those doors shut like closing a curtain. She breaks the 4th wall and grins at the camera. Does that mean it’s the end of Rita? We’ve thought that before and she just keeps moving forward.

A: To me the end scene signifies that Rita knows – and shows us that she knows – that even though everything worked out fine in the end, she is and will always be chaos. As is her final line – ‘I’m just… chaos’. Undoubtedly, shit will hit the fan again. At the same time, now, she has made her peace with that.

Q: I fell in love with Gerd! Rita really liked her, too. Please talk about why you gave Rita this wonderful friend just to take her away so tragically.

A: I love that you loved Gerd. I loved her too. Gerd was supposed to be future-Rita, a Ghost of Christmas yet to come – to show Rita what could lie ahead of her if she continued a life of doing solely what she wanted, not listening to anybody but herself. There is a lot of power in that – but also a kind of deep solitude. Gerd had a wild and crazy and funny life – but she was also lonely.  And I think that kind of dawned on Rita and made her re-evaluate her own life.

I also wanted to create that kind of women friendship that can come in a late stage of your life where you recognise and embrace each others scars and flaws. At the same time, Gerd’s function as a character was also to show how Rita let her private and professional life get mixed into a somewhat dysfunctional cocktail and then to let her deal with that when Gerd chose to take her own life.

Q: Hjørdis was Rita’s equal in this season. She was driving the story in ways she hadn’t before. The two of them are so different. What do you think they mean to each other at the end of season 5? Or during season 5?

A: The big love story of season 5 was actually not between Rita and Rasmus, but between Rita and Hjørdis. Rita needed to finally acknowledge Hjørdis as an equal and as an adult. And Hjørdis needed to grow into exactly that – an adult. During the season they are each others opposites, Rita taking almost no responsibility and Hjørdis taking on too much. They needed to balance that out – and to realise that in their differences they also made the perfect team.

Q: Jeppe had a big story arc this season, which I enjoyed. Pairing him up with the closeted farmer was an interesting choice. Where did that story idea come from?

A: This is something Christian and I created when storylining the season, and I think the idea sprung from the fact that Jeppe was a neat freak and phobic about bacteria and dirt so it made sense to make him fall in love with a guy who was literally deep in cow shit. Also, while most contemporary shows have LBGT characters that are out we wanted to create a character in Ole that was actually still fighting himself in whether and how to come out.

Q: There was so much humor this season. Was that simply your natural gift for humor or was it done deliberately to offset the darkness that Rita was going to go through because of Gerd?

A: Very much the latter. It was a very conscious and deliberate choice to have the season open with some ‘old school’ Rita fun and then to turn the mood about two-thirds into the season. This also to mirror Rita’s emotional story arc and to set her up as hard as possible for the fall in episode 6.

Q: I love the plaid shirts. I confess I watched and watched for the plaid shirts all season. When they finally made a comeback, it gave me such a sense of validation. What did Rita’s wardrobe being minus the plaid at the beginning of the season mean to you?

A: The plaid shirts are both a part of Rita and something that she leaves behind in the end of season 4 as a way of her ’shedding’ her past and closing the door on that. But we knew all along working on season 5 that we had to have a final moment where she puts the shirt on again. A kind of superhero-puts-the-cape on moment. A moment where Rita embraces everything that she is. It is what has always defined her, the shirt and the core of her character which is the teacher – and someone who became a teacher to protect kids from their parents. It was a way of showing Rita coming full circle, if you will.

Marie Østerbye and Christian Torpe

Q: Christian Torpe created Rita, but you’ve worked with him on the series since 2012. The two of you recently worked together to create an award winning series called Deliver Us. Watching Rita has convinced me that I’d love whatever the two of you create together. Is there a chance that Deliver Us might make it to the American audience?

A: I wish I could answer yes to that. The show is currently only on the platform of DR (Danish Broadcasting) but we very much hope to bring it to an international audience some day. However, it’s a step away from the comedy of Rita. Sometimes you just need to go full on evil 😉

Q: What have I overlooked? Anything you want to add about season 5 of Rita?

A: I really think that you touched on the central parts of what this season was about! To us this season was also a way of tying up all the central characters from earlier seasons – Helle, Rasmus, Jeppe, Rita’s ex-husband Niels. And to bring Rita to a point where she had to question who she was, how she affected other people and in that sense bringing her to an end that very much felt like that – the end. 

A huge thank you to Marie Østerbye for this interview. And thanks to Christian Torpe as the intermediary. Most of all, thanks for all the years of making Rita a character loved around the world. Rita is unquestionably one of the best characters ever created.

5 thoughts on “Interview with Marie Østerbye, season 5 writer and showrunner for Rita”

  1. Pingback: Review: Rita, season 5 - Old Ain't Dead

  2. Tripped over your posts this morning while fangirling Rita and her motley crew. As a two-decade HS English teacher in the US, I love everything about this series. Plus, it gives me a chance to imagine that I actually did move to Scandinavia 30 years ago when I had the chance, and block out the US political hellscape for a little while.

    Won’t read this spoiler-laden interview until I’ve eeked out the last episode. Feel free to point me in any Rita-info directions in the meantime. Thanks for your work. An intermittent blogger and former beat reporter, I appreciate anyone who’s walking the writer’s talk in our current media environment.

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