Alexander Skarsgård Says The Northman's Brutal Viking Action Was Done In One Shot
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Featured Image Credit: Universal Pictures
Alexander Skarsgård is a gale ripping through the elements in The Northman, Robert Eggers' viking ballad of fire, ice, earth and blood.
Historical, sword-clashing blockbusters self-sustain through water-cooler moments; scenes so rousing or shocking they stun into a state of awe, disgust, or both: that speech in Braveheart; 'This is Sparta!' in 300; and Gladiator asking us, "Are you not entertained?"
It shouldn't be surprising that Eggers, the visionary behind arthouse bangers The Witch and The Lighthouse, doesn't play to the audience in The Northman. There's surrealist flourishes, the language isn't Hollywood-ised, and its entire aura is off-kilter and grimmer than a conventional epic.
Yet, all through the film, the violence will see you breathlessly descend into the velvety grip of your seat, and ascend into cinematic Valhalla.
Check out a short clip and the trailer from The Northman below:
The Northman stars Skarsgård as Prince Amleth, a Viking animal on the long trail of revenge for the death of his father, King Aurvandill War-Raven (Ethan Hawke), betrayed and slain by his Uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang). "I will avenge you father, I will save you mother, I will kill you Fjölnir," he vows.
Anya Taylor-Joy plays Olga of the Birch Forest, a mysterious sorceress Amleth meets on his blood-spilling crusade.
If it sounds familiar to you, it's because the legend of Amleth was the direct inspiration for William Shakespeare when writing Hamlet, which formed the foundation of The Lion King.
Ahead of the movie's release this Friday, 15 April, UNILAD sat down with Skarsgård and Taylor-Joy to chat about its jugular-ripping, howl-to-the-moon action sequences, and how the hell they pulled them off.
Skarsgård, who pre-warned us what to expect last year, said: "It was quite an immersive experience, to say the least. Robert Eggers has quite a unique way of making films in general, but specifically action films.
"On a normal action movie, on a big fight sequence, you’ll have lots of cameras, lots of coverage. You can chop it up into pieces and focus on one stunt and just do that all day until you get it, then move on.
"Here, we had to incorporate it… it’s just one-shot, every fight scene is just one continuous shot."
Take the raid near the beginning of the film: Skarsgård's Amleth catches a spear (he couldn't confirm whether he could actually do that), rushes the village, climbs the wooden walls with his axe, butchers an an archer's face and leaps to kill a horseman. This all unfolds in a single minute, and that's before we get to a harrowing nod to Come and See.
Skarsgård continued: "It was quite challenging for everyone in front of and behind the camera, because there are 500,000 things that can go wrong.
"For example, the raid in the beginning, the first time we see Olga. It’s a very big set-piece with 50 extras, 100 actors, there’s horses, stuntmen, chicken fights, we’re ascending walls – it’s a lot, while the camera’s constantly moving.
"You have to just plan it months in advance. The key was to come as prepared as possible to shoot it and have patience, because you still have to do it over and over again."
Taylor-Joy worked with Eggers on The Witch in similar, albeit far less challenging, conditions. For both stars, the immovable specificity of the director's vision is part of the experience – a one-shot take (or 'oner') may be draining, but it's worth it.
She said: "The thing about a Robert Eggers movie is you can do that entire sequence and everyone can nail it perfectly. But, if you have one horse whose butt is pointed in the wrong direction, you will go back and you will do it again.
"It has to be perfect in every single department, so once you get it right you feel like you’ve pulled off a small miracle."
Taylor-Joy had nothing but praise for her seax-chiselled co-star, who – in every sense of the word, bar fur – is an absolute beast here. We'll spare the details, but as a tease: he chews out a man's throat and goes to battle surrounded by lava. "And that was my day off!" he joked.
She effused: "He never complained, he went above and beyond every single day. There were days where I wasn’t on set with you, and I’d be inside looking out and it was a huge storm, and I’d think, ‘Alex is currently at the base of a volcano, naked, fighting someone.’
"I’d be sending texts like, ‘You will come home, you will be okay. I’m with you.’ You really went for it, it was impressive when we were doing it and it’s even more impressive seeing it when it’s done."
Skarsgard's fuel was something much more potent and pure than Amleth's vengeance: this is, quite literally, a dream come true for him.
"I was incredibly excited, and it’s been years in the making, and to finally be there on-set with an amazing cast and crew, with Robert Eggers – who I think is one of the greatest filmmakers of our time – at the helm, it was such a dream," he said.
"I didn’t have to dig deep to find the motivation and dive in. I’ve been dreaming of making a viking movie for many years."
Majesty, gut-churning gore and a revenge saga for and beyond the ages: The Northman has earned a spot in highest echelon of epics.
The Northman hits cinemas this Friday, 15 April.
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