Caroline Hainer

Born 2 December 1976 in Stockholm, Sweden / 165 cm / 68 kg / Green eyes / Favorite atari game: “I’m guessing Pac Man is an atari game, but I don’t know if I liked it very much.”

Caroline Anna Sofia Hainer (whose name is pronounced CAR-o-leen HI-ner and whose initials are CASH) is a prolific writer whose smart and uproarious analysis has grappled with the worlds of perfume, relationships, film and pop culture.

She has written exhaustively on the topic of her love/hate relationship with the series 24 and is occasionally consulted by the Swedish media as one of the country’s resident experts on The Simpsons.

Caroline is a blast to talk with, and as a result, what you’re reading here is only a portion of the rollicking conversation we had. We barely touched on the story of how she came to have three framed oil paintings of herself – “Hey, I did not plan this!” – two of which can be seen behind her in the photo below.

When she’s not trying to dress like Sofia Coppola, she can most likely be found wearing one of the way too many denim shirts in her closet.

PHOTOS BY EMILY DAHL

WHY DO HAVE SO MANY DENIM SHIRTS?

[laughs] Well, I never thought about it. I mean, apart from the fact that I like them and I also like the color. The denim color. But also, I was on a road trip last fall to the southern states.

IN THE U.S.?

Yeah. In the U.S. I was really in my element there. [smiling…] I could wear these denim shirts [laughter] and not feel out of place.

DO YOU WEAR THEM WITH JEANS?

Yeah! That’s a bit of a… I still don’t know if you’re “allowed” to do that. Like, if you wear a dark shirt, are you supposed to match?

WELL, IF YOU WEAR A DENIM SHIRT, JEANS AND A DENIM JACKET, WHERE I COME FROM THAT’S CALLED A “CANADIAN TUXEDO.”

Oh yeah? [laughs] I love that!

SOMETIMES MY DAD DRESSES LIKE THAT. I’M FROM KENTUCKY, YOU KNOW, WHICH IS ALMOST THE SOUTH.

Right. And the pronunciation is “LOO-ah-vull.” Right?

YEAH! GOOD JOB! [laughs] I THINK IT DEPENDS ON WHERE YOU ARE, IF IT’S ACCEPTABLE TO DRESS LIKE THAT.

I did – most of the time – wear jeans, but I was trying to “feel the vibe” if that was alright or not. And also different shades, of course. I could quickly tell that light denim is out, in favor of dark. And that’s fine by me. [laughs]

YEAH, MY DAD WILL USUALLY WEAR A DENIM SHIRT THAT HAS THE NAME OF A CASINO ON IT…

Whoa!

…OR SOMETHING THAT HE GOT AS A “GIFT” SOMEWHERE.

That’s the next level! Well, I think the denim shirt is the ultimate wear, because you’re dressed-up but you’re not really formal. It’s feminine as well as masculine. It’s got everything.

AND JUST LIKE JEANS WHERE YOU CAN WEAR THEM FOR A WEEK OR TWO WEEKS AND NOT WASH THEM.

[laughs] Yeah, yeah. It’s good for everything. But as for me, I like shirts! I don’t know what to compare them with. So denim shirts…

OKAY, SO THE SIMPSONS.

Oh yeah! [laughter] I don’t know what Emily [Dahl] told you, but…

WELL SHE TOLD ME – AND I DID SOME GOOGLING ON YOU ALSO – AND I FOUND THAT YOU ARE A SIMPSONS EXPERT.

That’s what they say. I wouldn’t say so myself, because then you would ask me something like, “What happened in episode 153?” and I wouldn’t be able to answer…

So I wouldn’t say I’m an expert because I’m not one of those people who goes to the conventions and… [laughter] But I do think I’m fairly well oriented in it.

CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT THE… WELL, I’M NOT SURE WHAT MY QUESTION IS, BUT I JUST WANT TO TALK ABOUT THE SPRINGFIELD FILM FESTIVAL EPISODE. [laughs]

Oh, right! Yes, yes! [laughter] “The ball! His groin!” Yes, yes.

