In Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, which will be coming to your home via Netflix this weekend, Dan Stevens plays Russian contestant Alexander Lemtov … and he is an absolute riot. Is it even worth getting into the plot of this movie? I mean, as you might expect, it’s based on the ever-outrageous European talent contest that has a reputation of being over the top, and this movie certainly has a lot of that.
Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams play Icelandic contestants, and huge ABBA fans, who wind up getting into the competition under, let’s say, unusual circumstances. Stevens’ Lemtov is an old pro and is the favorite of the competition and serves as a perfect foil. And all of this comes together in this kind of fever dream of a film, and in no better moment then when, at a pre-show party, all the contestants perform a singalong to ABBA’s “Waterloo” that is pure, concentrated joy. Ahead, Stevens takes us through the madness.
So Eurovision, this movie is crazy. Tell me everything.
It’s pretty crazy. Were you familiar with it as a competition?
Somewhat. It’s one of those things I see everyone on Twitter talking about, then watch for a little bit.
I mean, growing up in the UK, you know it exists. It’s just a cultural thing that happens every year. And I grew up watching it with my mom and dad. When I met my wife, we were both really into it and we would host screening parties. And it’s just one of those nights where you can just have a lot of fun because it is so bizarre. It’s so varied. There’s always something crazy and it’s tricky to describe to anybody who hasn’t seen it. And particularly an American audience who sort of don’t understand perhaps why an act might not want to win and might submit something kind of subversive or ridiculous. I guess the aim is sort of European unity, and you’re going for a song that is going to perhaps unite the block. But it’s just really fun.
Oh, see? We need that here. That would be nice.
I mean, it would be interesting to see. It would be interesting to see all 50 up states come up with a song. It’s a very long night as well because you have the performances, and then you have the voting, which is almost as entertaining and can get very, very political.
What do you think is the closest thing you can compare it to in the United States? As far as cultural influence, maybe Saturday Night Live? Because when I speak to friends in other countries it’s always, “that is just not a thing here,” as opposed to other American culture.
Yeah, I mean, I didn’t grow up with Saturday Night Live in the same way. I mean we would occasionally get the “best of” VHS, it would sort of make their way over. I mean, this is kind of more epic in a way because it has kind of, I mean, it can have sort of political consequences. Very few of the songs will make their way into the charts. But very often the song, it doesn’t have that much of a life outside of the competition. But there are obviously a few notable exceptions. And Celine Dion, one of her early appearances was at Eurovision. And obviously ABBA, more famously. But, yeah, and the other thing we’re saying is that it is live, a bit like SNL. Just the usual chaos ensues and so it can be a very entertaining, weird night of television.
And not to spoil any plot points, but what we see happen in the movie with voting sounds like it could maybe happen in real life?
Yeah. I mean, listen, you can get a lot of ironic votes flying around. But each country does generally have a competition within their country before the Eurovision song contest to decide. And I think recently, the UK decided that some record company was just going to pick an act and it’s going to be that. It’s more hassle than it was worth. But I think that’s also a really entertaining process if you follow the competition for the weeks running up, all the months running up, you get to see some really weird stuff, because that’s the stuff that doesn’t even make it to the final.
I feel like this is a movie that people will either love or not be into. I am on the love side.
Sure. Yeah, listen, we weren’t out to make sort of high art cinema. We were out to make something pretty joyous and silly and fun. And it has a lot of heart, thanks in most part to the lovely Rachel McAdams.
Yes. She is so good in this.
She is. And Will, he’s brilliant and just very sweet and silly. And I think that is very much in the spirit of Eurovision. It’s a sweet, silly, hopeful thing that brings people together with some great music and some terrible music. And, I’d think it’s a very difficult thing to capture in a couple of hours, but they do a reasonable job.
Maybe a better way to word it is that there are going to be people who just “get it.” Like the scene where you are in the group singalong of “Waterloo,” it’s pure joy.
Yeah. I mean, it was incredible just to get to meet all those contestants. To get to sing with them in that kind of party atmosphere. And I mean, that sequence, as bonkers as it is, really does kind of encapsulate the sort of spirit of both our film, but also of Eurovision. Just sort of bringing such a diverse range of performers together, weaving all these kind of greats from past decades together in this sort of amazing arrangement.
What was that singing voice? I wasn’t expecting that. It’s very deep.
Sadly, the singing voice, we didn’t manage to get into the studio to record because obviously COVID struck. And so we actually went with the temp track, which is a Swedish baritone, who is great. In terms of his spoken voice, that becomes more from some of the sort of wealthier Europeans that I’ve met over the years. And, in particular, I had an interesting moment with the model Irina Shayk once. I met her in Manhattan and she asked where I live. And at the time I lived in Brooklyn and she said, “Brook-lyn,” and she just had this real kind of disdain for anything that wasn’t within her defined circle of sort of luxury and opulence. And I said, “Well, where do you live?” And she said it like in one phrase. She just said, “West Village, best place.” And I really kind of, I had that phrase in my head a lot for Lemtov. He just thinks that he knows the best things: If they’re covered in gold, whatever you’ve got going on. And there’s a weird kind of snobbery to that mysterious European wealthy elite that I think is just ridiculous and ripe to be poked fun of.
That baritone voice, I know it wasn’t yours, but it just adds to the delightful-ness of it. It’s just kind of surreal.
Maybe one day I’ll get to go and record that song for real. It was a lot of fun. I was singing along with it, and certainly at the singalong I had to sing it for real. And some of that singalong might be me. But, yeah, sadly “The Line of Love,” we didn’t get to go and lay down the final version, but it’s a really funny style and it’s a very real style as well.
Between this and Call of the Wild – you’re really going for it in that one, too – you seem to be having a lot of fun lately.
That’s what’s it’s all about.
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