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This single-shot fight scene used 40 stuntmen, and 200 extras

Alexander Skarsgård described the epic battle scenes in Robert Eggers' The Northman with long takes, with hundreds of extras and horses

Alexander Skarsgard in The Northman

Alexander Skarsgård spoke to Kirsten Dunst for Interview Magazine about The Northman – his epic Viking movie from director Robert Eggers. The Northman is based on a Viking legend that was said to have inspired Shakespeare’s Hamlet, about a prince avenging his father’s death. It also starred Nicole Kidman, Ethan Hawke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Willem Dafoe… and Bjork!

Skarsgård described working with Eggers as tough but rewarding; “Everything is meticulously planned. It’s mostly one single camera, one shot. In The Northman, there are long, intense fight scenes with 40 stuntmen and horses and 200 extras. To shoot it all in one shot means you do this four-minute take, and then a horse deep in the background looks the wrong way and you have to do it all again.”

He continued; “You’re so exhausted that you want to cry. You feel like you finally got all the choreography of the fight worked out, but then you have to go again and again and again. There’s always something in the background that wasn’t quite right. The flip side of that is when you finally get it, it feels like winning gold at the Olympics.”

Skarsgård continued by saying that; “Robert Eggers absolutely is (a perfectionist). But he’s also a genius. The Northman was the first time I worked on something that was so meticulously stylised, and you almost had to see it as a dance between the camera and the actors, because the camera was constantly moving, and so were we. If the timing was slightly off, then we’d have to go again. I’ve never been more tired than after those six months.”

The shooting locations were in Northern Ireland and Iceland; “Most of it takes place in Iceland. We locked down and stayed in Belfast and shot almost all of it up in the mountains and on the seaside. Then we went with a skeleton crew to Iceland to get some of the epic Icelandic landscapes.”