It’s difficult to come by a true epic film, one that really goes big and certainly never goes home until it achieves what it set out to do.
Ethan Hawke told The New Yorker that being part of Robert Eggers’ “The Northman” was like returning to the old-school, big-budget roots of the Hollywood studio films of yore. While Hawke admitted that he may have scoffed at auteur Eggers’ methods when he was younger, he can now only admire the precision behind building a historically accurate world — much like Francis Ford Coppola did for his (troubled and year-plus-long) 1979 war epic “Apocalypse Now.”
“So much of moviemaking is people trying to sell you something,” Hawke said. “I’ve spent my life wondering, ‘Will I ever get to be on a set that feels like “Apocalypse Now”?’ You know, like, somebody’s trying. They have the balls and the hubris and the arrogance to say, ‘I want to make a masterpiece. I’m going to write a movie about Vikings with an Icelandic poet. And shoot it in a way that a film has never been choreographed before.'”
Hawke continued, “So, for me, just seeing somebody take a swing like that, you know, it’s like a jump off a high dive.”
“The Northman” stars Alexander Skarsgård as Prince Amleth, who vows to avenge his murdered father (Hawke) and rescue his kidnapped mother (Nicole Kidman). Eggers co-wrote the screenplay with Icelandic novelist and poet Sjón; the story is based on the same Scandinavian folk tale that inspired Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” Returning Eggers collaborators Willem Dafoe and Anya Taylor-Joy also star.
“I don’t know of a medieval movie this size that is shot this formally,” Eggers said. “Not even, like, a Soviet movie.”
The writer-director added that editing “The Northman” was one of the most painful experiences of his life. “Frankly, I don’t think I will do it again,” he said. “Even if it means, like, not making a film this big ever again. And, by the way, I’d like to make a film this big. I’d like to make one even bigger. But, without control, I don’t know. It’s too hard on my person.”
Eggers described “The Northman” as “kind of an expensive, arty, but commercial” Viking movie. But the pressure for the star-studded epic has been mounting: “Now everyone is kind of, like, ‘If this isn’t ‘Gladiator’ or ‘Braveheart,’ we’re fucked,'” Eggers revealed. “And the thing is: it isn’t.”
“The Northman” premieres in theaters April 22.