Movies

Alexander Skarsgård On ‘The Northman’ And Why King Kong Won’t Return His Calls

It’s interesting that the teaming of Alexander Skarsgård and director Robert Eggers on The Northman was kind of an accident. Skarsgård and Eggers did have a dinner scheduled to discuss another project, but it’s only after the two started talking about their mutual interest in Viking culture did Skarsgård realize, oh, maybe this is the director for The Northman. And the result is a vicious tale of revenge, culminating with a naked sword fight on top of an exploding volcano.

The last time I interviewed Skarsgård was for Godzilla vs. Kong and he was a good sport about realizing not many people were going to watch Godzilla vs. Kong to see his character, famed geologist Dr. Nathan Lind. (By the time that interview ended, the questions had devolved into things like, “Did you film on location in the center of the earth?,” and “How long did you train as a geologist?” with Skarsgård giving hilarious answers.) But, this time, Skarsgård is front and center as Amleth, who is hellbent on avenging the death of his father by the hands of his uncle, who has no sense married his mother. (Yes, The Northman is based on the same source material as Hamlet is, but, as Skarsgård points out, Hamlet doesn’t feature a naked sword fight on top of an exploding volcano.)

And speaking of Godzilla vs. Kong, Skarsgård has some troubling news about King Kong himself, who sounds like he’s fallen into some of the traps of Hollywood and fame.

This movie rules.

Oh, thank you.

That’s the whole interview.

Thank you. That’s a great chat.

So I spoke to Robert Eggers. Last time you and I spoke, you said you courted him for The Northman. How do you talk him into this? Because he seems like a very headstrong fellow.

He is. I didn’t have to court him much, to be honest. It was meant to be, it really was, to speak Viking language, fated. I knew the type of Viking movie I wanted to make. I knew I wanted it to be an epic Viking adventure story. But I wanted it to be based on the Icelandic sagas. I wanted it to kind of have that tonality, that laconic language: The harsh, stark, language of characters — it was something I had never seen on a big screen. I’d never seen that captured.

But now in retrospect, it’s nothing like really his other two movies. Which I didn’t realize back then. How did you know then he would be perfect for this? Considering it’s a lot more action than we get in his other movies.

Exactly. And I didn’t go into that meeting thinking like, oh, he’s the guy.

Oh?

The Witch was playing in the theaters when we met. So I had just seen it. And, like you said, it’s a completely different movie, but it’s evident that you’re dealing with a filmmaker whose attention to detail is absolutely extraordinary. Who has an ability to make the audience feel transported to a different time and place. And who deals with the supernatural in a very unique way – where it feels alien and supernatural to us watching it in modern-day society, but to the characters on screen experiencing it, it’s not supernatural to them. It’s real because they genuinely believe in the supernatural. But, again, there was nothing in that movie that made me think, oh, he can pull off a big old action-adventure movie.

Well, that’s what’s kind of remarkable about you two teaming up like this.

But that meeting, we were supposed to talk about another project. Rob had just returned to New York from Iceland and had fallen in love with the culture and the people and Norse mythology. So we ended up just talking about Viking culture and I was really impressed by his knowledge and his take on it. And him talking about spirituality in the mindset of the Viking. I knew that the essence, the core of the movie is exactly what I was dreaming of making. So after that meeting, I called Lars Knudsen, my producing partner on it. And just said, “I had the most amazing meeting with Rob. And for some reason I think he could be perfect for our Viking movie.” Again, because of his interest, his passion, his knowledge, and the way he wants to blur the lines between the natural and the supernatural, was something that was so fascinated by. And then that’s how we kind of got started on this.

He mentioned that the final fight scene on the volcano was very tough on you.

Yeah. It was an intense week. It was towards the end of the shoot. So it was almost Christmas and freezing cold. And obviously at night. And we’re naked, covered in blood and sweat…

I mean right there, just even saying that out loud, there’s a movie. “We’re freezing, we’re naked, we’re covered in blood.” You guys got yourself a movie right there.

Yeah! And not only are there a lot of long choreographed fight scenes in the movie, but this was also the emotional climax. So this demanded more of all of us. But I was just so excited about the possibility of that scene. I’d seen the storyboard. There’s an image made by an artist of these two Vikings fighting on top of an erupting volcano. And it just was the most extraordinary image on something out of a Renaissance painting. And that got me through that week of pain and fatigue. If we can get even close to that, then it’s totally worth it.

It’s one of the more stunning-looking fight scenes I’ve seen in a long time.

Oh, wow. That really means a lot, man. It’s the climax of the movie, so there are a lot of pretty technically difficult and pretty impressive fight scenes in the movie. But you got to go out with a bang. You’re making a big Viking epic and you’re dealing with Norse mythology. You’ve got Valkyries, you got gods, you have a character at that moment who is about to enter Valhalla. You kind of got to go big in that moment. And you can’t go much bigger than a fight on top of an erupting volcano.

I saw you were saying how you didn’t get cast in smart roles

I’m definitely not complaining about the roles I’ve gotten in the past 15 years. I’ve been one of the luckiest motherfuckers on the planet and had the privilege of being able to kind of choose projects for at least 10 years now. I was referring to the beginning of my career.

Well, I didn’t want you to forget Dr. Nathan Lind. Last time we spoke we talked about all the time you put in training as a geologist…

I’m all about authenticity. Method actor, man.

Also, I did some research after that interview. It turns out you did not actually film Kong vs. Godzilla in the center of the earth on location. That was a sound stage.

The aftertaste is quite sour, because of the success at the box office of that movie, Kong turned into a fucking diva.

Oh no.

No. He won’t even, like, pick up my call anymore.

That’s not right.

He was a pure talent man. He was really something and sweet and humble when we shot the movie. And then now, dude, just hanging out at the clubs, like with sunglasses and just a bad crowd. An entourage, moving around with assistants. He’s just being mean to people. And it’s really sad to see when that happens to someone who had so much potential.

The people who seem to get ahead in your industry are the people who are kind. And to hear this about Mr. Kong, that is disappointing.

That’s why he hasn’t worked since.

Oh, by the way, the interview you did with Kirsten Dunst, you brought up Tootsie and how your first crush was Jessica Lange. And it hit me, both you and Jessica Lange have worked with Mr. Kong.

That’s true! That’s true.

If you ever run into her, you can share your experiences with King Kong.

I met her at an awards show years ago. But I got a bit… obviously because that was my first crush on Tootsie. So I got a bit awkward and uncomfortable and I kind of had to extract myself from that conversation.

I mean, what are you supposed to say in that situation?

Yeah. I know.

I was thinking, I’ve seen the comparisons of The Northman to Hamlet. Do you want people thinking it’s Hamlet? This feels a lot different than Hamlet.

Sure. Why not? I mean, yes, you have the family structure, the dynamic is based on Prince Amleth of Jutland from the 12th century. And it’s by Saxo Grammaticus, but it’s probably an even older story. So it’s probably from Iceland in the 10th century, the original story.

I feel like Hamlet just tries to kind of annoy his uncle to death. Your character has a different approach.

Hamlet is also quite passive. A lot of the play it’s him, internally, should I, should I not? Amleth is…

Not passive. He’s not a passive guy.

No. Hamlet does not end up fighting naked on top of a burning volcano.

He certainly does not.

Shakespeare really dropped the ball on that one.

He did.

He’d have real success if he only fought his uncle on top of a burning volcano.

I think we can all agree Hamlet needs a rewrite with a naked sword fight on top of a volcano.

That’s the one.

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