Alexander Skarsgård Was ‘Shackled and Dragged’ for ‘The Northman’

“The Northman” production forced Alexander Skarsgård to pivot from high to low, rags to riches, in the matter of a week — literally.

Skarsgård went from “playing one of the richest dudes on the planet” for Season 3 of “Succession” to Robert Eggers’ Viking epic “The Northman,” which required filming grueling scenes in the wilderness.

“The days were really long and hard, and we were out in the mud and up on these mountaintops in the wind and the cold,” Skarsgård told Total Film. “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.”

The “Big Little Lies” Emmy winner explained to Total Film that “The Northman” was “physically and mentally the most difficult job I’ve ever had, but also the most rewarding.”

Co-star Anya Taylor-Joy added, “I’m not a complainer, and Rob [Eggers] and [director of photography] Jarin [Blaschke] 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…’”

Yet the pain is no doubt worth it: “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 continued. “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.”

That experience on “The Northman” included long takes with “perfectionist” Eggers, as Skarsgård previously told Interview Magazine, and “long, intense fight scenes with 40 stuntmen and horses and 200 extras.” The large-scale production also stars Nicole Kidman, Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Ralph Ineson, and Björk. The film opens in theaters April 22.

“You’re so exhausted that you want to cry,” Skarsgård told Interview, citing his physical transformation for the role. “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.”

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