HANS MOLEMAN PRODUCTIONS…

[laughs] Yes, the Hans Moleman Production is so wonderful, as well as Barney’s epic story. [laughter] It’s so good! It’s so good. And also, I don’t want to draw too big a parallel to my other job, which is writing about film, but sometimes it feels a bit like that. A little bit.

My mom asks me, “What should I see? What’s good now?” And I would tell her something and she would go like, “Naah! I was thinking more like Änglagård 3.” [a popular Swedish drama franchise with light humor] And it would be something that I would give a “1” but it would still be on top of all the ratings.

OH, LIKE COWBOYS AND ALIENS?

Yeah! People still go and see it, so I feel like, “My job is useless!” [laughter] Not even my mom will take my advice.

NOBODY WILL LISTEN TO YOU.

No. Nobody will listen to me. So that episode is excellent.

DID YOU THINK THAT BARNEY HAD THE BEST FILM? OR DID YOU LIKE MISTER BURNS’ FILM?

[laughs] Yes. It is a good question! [laughs] Which one would I have voted for? [laughter]

RIGHT. IF YOU WERE ON THE PANEL… ON THE JURY.

I think that Mister Burns had a lot of good… [three seconds] He had a lot of good effects and he had a good script. He worked with a lot of good writers. Steven Spielbergo. [laughter]

RIGHT, RIGHT!

So maybe I would have voted for him for a lot of reasons, even though it didn’t really touch my heart as much as the Hans Moleman one. [laughter]

WELL, I’M GONNA SKIP THE QUESTION “DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE CHARACTER?”

You can ask that!

I FEEL LIKE EVERYONE MUST ASK YOU THAT.

Yeah, but… No, not really. I mean, there are so many characters. They keep adding to the number. I think 80-something are considered the “main” characters that have been recurring. Two of them died. Three, actually.

MAUDE FLANDERS? POOR MAUDE.

Poor Maude! Yeah. She didn’t deserve that. [laughter]

NO, SHE GOT HIT BY A T-SHIRT CANNON. [laughs]

Also, Bleeding Gums Murphy. Then also Bernice, who is… Grandpa Simpson was to marry. They were doing a The Graduate-sort-of-esque episode. [laughter] For my main characters, it’s Lisa, I think (who is my favorite)…

REALLY? [surprised]

…because she’s so true to herself. You know, she doesn’t get all the laughs – like Homer does – but she’s the one with the good heart.

DON’T YOU THINK SHE WAS KIND OF CHEESY IN THE MOVIE?

Of course. For a main character it would be her. But the more interesting ones, of course, are always the ones on the edge, and that would be Kent Brockman. [laughter] Yes. Kent Brockman all the way! And it has been almost from the start.

And it’s funny because I didn’t realize that he was… I mean, I knew he was a parody of something, but now, having watched Fox News… Which I didn’t do in the early days of The Simpsons. I had no idea. I just thought he was a fun parody of what a news anchor could be like. But now I realize how true he his, which makes him even better.

HE REALLY IS GREAT.

He doesn’t have a lot of… There are very few episodes where he is the main character, but he nails them all the time. And he also has some very good one-liners. [laughter] He’s always able to find a story where there isn’t one! [laughter]

EVERY TIME I THINK OF HIM, I THINK OF WHEN HE SAYS, “I, FOR ONE, WELCOME OUR NEW INSECT OVERLORDS.” [laughter]

Yes. There’s also another one where Flanders’ house is on fire [laughs] and the first line he opens with is, “Fire. Man’s oldest enemy.” [laughter] That’s been a great inspiration to me, you know? [laughs] If there’s no story, just make it bigger!

He’s definitely my favorite. I think he always has been.

ONE MORE SIMPSONS QUESTION AND THEN WE CAN MOVE ON…

Oh, you know… This was not intentional: I just realized I have Simpsons socks on! [laughs]

OH! … I MEAN, D’OH!

It was not planned.

