Robert Eggers on ‘The Northman’: Directing Is an ‘Insane’ Job

Is Robert Eggers an endangered species?

The 38-year-old director reduce his enamel making stylized art-house movies just like the horror-tinged fable “The Witch,” which gained Eggers the perfect director award on the Sundance Film Festival, and “The Lighthouse,” a black-and-white mind-bender that starred Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe. This is generally the inflection level when an idiosyncratic filmmaker both smooths out his sensibilities to make a superhero film or decamps to a streaming service looking for artistic management at a much bigger funds.

Instead, Eggers has mounted “The Northman,” a $70 million Viking saga that debuts Friday in theaters. The movie stars Alexander Skarsgard as Amleth, a sword-wielding prince searching for revenge on the uncle who killed his father (Ethan Hawke) and absconded together with his mom (Nicole Kidman) to a distant Icelandic village. Though the narrative is extra easy than in Eggers’ earlier movies, the filmmaking is not any much less high-end.

“You should have hubris to be a director,” Eggers instructed me over espresso in Los Angeles. “It’s an insane occupation: You should deny actuality and make your individual.”

Certainly, nothing was straightforward about making the“The Northman,” from staging its large-scale, outside battles to the director’s clashes with manufacturing firm New Regency about artistic management. Even when the movie was able to shoot in March 2020, the pandemic delayed the manufacturing by a number of months.

Still, that final setback got here with just a few small benefits: The outside units had been allowed to climate in a practical manner, and the Viking beards had time to develop longer, although Eggers didn’t let his personal fastidiously manicured facial hair get out of hand: “The director ought to by no means have the longest beard,” he instructed me. “I realized it after I was capturing ‘The Lighthouse’: You have to have the alpha beard.”

Here are edited excerpts from our dialog.

On my option to this interview, I handed two billboards to your film. I’ve received to think about that’s a brand new expertise for you.

It’s undoubtedly surreal. I didn’t count on up to now 10 or 15 years of my life that I’d make the type of movie that may have a billboard like that.

Why not?

Because ever since I took up much less mainstream pursuits round 10 years outdated, I didn’t assume that I’d be making a movie for a broad viewers. I’m excited to have finished it, and it was a deliberate selection.

Were you shocked by the viewers that discovered your first two movies?

I felt that “The Witch” [2016] would get some distribution and hopefully get sufficient good opinions that perhaps somebody would let me make one other film. I didn’t count on a boring pilgrim horror film to achieve success, that’s for certain.

You discover your film boring?

I hate “The Witch,” however that’s one other story. But in concept, no, I don’t discover a film like that boring. In reality, I watch motion pictures which are a lot, rather more boring than my two movies with nice pleasure.

But it does sound like you’ve the self-awareness to have the ability to say, “This is how my work is likely to be perceived by a mainstream viewers.”

“The Witch” received lots of [expletive] for false advertising of a horror film. I imply, I feel it’s a horror film, however I can perceive how individuals in search of a sure components weren’t glad. But with “The Northman,” it’s difficult as a result of I’m attempting to do each.

So how do you thread that needle? Where do your sensibilities intersect with the mainstream?

You need one thing to be acquainted sufficient that folks can get it, however totally different sufficient that it’s one thing new, and I feel that’s what everybody was after with this movie. And what was nice for me is that the supply supplies are actually readable and approachable texts. I do know that youngsters aren’t flocking to Barnes & Noble to get their copies of the Icelandic sagas, however lots of medieval literature is fairly bizarre and mystical and on the market, and these things isn’t.

Still, it’s more and more uncommon for a filmmaker along with your background to graduate to such a big-budget movie except they’re taking on some pre-existing franchise.

I knew I wasn’t going to have closing reduce due to the scale of the movie. That was a danger that I used to be keen to take, however postproduction was arduous as a result of I had a strain and a voice from the studio that I’ve by no means had earlier than. On “The Witch,” I had notes from the buyers — good and unhealthy — and similar with “The Lighthouse” [2019], however right here, there was lots of strain. Sjon, my co-writer, stated, “It’s our duty to interpret the studio notes in a manner that we’re happy with. And if we are able to’t try this, then we’re not working arduous sufficient.”

I additionally assume that with out strain from the studio, I couldn’t have delivered what I pitched, which was “essentially the most entertaining Robert Eggers film,” as a result of entertaining is just not essentially my first intuition. In reality, with my first two movies, it was my fifth or fifteenth precedence, whereas right here it was No. 1. In the tip, despite the fact that it was painful and I received lots of grey hairs from it, I’m grateful for the strain from the studio to get this movie within the form that it’s in. There is not going to be some longer director’s reduce on the Blu-ray. This is the movie that I needed to make.

