Nikolaj Coster-Waldau on Filming ‘Towards the Ice’

March 11, 2022

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau had many formidable foes on Game of Thrones as “Kingslayer” Jamie Lannister—from dragons to White Walkers. After all, these threats didn’t exist exterior the lens of the fantasy sequence, however in Towards the Ice, the enemy of his character, real-life explorer Captain Ejnar Mikkelsen, was additionally an on-set tormenter of the Danish actor. That enemy was the bitter, bitter chilly.

“No query this was the toughest shoot I’ve ever finished, however that’s what telling this story required,” says Coster-Waldau. The film portrays Captain Mikkelsen’s 865-day journey into the Arctic to dispute a declare that the U.S. made on Northeast Greenland. On settlement with director Peter Flinth and producer Baltasar Kormakur, the actor ventured to the Arctic to movie with sled canines and snowstorms. “There’s no manner a wind machine and a few pretend snow was going to do proper by the boys of that expedition.”

We spoke with Coster-Waldau concerning the Danish explorer, bear assaults, and having to evacuate set due to a blizzard.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and co-star Joe Cole stand next their sled in the Arctic during a scene in
Courtesy of Netflix

Males’s Journal: Earlier than beginning the writing course of, how acquainted had been you with Captain Ejnar Mikkelsen and his expeditions?

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau: I knew his title, and that he was an Arctic explorer who had achieved some nice feats, however nothing past that. I didn’t know concerning the Alabama expedition. The director, Peter Flinth, is a long-time buddy of mine, and he despatched me a duplicate of Mikkelsen’s e-book Two Towards the Ice. I used to be blown away by it. There was the survival story, which is unbelievable in its personal proper, but in addition the human relationship story beneath—the camaraderie between these two males who find yourself spending 865 days collectively in excessive circumstances.

There’s a second they skilled—it’s within the e-book—the place they’d a easy postcard with girls on it they usually had been fantasizing about companionship. Mikkelsen’s touring companion Iver Iversen picked three of the ladies on the cardboard to be his “girlfriends” and Mikkelsen picked one. I assumed that was an interesting and fantastically uncooked second the place they acknowledged how a lot they wanted love. I knew it could make for a terrific film.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau arms himself by a fire in the Arctic during a scene from
Courtesy of Netflix

What different analysis did you do?

Mikkelsen wrote two books concerning the expedition. Within the first one, he doesn’t actually point out Iversen in any respect. Within the second e-book, he goes into rather more element about their companionship, and credit Iversen for getting him by the journey. I assumed that was additionally an fascinating wrinkle of their story and one thing that may very well be investigated. I learn all of Mikkelsen’s books, however I additionally related together with his household. I chatted with Naja Mikkelsen, who’s the good granddaughter of Ejnar. These conversations had been massively useful. I had identified that Mikkelsen had married his spouse a 12 months after he returned from that voyage, however there was no point out of her within the e-book. We had been in a position to verify they had been seeing one another at the moment in secret, and he carried a locket along with her photograph in it. The dialogue we now have between the characters is made up, in fact, however the conversations are primarily based in reality.

Had been there particular themes you had been most intrigued by within the writing course of?

There are undoubtedly themes we needed to discover all through. They actually didn’t know they had been going to make it on the finish. One of many first scenes we wrote occurs towards the top of the film, the place they’re discussing what level they’d resort to cannibalism. The scene all the time will get amusing, however that response is born out of the discomfort and horror of the state of affairs. The laughs are wanted to take care of the uncertainty of their futures. The opposite ingredient we leaned into was how the thoughts copes with excessive isolation—how they created these visions that had been simply as actual as their true lives.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau kneels on his sled at dusk during a scene from Netflix's "Against the Ice"
Courtesy of Netflix

The cinematography within the movie is gorgeous. You’ll be able to sense how brutal the terrain is. Was this probably the most arduous shoot you’ve finished?

These had been probably the most excessive and difficult filming areas I had ever been to, however that’s what we had been set on from the very starting. We needed the environments we captured on digital camera to be as genuine to the story as attainable. These are locations we needed to be in and share with the viewers. My spouse is from Greenland and we’ve been going there for years. Each time I’m going there, I’m in awe. I needed that feeling to return throughout within the movie as effectively.

Positive, you’ll be able to attempt to recreate these locations with computer systems, however you’ll be able to’t recreate the impact it has on every little thing else—and us as actors. That form of chilly impacts the best way you converse and transfer. I used to be ecstatic we had been in a position to work with Baltasar Kormákur, who produced this alongside together with his firm RVK Studios in Iceland. Every little thing you see throughout these scenes is actual due to these efforts.

How troublesome was it to get to those areas and get by the shoots?