I LIKE THOSE SHOES.

These are new ones. Yes, Dr. Martens shoes.

SO, DID IT BOTHER YOU IN THE SIMPSONS MOVIE THAT THE PRESIDENT IS CALLED ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, WHEN HE IS OBVIOUSLY RANIER WOLFCASTLE?

[distressed] Oh yeah. That’s, uh…

WHY DID THEY DO THAT?

I think because they thought they would approach a bigger audience and the audience would not be as into The Simpsons.

MAYBE. I FOUND IT VERY STRANGE.

But I don’t know. … I have to tell you that I do have an autograph at home from Matt Groening.

YEAH?

Yes! And it’s… I shouldn’t say where I live…

DID HE DRAW A PICTURE?

Yes, he did! It’s Homer. And then he asked me, “Should he say something?” And I was so… I wasn’t nervous, but I was trying to think of something funny for (Homer) to say.

So I said, “Well, he could say, ‘Hello Sweden!’ but he could say it in Swedish,” and then I was supposed to write the letters out but I misspelled it! So he’s supposed to say, “Hej Sverige!” but he says, “Hej
Sver-G-ie!
” [laughs] So I got him all confused.

GREAT. YOU’RE MAKING MATT GROENING LOOK LIKE AN IDIOT! [laughter]

Yes, well, I think it makes sense when Homer says it, that he says it all wrong. [laughter]

GOSH, I WOULD LOVE TO HEAR HOMER SPEAK SWEDISH. [laughter]

I think they could do a…

HE SPEAKS GERMAN IF YOU GO SEE HIM IN GERMANY.

[laughter] They could do a Swedish episode, I think, because “Simpssons” you could make them all Swedish if you wanted to.

YOU HAVE WRITTEN ABOUT TV SHOWS AND MOVIES AND COSMETICS AND PERFUME… [laughter] WHAT’S THE COMMON LINE BETWEEN THOSE THINGS?

There is none. There is probably like, maybe the glamour side, or trying to be somebody else, or playing with identity or something. Or maybe it’s me… I think I have a big imagination, I think that’s why I like it.

IS IT EASY FOR YOU TO WRITE?

Very. And I think that’s why I’ve done well writing about perfume, because it’s not common knowledge. [laughs] It’s so hard to find good writing about perfume, because you’d have like, [in an airy voice…] “A floral scent for the modern woman” and it wouldn’t tell you anything.

I don’t have a particularly good nose but I have a good imagination. So whenever I smell something I will associate it with something, or I would (imagine) pictures or stories or I would see this person… So that’s how I write about it.

DO YOU HAVE TROUBLE FALLING ASLEEP?

Ahh… I used to have a lot of problems falling asleep. I’m not into aromatherapy or anything like that. [laughter]

NO, I MEAN IN THE WAY THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE WHO ARE SUPER-CREATIVE LIKE THAT, THERE ARE ALWAYS IDEAS COMING AND YOU CAN’T TURN THEM OFF.

Now it’s the other way around… that I’m asleep nine or ten hours. Is that common, too? Because it used to be the other way around.

ON THE WEEKEND, FOR ME, IT’S VERY COMMON. [laughter] I THINK I SLEPT ALL DAY SATURDAY.

Yeah. I have done that.

[going back to the original question…] My perfume writing, which I’ve always been interested in but I thought it would be such an odd combination – you know, you can’t be somebody who writes about movies and perfume [laughs] – so I kind of eased into it a little bit.

It was very successful and now I’ve got this blog on Rodeo Magazine. I get a lot of mails that are like, “Help me find a new perfume! I don’t know where to look. I want to learn!” So that’s pretty cool. [short pause]

THIS IS SOMETHING I’VE ACTUALLY NEVER THOUGHT ABOUT BEFORE: THE SAME PERFUME WOULD PROBABLY SMELL COMPLETELY DIFFERENT ON THREE DIFFERENT PEOPLE.

It does! It does.

IT’S NOT AS SIMPLE AS, “THIS IS A GREAT PERFUME. I LOVE THE WAY IT SMELLS.”

