The movie The Northman is full of intense, violent Viking action. One of the standout battle scenes in The Northman shows Amleth (Alexander Skarsgard) scale a wall and take out several enemies in a single take. Skarsgard did a lot of his own stunts in that, but he had help.
The Northman is now available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray and DVD from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. In the bonus features, Skarsgaard and the stunt team discuss how they made that battle look so effortlessly brutal.
‘The Northman’ crew hid steps in the wall for Alexander Skarsgard
On screen it looks like Amleth drove his axe into the wall each time he pulled himself up. Behind the ridges, however, there were already pre-cut holds for Skarsgard to put the axe in. It’s still not easy to scale a wall though.
“We were climbing across roofs, leaping down off roofs,” Stunt Coordinator C.C. Smiff said. “We were climbing up over the walls. It’s wet, it’s slippery. The art department cut some steps into it so we could get our hands into it so it looks like we got the axe into it. It took a little while to work that out.”
Even the weapons bled
Whenever Amleth killed someone in The Northman, they bled across the whole scene. The complexity of the battle scene didn’t allow the actor to wear blood packs, so the filmmakers found another solution.
“You normally use blood bags but on this job we had to make everything all inside the weapons themselves,” Special Effects Supervisor Sam Conway said. “You’d stab someone, it would spurt blood out the end. The actors had total freedom where they ended up stabbing.”
Alexander Skarsgard did 25 takes of the ‘Northman’ battle
Skarsgard spoke about the effort that went into filming The Northman battle scenes. With all the crew members working together, the actors still had to perform the action take after take. Skarsgard said he did up to 25 takes of each portion of the battle.
“There aren’t a lot of cuts in the movie,” Skarsgard said. “Most scenes are single camera, one shot. When it’s a big fight scene, it’s a nightmare. I’m sure just watching it, imagine the energy that goes into shooting one long shot of that, to get that right is very difficult. If I’m going to punch you, you have to put the camera in a certain position so it looks like you sell the punch. But when you do that with a camera running alongside you as 20 characters also move around, it’s going to be difficult to make it identical each time.”
Director Robert Eggers also had quite a job coordinating that battle. He understood the pressure each individual performer was under.
“Doing these long oners where everybody is a piece of the moment,” Eggers said. “When you’re doing a battle scene with all these extras and horses, everyone needs to be perfect because we’re a single camera in this long take. Everybody’s choice, everybody’s mistakes are at stake.”