After making several award-winning documentaries, Norwegian director Hanne Myren makes her fictional debut with Love Me (Elsk meg).

The film is a rather simple story of a young woman in Oslo, Maria, who has troubled committing to her boyfriend Adam because of her father’s abandonment when she was younger. The story stands on its own merits, but the film is all the more special because it cast three non-actors playing out versions of their own stories.

“The theme I wanted to explore is how we repeat our relationships, how our adult relationships are coloured by our own parents. So I was looking for a cast with a similar story,” Myren tells Screen at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, where the film had its world premiere. “I was looking for a girl who was more outgoing, she acts out she’s not just quiet and crying…When I found Julia [Wildschut], she had a difficult relationship with her own father.”

After she met the actress and learned about her life, “I started to make a script based on her life. Of course, some things are left out and some are added or changed for the script.”

None of the three leads have any acting experience. They found Julia Wildschut through street casting and then recruited her real-life boyfriend (Ahmed Wasty) and father (Petrus Wildschut).

“I managed somehow to make them trust me that the film would be truthful. They’ve come past [these parts of their lives], but still it’s not easy. They’re amazing people to say ‘yes.’” The characters’ names are different than the actors’ names, so she adds, “there’s an awareness that there’s a difference to real life.”

The method was a new one for her, after working on more traditional documentaries. “For my feature documentary Girls [2007], I spent two years filming and had more than 250 hours, that’s a complicated way to make a movie. I knew if I scripted something it would be much quicker,” she explains.

She guided them with script points but left the dialogue to be improvised – it was a method they eased into. “It was very documentary style at the beginning of the shoot, just following them around, so they’d warm up with the camera around,” Myren says. “And then slowly we started asking them to do things again, and by the end they were acting with things like the argument scene.”

“It was an intense way of working, but very interesting,” she adds.

Myren says she’s happy for audiences to watch Love Me without knowing the reality that underpins its stars. “I just want them to look at it as a film,” she says.

She might reprise the technique on her next project, about a mother-daughter relationship. But she’s also open to casting people who aren’t related to each other in real life.