What did you be taught from making this?

Everything. It’s the primary time that I really feel like I’m truly a filmmaker, after making this film.

You hadn’t felt that manner after ending your different motion pictures?

No. I felt like I used to be attempting to persuade individuals I used to be a filmmaker. I’m not saying I’m not — I’m truly fairly happy with “The Lighthouse” — however now I really feel like I might shoot a film off the cuff and it may not be that unhealthy. This film gave me a extra whole understanding of the method in a manner that I’ve by no means had earlier than.

Talk to me concerning the degree of challenges you took on for “The Northman.”

We did so much, from an enormous village raid with tons of of extras and stunt guys and horses and cows, to a storm at sea on a Viking ship at evening, to a sequence in such a distant location that the forged needed to be helicoptered in. When we wrapped, Ethan Hawke put his arms round me and Jarin [Blaschke, the director of photography] and he stated, “Congratulations. You guys have finished all the pieces you’ll be able to probably do on a film, so now you are able to do something.” Of course, after he walked away, Jarin and I stated, “Yeah, now we’re able to make this movie.”

The village raid is captured in a single lengthy, intricately choreographed take. When there’s that a lot mayhem and the actors should hit all their beats so exactly, how do you are feeling when you recognize you’ve lastly nailed it?

It’s the perfect feeling, and I turned hooked on white-knuckling the monitor to get the shot. There had been lots of scenes that had been deliberate as three or 4 photographs that I had became one, partially as a result of I simply received hooked on working like that. If it’s not one of the simplest ways to inform the scene, you shouldn’t do it, however when it might be finished, we did it as a result of it there’s a self-discipline in it.

And I’m certain these photographs are even tougher to get while you’re capturing them outdoors in tough climate, as a substitute of on a managed soundstage.

Look, making movies isn’t straightforward. With my movies, I’m intentionally looking for essentially the most punishing, brutal places I can to shoot them in as a result of that’s what the story calls for. That makes all the pieces tougher for everybody, however it’s value it. I like a problem. If it had been straightforward, I wouldn’t need to do it.

Before you turned a movie director, you acted in theatrical productions. Does that inform the way in which you’re employed along with your actors now?

I must be an actor’s director, however at instances I’m naughty. Alexander Skarsgard felt he was being handled like a robotic for the primary couple weeks, however then he understood why I used to be directing the way in which I used to be.

He was annoyed that he needed to hit such particular marks?

Yeah. And additionally, I don’t bask in lots of desk work — speaking about your character and the way they grew up and all that stuff. I’m extra involved in doing than speaking, so far as performing’s involved.

That’s fascinating, since you accomplish that a lot analysis in relation to devising your world. I’d assume you’d empathize with an actor who needs to try this similar analysis for his or her character.

Yeah, however I additionally assume that’s their job. With “The Lighthouse,” Pattinson would say generally, “Is it this or is it that?” And I stated, “You know what? Pick the one which works for you, however you’ve received to do that scene 25 % quicker.”

So how did you’re employed with Alexander Skarsgard? This is a degree of berserk I’ve by no means seen from him onscreen. In individual, he’s surprisingly delicate — I’d go as far as to even say dorky.

He’s the sweetest, dorkiest man. Alex has been into Vikings since he was a child, so this was one thing that he was tremendous enthusiastic about, and he demanded perfection of himself. For the primary couple weeks, he was attempting to know how Jarin and I labored and he was annoyed, however as soon as we did the scene the place he does a shamanic warfare dance, issues modified. I feel the fury, madness and vulnerability he wanted to indicate, it unlocked one thing. And then for the remainder of the shoot, each take was nice.

How invested are you within the field workplace returns of this movie?

Very. Because of Covid, persons are probably anticipating that it’s not going to do what everybody needs to do, however the truth that this film received made — the truth that me and my crew had been allowed to make a big film that’s not a franchise superhero film — is a hit in and of itself.

I’m extremely humbled and excited by the early opinions being so constructive, however even when you completely hate this film, I really feel it’s society’s duty to root for it a bit of bit as a result of different filmmakers ought to get the chance to do that, and audiences ought to have the chance to see issues apart from superhero motion pictures. I’m not even deriding superhero motion pictures, however there must be room for one thing else, too.

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