‘The Northman’ Director Robert Eggers on Making the Definitive Viking Movie


It was hard for me and [cinematographer] Jarin [Blaschke] to get into the Knattleikr [an early Viking ball game] sequence, because we were the losers in school, and we didn’t play sports, and we never were interested in it. We got there, and I like the sequence, but I could never get passionate about photographing a cell phone.

Are you marinating in a bunch of historical periods at once? Or is it more like, “I’m obsessed with the Late Bronze Age collapse right now. I’m just going to read everything I can and maybe there’s a story that comes out of it”?

It’s sort of the latter.

So you’re in the Elizabethan phase right now.

My wife is really, really sick and tired of Tudor and Stuart music playing in the house. I’ll say that.

Lots of lutes?

Lots of lutes. Lots of lutes.

Are you dead set on doing something indie for your next film?

Right now, I definitely want to do something smaller, where it won’t be as painful, or I’ll have full control. There’s always give and take and studio notes. There always is. There was on The Witch. I didn’t have this much gray hair when we wrapped photography. It’s all from post-production.

So are you pleased with the final cut?

In a word, yes. But I think this movie was so big compared to my experience level, that there’s things I didn’t execute as well as I wished I could have, just because I didn’t have the skills to do it.

Now that you’re three features in, looking at your career long term, are there directors whose careers you admire and want to emulate in any way?

The times are so different now, compared to the directors that I particularly admire. So, no. I mean, yeah, but I can’t say any of that shit. You know?

Why not?

Because I like all these dead people. But also, everyone has to find their own path. When King Arthur’s knights go to find the grail, they all have to take their own path through the woods and you’re not allowed to take another knight’s path. Also, take Bergman—got to make a ton of movies that didn’t do well. They kept letting him make movies, because there weren’t that many people who wanted to make movies in Sweden at the time. How different is that to how I came up in the industry, where everyone wants to be a filmmaker?

What would your advice to young filmmakers be?

Work so hard, you can’t believe it. So much of this career is luck, so you have to work hard enough that luck can happen. And then relationships are really important. I don’t mean that in a fake, shallow, LA way. I mean, find people who you like working with and work with each other and listen to each other and respect each other and be honest with each other. Then, finally, find your own voice and stick with it.

When you have spare time, what are you reading and watching and listening to?

Antiques Roadshow helps me go to bed, so that’s cool. But I’m always chasing something. I’m always trying to find some obscure movie that hopefully has some bit of gold that I’m looking for.

You recently became a father. How has that changed how you work or the stories you want to tell?

When I made The Witch, a lot of people said, “You would never have killed the baby in the first 10 minutes and photographed it like that if you had been a father.” And I would like to say that, as a father, I like it even more, because I’m certain it works now. It was only hypothetical before.

I mean, it changes everything, doesn’t it? It’s hard to articulate. I can tell you that I cry at fucking car commercials now. But I can still make a brutal movie.

This interview has been edited and condensed.



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