It does.

IT’S ALSO THE WAY IT MIXES WITH YOUR OWN… STINK. [laughter]

It’s also very sensitive because – at least for me – smells, I’m always associating with something. Maybe cardamom, for me, might be a comfort smell, and for you, it might remind you of whenever you had to go to your mean grandma’s. [laughter]

I’LL TELL YOU WHAT, I NEVER KNEW ABOUT CARDAMOM UNTIL I MOVED TO SWEDEN.

And had bullar (buns)? [laughter]

MMM HMM. BECAUSE IT’S NOT POPULAR AT ALL IN THE U.S.

I love the smell. Do you like the smell now?

OH YES. I LOVE IT. THERE’S A YOGGI YOGURT DRINK HERE THAT HAS CARDAMOM IN IT AND IT’S AMAZING.

Oh, right. It is good.

YOU HAVE A BOOK COMING OUT…

Yes!

ABOUT MODERN LOVE AND RELATIONSHIPS…

Mmm hmm. That’s true.

IS IT NON-FICTION?

No, it… Well… It is non-fiction. It’s based on a true story. [laughs]

OKAY. IS IT ABOUT YOU?

It is. The thing is, I have a private blog – it’s called Jazzhands – and I’ve had it since 2007. I never advertise it and I’m always surprised when somebody finds it.

I FOUND IT. [laughs]

You found it and, like, two thousand other people found it, and I don’t know how. Because it started out as three friends reading it and I’ve never done anything (to promote) it. You know, I keep it to myself and I write.

And then in January this year, these two very good-looking, nice men from this book company approached me. They’re both married – not to each other – but very solid, nice guys.

They approached me and they said, [enthusiastically] “You’re so good at writing about failing in love!” [laughter] “I don’t even remember what it feels like to be rejected, but then I read (your work) and now I do remember! You’re excellent at writing about failures. You must fail so much!” [laughter]

I ASSUME THEY MEANT THIS AS A COMPLIMENT!

They did! They did!

THEY COULD HAVE JUST LEFT IT AT “YOU’RE VERY GOOD AT WRITING” PERIOD.

[laughter] No, no, it was excellent! We had lunch and they went on and on. They were like, “It happens to you so many times. You must be better and better at it by now.” [laughter]

It was very odd. It was very surreal because these were two so successful… and they’re so good looking and nice. And they looked at me like I was a foreign animal of some sort. They’re like, [tickled] “Tell me, how does it feel to be rejected so many times?” [laughter]

[sarcastically] I HATE THESE GUYS! [laughter]

No, no! [laughter] They’re wonderful. They’re wonderful. They truly meant it as a compliment, even though it was a twisted one, of course. But I was happy to take it.

Anyway, the point was, they said, “Have you ever considered writing about this?” And I said I hadn’t but, “Let me think about it.” Then I came up with an idea and within a month they signed me to a contract.

NICE!

Yeah. So yes, it is about modern love and it’s actually based on a true story which is this:

I went to a therapist this summer and I said, “What am I doing wrong?” … Around November he forbid me to enter a relationship. And I thought that was great! I was like, “Oh wow, I’m like a menace to society!” [laughter] “I’m the one your mama warned you about!” [laughter] “You shouldn’t mess with me.”

It was really cool that he gave me a relationsförbjud – whatever that is translated to English…

YES, IT’S A RELATIONSHIP BAN.

Yes.

YOU’RE FORBIDDEN FROM BEING IN A RELATIONSHIP?

Yeah! A ban! I thought it was really cool. I really felt like… Well, I could feel like a failure if I wanted to, but I chose to feel like…

NO, IT SOUNDS AWESOME. [laughs]

Yeah, really!

YOU’RE DANGEROUS!

[laughter] Yeah. I’m dangerous. I’m the guy in… well, you can imagine.

So the book starts out with that – with me getting a relationship ban – which actually happened. … And then after that initial, “Yay, we’re out!” Then it was like, [reflective] “But why?” [laughs] And then, “How did I become this person?” And the rest of the book is just examining that.

