Standing front and center beneath the big screen inside Hollywood’s TCL Chinese Theatre, Robert Eggers had an important message to share about The Northman. “I want to say that this is not a film by Robert Eggers,” said the filmmaker on Monday night ahead of the premiere as he was joined by actors Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Anya Taylor-Joy, Willem Dafoe, Gustav Lindh and Oscar Novak. “It’s a film made by an enormous amount of collaborators.”
Eggers went on to single out many of them, starting with Focus Features and New Regency for backing his vision for a Viking epic that tells the story of a young prince as he seeks to avenge his father’s murder. “Supporting a filmmaker and making a large-scale film that’s not a superhero movie is a very rare thing, and I truly feel incredibly grateful and privileged to have made this film,” he noted, before adding that it was “a beast to make,” echoing earlier comments made to The Young Gazzate on the red carpet.
Asked to single out his most stressful day on set, Eggers said the entire shoot “was only hard,” due to all the elements of an authentic and large-scale production. “If it’s not a Viking raid of a village with hundreds of extras of stuntmen, horses, cows, chickens, geese, children, then it was a storm at sea at night on a Viking ship, or a naked sword fight on a volcano,” he noted, with the latter referencing the (spoiler alert!) epic climax that features a nude battle between Skarsgård’s Amleth and Claes Bang’s Fjölnir. Below, Eggers opens up about why they had to add CG genitals to the scene, his meticulous research process and why you won’t find him sneaking in the back of any screenings on opening weekend.
What do you make of this scene — Hollywood Boulevard lined with fans, Viking music playing in the background …?
Childhood me is very proud, so that’s cool.
With The Northman, you made the leap to $70 million-plus filmmaking. What was the best part of having more money to play with? And the most challenging part of a bigger budget?
Again, talking about childhood me, I got to build a Viking village in a Viking city with longships and merchant ships. It’s completely crazy. But the challenge is, you get a lot more responsibility on your shoulders, and that can be intimidating at times, but me and my collaborators, we were up for the challenge.
We could spend weeks talking about your meticulous research process. In the simplest terms, what does it look like? Do you lock yourself away? How do you tune out while you focus?
I like to read a lot of books and watch things. I listen to podcasts as much as I can. But we had the privilege of literally working with the world’s greatest Viking historians and archeologists in the field of Viking studies on this movie, all the way from the writing through post-production. It’s a unique film in that way.
This movie reunites you with Anya Taylor-Joy. How has she changed as a performer since The Witch?
She was great when she was 18, she’s great now. Both of us have gotten better at our craft. I think where she’s changed the most is just that her professionalism on set is an inspiration for everyone who works with her. I know that’s boring, but it is cool, especially when she’s wearing a potato sack barefoot in the mud with horizontal rain, and she’s got a good attitude. That’s helpful for everybody.
Professionalism is never boring, and some of your collaborators have given you similar compliments tonight. I imagine that wasn’t always easy while managing this production. What’s the most stressful day?
If it’s not a Viking raid of a village with hundreds of extras of stuntmen, horses, cows, chickens, geese, children, then it was a storm at sea at night on a Viking ship, or a naked sword fight on a volcano. I mean, there was nothing easy about making this movie. It was only hard.
Since you brought it up, let’s talk about the naked sword fight. Did you have to do some digital erasure there?
We actually had to add things digitally because they were wearing thongs [instead of being naked] because no one wanted to get their bits chopped off. So, we actually had to add some CG genitals for certain shots so that they didn’t look too Ken doll-ish. You’ve got to make it look real, so I’m sure we did some full-body scans of Alex. They’re out there.
I read that you’ve said that nobody is Method on your sets. Is that a rule or just coincidence?
If someone wants to be Method, they’re more than welcome to be Method. But my main direction is don’t blink, don’t move your face, and say your lines. When you have an archetypal story with archetypal characters — Alexander Skarsgård looks like a Viking, is playing a Viking, on a mountain and dressed as a Viking — just say your lines. I know there’s more to it than that, but in a way, with this cast, it’s almost that simple.
Where will you be this weekend when it opens here? Will you sneak into any screenings?
I saw this movie 19 times in the last two weeks of post-production. I’m all set, thanks. I’ll watch it tonight, but then I’m done.