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Scared Every Night

Category: Beowulf & Grendel News
Article Date: October 9, 2004 | Publication: Ingibjörg Rósa Björnsdóttir and María Erla Pálsdóttir | Author: Fréttablađiđ

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Sturla Gunnarsson moved to Canada at the age of six but has returned to make his dream of making a film in Iceland come true.

When Sturla is asked whether he speaks his mother tongue he answers, in icelandic: “Not a word!” The interview then takes place in icelandic. Sturla looks tired. It is obvious that it has been a long and hard day of filming. “Long days are good if they are fun! For many years I have wanted to make a film in Iceland, but was always missing the right story. I certainly couldn’t imagine doing the Icelandic sagas because I feel they should be told in icelandic. It would ruin Njál’s Saga to do it in english, whereas Beowulf lives in that language. This is the oldest story written in the English tongue but basically it is a Nordic saga. There comes the connection with our Icelandic saga tradition and so my two cultures come together in one story. To me the story was always alive, like something that happened in real life.
Originally the Poem was written in old english more than a thousand years ago after having lived in oral tradition for a couple of hundred years, but the one who wrote the poem down was a Christian, so he coloured the story with Christian values. Thus Grendel became the symbol of evil and Beowulf of good and the characters are somewhat onedimensional. Beowulf is the model of the hero-image that has characterized most stories ever since and up until today, and the poem shows the battle between good and evil in a simple way. Andrew and I, however, wanted to turn this around and change the hero myth.”
Sturla still thinks that an audience familiar with the poem shouldn’t worry about the changes, the right story will be told in spite of his doing it in his own way – just like before, when storytellers would sit by the fire and interpret the stories their way. Thus nobody should worry about distortion of Beowulf – but one who does worry, is the director himself.
“Yes, I’m scared sh*tless every night. I didn’t sleep for two nights when we were trying to put the viking ship Íslendingur on Jökulsárlón, nobody had told me what kind of madness that would be! We had to wait for two days while it was solved, bad weather coming, and I imagined all the worst things possible, thought someone would die and it would all be my fault. But it worked out in the end. The ship was placed on its side on a truck and taken across the bridge at night and then let sink onto the lagoon, magnificent!”

Costs About a Billion
There is no doubt how big a project this film is and the expected price is over 900 mio. krónur. Sturla says that certainly financing always is difficult but people have seen the potential in this project and they got investors in Canada, Britain and Iceland. He admits that the success of the Lord of the Rings helped since “these stories swam form the same pool of genes” but repeats that in Beowulf and Grendel emphasis is put on making a legend become real opposite the style in LotR. Besides our man Ingvar E. Sigurđsson foreign actors are in the main roles in the film. Among others the Scot Gerard Butler who Sturla predicts will become a big star. “Gerry is incredible, a good actor with a special charisma. I had seen him in some movies, often didn’t think much of them, but he was incredibly good in them. It takes a special talent to come out good in a bad movie. Marketwise he’s also attractive because Phantom of the Opera, which comes out this christmas, is going to be a big movie, and I predict that he will become a big star after that. It’s fun working with him, he is good and strong in the film, literally wades through sh*t up to his knees all day and thinks it’s fun. Plus he’s just so beautiful!”
But still at least the Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgaard, who plays King Hrothgar, is a bigger name than Gerry Butler. How did Sturla manage to get him to join the team? “Stellan is the king! He is a special actor and a great character. It is fun to watch him in this part, at first Hrothgar is a strong worrior king but then twenty years pass and then the troll Grendel has ruined everything for him. He is always drunk and a mere shadow of his former self. It was a chalenge to get Stellan in this part because he is always strict on his parts. I so wanted Nordic blood in this, wanted to mix people from these countries that connect with the North Atlantic Ocean. Stellan comes from Sweden, Gerry from Scotland, and Ingvar from Iceland. And he is so terrific! We have worked together for seven months on this film. We went to England four times to make the costume. Nick Dudmund (who among other things worked on the Harry Potter movies) designed it, it is built on the actor himself. It was incredible to see the person come to life. Ingvar also came along around the country to find locations for filming and it was wonderful to see how much energy he drew from the ground itself and the landscape, he ran around the area and actually changed into Grendel while he did it. He was the first character that came alive to me, and I was very relieved, because Grendel is one of the most dificult characters in the film.

Secrecy Surrounding Grendel
Much secrecy surrounds what Grendel will look like and no photography of him is allowed, but Sturla describes him as a big, sexy “biker troll”. Hringur, Ingvar’s son, plays the young Grendel in the movie, and Sturla says it’s admirable how god he is. It takes three hours to put the costume on him but he just sits there calmly and patiently the whole time.
A rumour about a sequel seems to be based in reality, Sturla says that a decision has at this point almost been made but that the idea needs more elaboration. If the sequel becomes a reality, filming might well take place in Iceland again, more mone just needs to be found.


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