It has a Swedish title, which is Inte Helt Hundra. Which is like, “Ehhh….”

“NOT TOTALLY A HUNDRED PERCENT?”

“Not totally a hundred percent?” Yeah. Which is a take on…. It’s a common phrase when you’re talking about somebody or something: “It doesn’t really feel… helt hundra,” or it doesn’t really feel…

IT DOESN’T ADD UP. IT’S NOT QUITE RIGHT.

Yeah, it doesn’t add up to total a hundred percent. “He’s cool and all, but… Mmmm… Sorry.”

SO IF SOMEBODY READS THE BOOK WILL THEY KNOW ALL YOUR SECRETS?

Yes.

[laughs] I LOOK FORWARD TO THAT!

I thought you were going to ask, “If somebody reads it would they recognize themselves?”

MMM! YOU CAN ANSWER THAT, TOO. I’M CURIOUS.

Yes. I have a lot of thoughts about that. I’m going to do a Carly Simon, like “You’re So Vain,” and say, “Well, you’re so vain… [laughter] You think this is about you? Oh, no, no, no, no, no! [laughs] This is somebody else!”

I SEE. SO IT TURNS OUT THAT YOUR BOOK IS ABOUT JAMES TAYLOR. [laughter] HAVE THE NAMES BEEN CHANGED TO PROTECT THE INNOCENT?

[laughs] The names have been changed to protect these innocent “dudes!” [laughs] These innocent douchebags. [laughter]

WHEN YOU CHANGED THEIR NAMES, DID YOU INTENTIONALLY GIVE THEM WORSE NAMES OR COOLER NAMES DEPENDING ON YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT THEM?

That is a… That is a brilliant question! I hope nobody thinks as much as you do about it [laughs] because of course I have! [laughter] Oh yeah!

Some of them have ridiculous names! [laughter] And some have really bland names like Martin or Fredrik or any ol’ guy.

ANY RUN-OF-THE MILL SVEN OR MARTIN.

[laughs] Yes.

DO YOU MAKE NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS EACH YEAR?

I make two. One solid, concrete one, like, “I’m gonna go to L.A.” or something that can actually be accomplished. And another one that’s more ethereal, like, [faux-thoughtfully] “I should be more graceful.” [laughter] Or something like that.

RIGHT, RIGHT. SOMETHING THAT CANNOT BE MEASURED SO  PRECISELY.

Something more aspirational. And this year’s one was “take it easy.”

YOU SEEM TO BE TAKING IT PRETTY EASY. [laughter] … SO YOU WERE AN EXCHANGE STUDENT IN CALIFORNIA IN ’94 AND ’95?

Yes! In Fresno! [laughter]

POOR FRESNO!

Everybody laughs about Fresno. [laughter]

YEAH. THIS WAS BEFORE THE INTERNET WAS WIDESPREAD, WHEN INTERNATIONAL PHONE CALLS WERE LIKE A DOLLAR A MINUTE. DO YOU THINK A LOT OF PEOPLE GROWING UP NOW DON’T REALIZE HOW RECENTLY EVERYTHING BECAME FREE AND EASY… AND CONNECTED?

Yeah, and also, I think they should go abroad and just not call home. I phoned home like twice in a year and I think that’s what saved me from homesickness. And that’s what also made that year so wonderful because it was all about being there.

BEING YOU IN A NEW PLACE.

Yeah. And being there, not also “being in Stockholm” trying to keep up with my friends, or whatever. So that was a wonderful year. A truly wonderful experience.

YEAH, IT IS. AND I THINK NOW KIDS ARE JUST LIKE, IF THEY HAVE AN IPHONE AND THEY CAN JUST VIDEO CHAT.

Or Google Earth! Just walk around.

YOU DON’T EVEN NEED TO ASK ANYONE FOR DIRECTIONS ANYMORE.

