Dracula star Claes Bang is Amleth’s murderous uncle, Fjölnir
Tells us about your character.
This is the classic Amleth story, the Danish one written by Saxo Grammaticus in 1100-something – the one Shakespeare found and turned into Hamlet. I’m basically Claudius, the one who decapitates Amleth’s dad, takes over the throne and steals away his wife. Twenty years pass and Alex’s character is now a grown man, a fierce warrior. I’m a chieftain at this point – I’ve lost everything I took from my brother. This ship arrives with all these new slaves on board, and Amleth’s pretending to be a slave. So he joins the village and starts working his magic, and slowly picks the whole thing apart until it’s just him and me.
How does The Northman compare to other Viking movies?
Robert Eggers was obsessed with being very meticulous in how we built the ships, and how the costumes were designed. Attention was paid to detail, so that it wasn’t romanticised. When I read the script the first time there was a rawness to it that I thought was interesting. I think he wanted to see if he could peel off a layer – the mainstream take on the Vikings – and get to the everyday life of people. When Amleth comes to me as a grown man, I’m not really that kind of a Viking any more. I’m ploughing and making sure the village has the food that we need. I’m not about the pillaging any more. And he’s using all the superstition that was a big part of what they believed in – he teams up with the dark forces, and is helped by all kinds of wolves, ravens and vixens. The whole thing of all those gods they believed in plays quite a big part.
It sounds like it was a pretty gruelling shoot.
Some of the takes were really, really long. And if you have cows, and sheep, and ravens, and dogs, and 25 actors, and 200 extras on an icy cold mountainside in Northern Ireland, you’re in for a challenge. I was very much in awe of how relentless Robert was in saying, “I want this like this. This is how it’s been thought out in my mind with the DOP. And I don’t want to do any edits.” It was icy cold, it was raining all the time, we had these Covid protocols, and it was massively complicated – really, really tough days. But even if it was challenging, he was not prepared to say, “Okay, let’s make this easier for ourselves and just do a close-up on Alex and a close-up on you and be done with it.” Absolutely not – he would always stick to his plan.