One spring evening 2017, four men from Norway's financial elite meet at a restaurant in central Oslo. During dinner, friends eat and drink well and tell their life stories. One is sterilized but has not said anything to his wife that he is trying to have children with. One of the men tells him that he never feels as good as when he is not with his family. A third wanted to kill himself but decided instead to maximize his life with alcohol and entertainment. Together, the friends have bought a floor where they take drugs and party with female escorts.

"It was damn dark"

The call that lasts for three hours is recorded. The in-depth interview takes producer Petter Testmann-Koch with him to NRK, the Norwegian public service, who naps and wants to dramatize the material. Øystein Karlsen, who is commissioned to direct and write scripts, interviews more people in the financial environment, including wives for financial hikes. The result will be Exit.

- When I saw the 3 hour interview, I stopped four or five times. I had to breathe because it got too much. I laughed at things I shouldn't laugh at. And at some moments it was just damn dark. I thought that if I react so strongly, others probably do too, says Øystein Karlsen.

In October, 1.3 million Norwegians saw Exit at NRK, which corresponds to one fifth of the country's population. It has now gone over Skam and become the most streamed series in NRK's ​​history. The viewers consist of about half men and half women. Øystein Karlsen believes that the impact is due to being seen in a secret world.

- That world is real, so you have to re-evaluate the image of your own country a little bit. We are happy to believe that nasty things happening in the rest of the world are not happening here, ”says Øystein Karlsen.

Most streamed in Norway

The series stages a world of nihilism where the only thing that governs is money. The main characters are the four high-seeking financiers Adam, William, Jeppe and Henrik. They are fictional characters that Karlsen created from the interview material. Everyone has no limit to money, snort copious amounts of cocaine, party unhesitatingly, buy sex and usually use violence without a hint of empathy.

- The challenge was to get people to see a whole series where there are no heroes, no one to agree with. It's an interesting experiment. You get with many interesting social aspects. These people treat others as goods that you can buy and sell, says Øystein Karlsen.

Viewers may also follow Adam's wife Hermine who slowly looks through her husband's sociopathic control behavior. Simon J. Berger, formerly known from series such as Up to Fight and Never Wipe Tears Without Gloves, plays Adam in the series.

- He is a complete "asshole" in many ways, at the same time he was not very difficult to play. When it is such a well-written material, even the biggest pig becomes an entire human being and my job is to portray an entire human being, says Simon J. Berger.

At times, the series contains extreme violence and sex scenes. What was it like to record?

- Sex scenes are like stunts, I mean, where what I do in my mind is not at all the same as what the character does. It is about performing a technical choreography to make it look real but be safe. You have to distance yourself but still play well, says Simon J. Berger.

The Norwegian documentary method

In the series, fictional interviews are cut in to create a sense of realism. Karlsen has said that 70 percent of all events are true.

- I see the series as a reflection of the times. If I could call it anything, I wouldn't say documentary, but a contemporary post. This is part of our reality, just a reality we do not see, says Øystein Karlsen.

And making series based on real events seems to be one of Norway's things. Also the iconic series Skam, about a bunch of high school youth in Oslo, is based on real interviews.

- That might be the secret. Shame has been seen by a great many people, says Øystein Karlsen.

In November, the series premiered in Sweden. Now Øystein Karlsen is working on a script for a possible second season.

- The actors and I want it, then we can hope that NRK says yes, he says.