Just realizing also that I could make friends with somebody in another language. Just the very thought of that was amazing, and the discovery of that. [reflecting for a moment]

UM, LOS ANGELES. [laughs]

Yes! [as in she knows that’s a question] I’m very glad that most of my friends don’t really see the appeal.

I HAVE TO SAY…

You don’t either? [laughter]

I LIVED THERE FOR ABOUT A YEAR…

Where did you live?

IN HOLLYWOOD AND IN SILVER LAKE. I LIKED SILVER LAKE BETTER, OF COURSE, BUT IT WAS FUN TO WAKE UP IN THE MORNING AND SEE THE HOLLYWOOD SIGN OUT MY WINDOW.

Sure.

BUT I’VE ALWAYS DESCRIBED LOS ANGELES AS THE MOST AMAZING CITY THAT REALLY SUCKS AT THE SAME TIME. [three-second pause] DOES THAT SOUND FAMILIAR?

[laughs] Yeah, but I mean, the first time I was there it was just incomprehensible… But sure, I mean, probably couldn’t live there but I go there in stints, like a month at a time. The longest I’ve been there was for four months. That was cool.

THAT’S PLENTY, I THINK.

That’s plenty. Yes. And that’s cool. It’s a bit like Vegas, I guess. [laughs] Whereas it’s just so surreal and it’s fun. I always feel like Alice in Wonderland because all these things are happening. Nothing is strange. Nothing is being questioned. You can do whatever! [laughter]

I have a friend and whenever people ask her what she does, she says she’s a rock star, and that’s fine.

[laughs] I SEE.

She does record stuff. So that’s great. I think that’s very Los Angeles.

And then, of course, people would tell me, “Oh, so you don’t like New York because you have to actually show what you are?” [laughter] I do like the plastic part of Los Angeles where you can be whatever you want – really – and then you go home. [laughs]

I’ve had amazing things happen to me in Los Angeles, also because I tend to just say “yes” whenever I’m there. Whatever weird stuff people suggest, I’m like, “Sure!” [laughter]

They were like, “Do you wanna go to a math club?” There was a math party! I was like, “Sure!” [laughter]

YEAH!

So I went there and there was this professor and he looked like Milhouse. [laughter] Naturally! And there was a big projector and he said – and this is true [laughs] – this is absolutely true. He put up a series of numbers and then he said, [as an announcement] “Behold! The great Fibonacci Code!”

[laughter] OF COURSE!

I just love when that happens! Then, I went to the Magic Castle once. They work with close-up magic. I asked this one guy – he did close-up magic – and I asked him if he was an illusionist, and he was really, really offended. It was like calling him a fake! [laughter]

He said, “Magic is what happens. Illusion is when they try to make you think it happens. That’s the difference!”

I just try to jump into things because everything is strange (in Los Angeles) and I love that.

When I stayed there for four months, on my street there was a Chihuahua and she had two wheels instead of her…

OH, SHE WAS MISSING SOME LEGS?

Yes. Instead of her front legs, which was really weird, because I could understand the back legs. If it was her back legs, she could pull herself around.

The place I rented was from a tenor! So he was out in Europe doing shows. It was lovely because he had an opera style (in his place). He had chandeliers, even in the bathroom! [laughter] So I loved that, too, that he was a tenor all the way! [laughter]

During the last week I was there, there was a letter for him and it was from “P. Domingo” in New York.

WHOA. I’D LIKE TO IMAGINE THAT IS WHO WE THINK IT IS.

I don’t know. I never opened it! But, you know, “from one tenor to another,” I’m thinking.

“DEAR FELLOW TENOR…”

Why shouldn’t they know each other? [laughs]

DO YOU THINK IT WAS HATE MAIL? [laughter] “FUCKING STOP YOUR SHITTY SINGING! YOU CALL YOURSELF A TENOR?

Yes! [laughs]

“YOU’RE THE WORST F’N TENOR I’VE EVER HEARD!”

“Kindly, P. Domingo.” [laughter] I’m not saying, but I’m thinking it.

PHOTOS BY EMILY DAHL