Interview – Alexander Skarsgard, star of ‘The Northman’

From visionary director Robert Eggers comes The Northman, an action-filled epic that follows a young Viking prince named Amleth, on his quest to avenge his father’s murder. With an all-star cast that includes Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Björk, and Willem Dafoe.

In the lead up to the release of the epic-Viking-revenge film, The Northman (in Australian cinemas April 21), the great team at Universal Pictures invited me to a roundtable interview with the films enigmatic star, Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood, Long Shot) who plays the stories lead character, Amleth.

Nick: Alexander, how are you doing today?!

Alexander Skarsgard (AS): I’m doing alright, thank you. How are you doing?

Nick: I’m very well, thank you! And thank you for your time! During Amleth’s time from fleeing his home, becoming a man, and ultimately returning for vengeance – he becomes part of an incredibly brutal, savage group of wolf-like warriors. What was the experience like for you getting into this incredibly primal headspace for Amleth, when you’re growling and screaming and beating your chest around the fire?

AS: It was quite cathartic to do that primal howl, and to get in touch with your more atavistic and animalistic side. For an even-tempered Swede, we don’t do those howls often. It was really nice to get an opportunity to let the wolf out a bit.

Nick: I love that every moment like that in the film really gets to showcase Amleth’s pain, it’s incredible and very well done.

AS: Thank you, thank you very much.

Alexander went on to answer other journalists’ questions and discuss elements of the film, including shooting intensively long action scenes and the importance of accurate representation of the Viking culture – violence and all.

There were some impressive and beautiful, long action scenes that were shot with no cuts. Was it difficult to do those action scenes with all that choreography?

AS: Oh yeah! (laughs) Like you mentioned, it’s a way of shooting that’s quite unique, especially when it comes to big action films. Normally, you’ll have several cameras and several angles, several shots. Which means you can do a long fight scene, a big set piece in stages. On The Northman, the way Rob (Eggers, director) works, is that he loves no cutting, he loves long continuous shots. Be it a dramatic moment or an action filled moment! Even the most elaborate fight sequences had to be shot that way, with one continuous, long take. It meant that we had to do a lot of rehearsing, we worked on the choreography and tried to incorporate it into our training months before shooting it so we would have a nice fluidity to the scenes. You have to be very patient – if something goes wrong in that take, you have to go from the beginning! But I want to add – it’s really cool!

Vikings are very present in media today; do you feel like The Northman is an accurate representation of Viking life?

AS: Our intention was to make something… this started almost 10 years ago, the dream to make a big, epic Viking adventure, but to make it 100% historically accurate. It’s impossible to make it 100% accurate because it happened a millennia ago and is mostly an oral history. There’s a lot of aspect of Viking culture that we had to make an educated guess on, but as much as possible we wanted to transport the audience back to the Viking age, rather than it being a modern version of a Viking movie with too much creative freedom. That was the goal, to try and make something that felt true to the old Icelandic sagas, but to do it in a big, fun, entertaining way.

During the process of researching for this film, did you view on Viking’s change at all? Were you surprised by things you discovered?

AS: I was born and raised in Sweden but doing research for The Northman made me realise how little I knew about the Viking’s and the time they lived in, about their relationship to mythology, to the spirits around them. It was fascinating to go deep in understanding how someone like Amleth would perceive the world around him. It’s also integral to the story because the supernatural elements are an important part of the narrative, and it was important to show the audience that it was supernatural, but that it was real to the Vikings because they believed it to be real.

This is a very demanding movie physically and mentally for an actor; what was your relationship with Rob [Eggers, director of The Northman] like during filming?

AS: Lars Knudsen the producer, and I, for four or five years, were trying to figure out a way to put together a Viking movie. When I met Rob, it was fated because he had just got back from Iceland after meeting Sjon and Bjork who wrote the movie together with Rob and [he] was fascinated by Norse mythology so it felt like a perfect match. I had just seen The Witch and that was absolutely stunning. It was clear that Rob had that attention to detail and the historical accuracy we needed in our movie. Rob has a very specific way of working and I admire it tremendously, I love The Witch and The Lighthouse. This is the first time Rob has had a canvas this big, for a big action movie. But he’s working with the same cinematographer, and most of the head of departments are the same he worked with on short films 10, 15 years ago! He likes to shoot on film and do these long takes with no cuts, and I knew that would be challenging because people just don’t make action movies that way, but Rob had a vision and I admired him for staying true to that.

Thanks again to Universal Pictures for giving me the chance to talk to Alexander! Keep an eye out for my roundtable chat with The Northman director, Robert Eggers, coming soon. And make sure you catch The Northman when it hits Australian cinemas on April 21.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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