The longest trek we needed to do was two-and-a-half hours on snowmobile after we had been filming in Greenland. There’s no manner we might’ve made it to the locations we would have liked to go with out the Greenlandic crew. I used to be blown away by the automobiles and equipment essential to get us to a few of these locations. There have been these loopy vans and Tremendous Jeeps I had by no means seen the likes of earlier than. However that’s what we would have liked to get onto the glaciers. The climate acquired fairly tough at occasions, and we filmed as a lot of it as we might. Out in Greenland, we would have liked 22 snowmobiles—with three individuals on every one—to get our crew out to the place we would have liked to movie. One of many days we needed to shut down and evacuate due to a blizzard.

At what level did you notice you wanted to evacuate?

We knew the climate was going to be dangerous, however they had been telling me it was going to get higher at lunch. It solely appeared to worsen and worse. The snow saved getting heavier and the cameras truly began to close down due to the chilly. Ultimately the decision got here by that we would have liked to return to base camp instantly. There was a cabin for the rangers who labored there. They wanted us to evacuate. As I used to be strolling in, I noticed one of many manufacturing vans had all of its home windows smashed out from flying rocks in the course of the storm. So that offers you an thought of the weather we had been coping with. They needed to rely heads to verify we had been all there. Everybody on location was given a whistle in case they acquired misplaced or fell right into a crevasse. That was simply par for the course to verify the crew safely made it house.

Mikkelsen traveled by canine sled throughout his expedition, and there are plenty of nice sledding scenes. What was it prefer to work with these animals?

To start with, it’s necessary to notice that no animals had been damage within the course of of creating the film. I beloved these canines. However they don’t seem to be pets. You’ll be able to’t get too near them with out asking their homeowners and trainers first, as a result of they don’t seem to be all pleasant. They’ll chunk you. What they’re is sweet at their jobs. They’ve profound pleasure you’ll be able to sense after they’re pulling the sled collectively. That’s how they traveled again then and that’s how they nonetheless get round within the northwest of Greenland. It’s probably the most dependable, most secure, and quickest solution to commute. My spouse grew up touring like that—with canines. She had her personal little sled with 5 canines to go over the ocean ice. There have been youngsters that may come by the filming areas on their very own little sleds with a couple of canines. We needed to level them in different instructions. It’s a fantastic custom that’s below menace due to local weather change. My favourite shot is originally of the film after we’re going over sea ice with the canines. Thirty years in the past, there have been three meters of ice there. Immediately it’s lower than a meter. It’s unhappy that we might lose these traditions and the locations they name house.

Talking of animals, there’s an epic polar bear assault scene. I do know you labored with actual bears earlier than, however this was pc generated. It seems unbelievable.

I’ve labored with actual bears—together with Bart the Bear II that we had on Sport of Thrones, who sadly handed away final 12 months. For Towards the Ice, director Peter Flinth talked about he’d seen a film the place a bear assault was filmed with an actual bear. He thought that it could be simpler to get an actual one, and went so far as finding a bear in Svalbard that may work. However we ended up going the CGI route—and I’m glad we did, as a result of it seems nice. It was most likely in my greatest curiosity as effectively.

We nonetheless wanted one thing or somebody to face in there and play the bear. We acquired related with this Olympic judo champion in Iceland to step in. He was a very sturdy lad, and principally spent his time tossing me round within the snow. By the point we acquired to take six or seven, every little thing was spinning. I instructed the crew I needed to go vomit someplace. I’m fairly certain I acquired a concussion.

There are super performances by Joe Cole, because the ship’s mechanic, and Charles Dance, your buddy from Sport of Thrones, as Mikkelsen’s disbeliever in Copenhagen. What was it like working with them? Any plans to work with different Sport of Thrones alumni?

First off, Joe was simply unbelievable. I watched a few of his tasks earlier than he joined and we had been fortunate to get him. That position is a troublesome one, as a result of there’s an innocence and optimism Iver has to deliver. However he completely nailed it. I known as Charles to tackle the position, as a result of I knew he could be nice. I could have oversold it a bit of bit—and stated that it was a much bigger half than it was, however he got here in anyway and killed it. I’d like to work with Gwendoline Christie since we’re such good mates. Peter Dinklage as effectively. They’re all nice individuals and nice actors.

Did you get an opportunity to display screen it for the Mikkelsen household?

We did do a screening for them—and I used to be actually nervous about it. His household cares deeply about his legacy, with nice purpose. He’s their hero. So though I needed to be trustworthy with the storytelling, I additionally hoped that I didn’t painting something they might take offense to. I used to be pleasantly relieved by their response, which was overwhelmingly optimistic. His nice granddaughter wrote me an extended be aware on how she was thrilled with the way it got here out and that she, too, had been apprehensive. I’m glad they consider I did his legacy justice. And I’m so happy with what my costar Joe Cole and crew achieved.

Towards the Ice is now accessible on Netflix

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