The Northman actor Alexander Skarsgård: “It was physically and mentally the most difficult job I’ve ever had”

Robert Eggers’ The Northman tells an epic Viking tale – a vast, brutal, uncompromising saga of cold-blooded revenge. To capture such intense scenes, the cast and crew headed to Northern Ireland, with forays to Iceland, for filming. The result was a shoot more intense than anything lead actor Alexander Skarsgård had done before.

“It was physically and mentally the most difficult job I’ve ever had, but also the most rewarding,” Skarsgård tells Total Film for the new issue of the magazine (opens in new tab), featuring The Northman on the cover. “The days were really long and hard, and we were out in the mud, and up on these mountaintops with the wind and the cold. The week prior, I was working on the television show Succession, on which I play a tech billionaire in a villa on Lake Como. So I literally went from playing one of the richest dudes on the planet in a crazy, beautiful villa, surrounded by yachts and helicopters and luxury, and got on a plane and flew to Iceland to get shackled and dragged through the mud. It was definitely a waking-up moment and a humbling experience.”

Eggers insists that while many of the huge guys playing Viking warriors struggled, The Queen Gambit’s Anya Taylor-Joy, who plays the female lead, was a trooper. “Aw, Rob,” she responds affectionately when TF passes this along. “I’m not a complainer, and Rob and Jarin know that, but there was one day when the mud was up to my knees, and it had frozen overnight, and I’m barefoot. It had got to a point where I think just squeaked out, ‘Please!’ And they were like, ‘Oh, OK, it’s bad. It’s really bad. We need to get this done. If Anya’s saying, ‘Can we please roll? I can’t stand here any longer…'”

But there is, of course, a point to all this movie masochism. “Because of the authenticity that we’re bringing to it, in terms of the costume, in terms of the landscape… we don’t have to imagine much,” Taylor-Joy explains. “You can just inhabit. You can just exist. You’re not on a stage where the director is saying, ‘Hey, remember, it’s really bloody cold.’ It gives you a real appreciation as to how tough these people were. Because nothing about this life is easy. There is no cushy going home and watching a movie while you’re all toasty, eating dinner. No, it’s pretty miserable all of the time.”

The Northman hits UK cinemas on April 15, before opening in the US on April 2022. For much more on the film, including interviews with Eggers, Skarsgård, Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Wilem Dafoe, and Claes Bang, check out the brand new issue of Total Film (opens in new tab) when it hits shelves this Thursday, March 3. Check out the new covers below.

Total Film's The Northman issue

(Image credit: Universal/Total Film)

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