The Scotsman has a new interview online tonight containing new comments from Mads Mikkelsen on his experience filming Nicholas Winding Refn's Valhalla Rising. As well documented here on this blog, the film was based out of FILM CITY GLASGOW, with location filming in the highlands of Scotland. Along with his co-stars such as JAMIE SIVES and Gary Lewis, Mads Mikkelsen had to endure some tough conditions while filming. Quotage of interest:
"We were in Glasgow for four weeks," adds Refn, "and then spent four weeks up in the north-west, up near Skye, up near the ocean. Scotland's like a nature park. It's God's own production design."
There were limits to what could be achieved, however. The sea voyage that takes One-Eye, as Mikkelsen's character becomes known, and a band of grizzled Christians to claim Jerusalem for Christ, had to be shot inside a warehouse in Glasgow. It was a horrendous experience, recalls Mikkelsen, who, along with local talent such as Jamie Sives and Gary Lewis, spent days breathing in smoke used to simulate fog. But Mikkelsen, who professes a passion for radical film-making, is not complaining. "It was tough for everyone," he says matter-of-factly.
Mikkelsen knew, having worked with Refn on the Pusher films, that making Valhalla Rising would be hard from the outset, and that he would have to be in shape if he was going to survive the director's quest for authenticity."I needed to have good stamina," he says, "because it was going to be very challenging." A knee operation prevented him running, so he cycled to get fit, and create the image they were after. "We didn't want me to beef up and look like a bodybuilder because, obviously, the food these people were eating was not that healthy. So we went for that skinny, half-dead, half-alive person look."
When filming hit the hills, during the summer of 2008, the crew and actors would drive out into the countryside for an hour each day and then walk for another hour to the location. Mikkelsen recalls: "I had one eye, I couldn't see anything, and it was just holes everywhere, and everybody was just struggling. And once we'd get there, you'd take your close-up and start fighting."They would fight for eight hours, without the use of body doubles, he says: "Nicolas doesn't work like that." They had practised some moves in a gym with a stunt co-ordinator prior to filming. But when they got to the mountain location where the film's punishingly brutal opening scenes take place, they found themselves bogged down in mud and unable to perform as rehearsed.
"They didn't work," says Mikkelsen. "We couldn't even lift our feet. In half a minute you couldn't breathe any more. We were struggling."...Adding to their woes was the midge population which would sometimes obscure the actors' faces so completely they could only shoot, according to Mikkelsen, for ten seconds. "Everybody else was wearing survival gear, nets, and the actors weren't, obviously," he grimaces. "So we were covered in midges." On a couple of occasions, some of the wee critters even got stuck under the prosthetic make-up covering the actor's left eye, leaving him "rubbing and squeezing it all day long".
If this all makes Mikkelsen's time in Scotland sound like a horror story, it was far from it. The actor, who recently completed work on a big-budget remake of Clash of the Titans, laughs as he recalls staying at a "Fawlty Towers kind of place" near Loch Ness, where the landlady would not do anything without complaint. "Every time you'd order something, like a bottle of water, she'd be like, 'Oh, water… Why?' But she was very, sweet," he smiles, "and we got to know her well, but she was one of the types that was the mother of the house, not your servant."
He has fond memories, too, of the Scottish people, whose similarities to the Danes, he says, meant he felt very much at home. "We're much of a family, and it's very, very easy to integrate. We have the same kind of humour, we can laugh at ourselves, and you can drink a lot. Which is also good. So even though it was tough, it was a great experience."