The Witch. The Lighthouse. And now, it’s The Northman that marks Robert Eggers’ critically acclaimed third feature film. The big difference this time around was a blockbuster budget of almost $70 million, acquired by the Hollywood auteur for his star-studded epic without an attached IP. Lucky for him, there’s been a market for Norsemen after the success of the Vikings TV shows and the revival of swords and sorcery thanks to Game of Thrones.
The Northman, follows the story of Viking Prince Amleth in the late 9th century, the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Hamlet and subsequently The Lion King’s Simba.
And just like The Witch and The Lighthouse, Eggers’ latest is a violent period film with ambiguous connections to spiritual realms. He even filmed it in Northern Ireland and Iceland, countries rich in fantastical folklore.
Speaking exclusively with Express.co.uk, we asked the filmmaker if such otherworldly encounters in his films are supposed to be real or merely in the minds of his characters. His response, as expected, was not as straightforward as some may have thought.
Eggers shared: “Generally I leave some kind of breadcrumbs to suggest a contemporary scientific understanding of what is happening. But if you believe in it, it exists and that’s the end of the story. So certainly all that stuff exists in the minds of the people in the film.”
Asked if his own beliefs affected his storytelling, the 39-year-old said: “I mean, my films describe the worldview I could have, but choose to explore and articulate in my films, if that makes sense. Like I said, if you believe in it, it exists. The idea of some of the things that I’m interested in existing… I would rather choose to believe that they don’t exist, for my own safety. In my opinion, you enable their reality by your belief in them. In a world where no one believes in this stuff, does it manifest? I don’t think so.”
Another trend in Eggers’ movies is the occasional wild scenes like the twist involving Nicole Kidman’s character in The Northman.
The Oscar winner plays the mother of Alexander Skargård’s Amleth, who at first seems to have a small inconsequential role in the Viking thriller until one scene later on that no doubt was the reason she signed onto the picture.
The director said: “I can only assume that that’s the scene, it’s a good scene and that’s the scene for why I wanted Nicole. If you look at some of her earlier stuff, she’s got that in her. I think it’s much more interesting how she, until the explosion of anger at the end, is downplayed…not chewing the scenery but [is present] in a very subtle and emotional way – in a way that only Nicole can do.”
On filming, this moment, which we don’t want to spoil for readers, he added: “It was certainly two days, maybe two and a half. We came in on a weekend to rehearse quite a bit. But it was also incredibly enjoyable to do some kind of traditional scene work instead of these action sequences, so that was fun for everybody.”
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We also couldn’t resist asking Eggers about Robert Pattinson’s role as a junior lighthouse keeper going insane in The Lighthouse.
Rumours abound that he took to extreme method acting like getting blackout drunk, telling Esquire: “[I was] basically unconscious the whole time. It was crazy. I spent so much time making myself throw up. Pissing my pants. It’s the most revolting thing. I don’t know, maybe it’s really annoying.”
The filmmaker told us: “Rob’s not necessarily a method actor, but he does do physical things to make him uncomfortable that will appear on screen. From gagging himself to spinning around in circles, and getting dizzy before doing a take. He does lots of things to make himself physically uncomfortable and disorientated to add to his performance. And it works well, y’know.”
The Lighthouse co-starred Willem Dafoe, who returned to working with Eggers in The Northman as court jester Heimir the Fool. The filmmaker has spoken in the past about doing a remake of 100-year-old silent movie Nosferatu and we wondered if he’d like his regular collaborator back in the role.
Dafoe was Oscar-nominated at the turn of the century for Shadow of the Vampire, in which he played the original movie’s actor Max Schreck, who portrays Count Orlov.
Eggers told us: “I don’t know where I am with Nosferatu and I definitely would like Willem to be in it if it ever happens. But I think that he’s done that already.” However, he did add: “Christopher Lee did it like a billions times…”
We ended by suggesting the title The Vampyre for his remake, to which the director smirked: “Yeah that’s a good one, there you go.”
The Northman is out now on digital download and on 4K, Blu-ray and DVD from July 18, 2022.