‘The Northman’ Star Ethan Hawke Rehearsed the Initiation Scene in an Office Building: ‘You Couldn’t Be the Least Bit Self-Conscious’

The new Viking tale, The Northman stars Ethan Hawke as King Arundvall, Alexander Skarsgård as his son, Prince Amleth, and Willem Dafoe as the he-Witch, Heimir. The movie features several intense sequences, including an initiation scene that required Hawke to strip away any self-consciousness. 

'The Northman' Ethan Hawke as King Aurvandil War-Raven wearing a helmet and coat in front of a mountain and ocean landscape
Ethan Hawke as King Aurvandil War-Raven | Focus Features

Ethan Hawke growls like a dog in ‘The Northman’ initiation scene

The Northman tells the Hamlet-esque story of Prince Amleth, a Viking prince who seeks to avenge his father’s death and kill his murderous uncle. In one of the film’s early scenes, King Arundvall takes psychedelics as part of an initiation ceremony to name young Amleth as his successor. 

In the intense moments that follow, the King, joined by Heimir, begins hallucinating. He growls and crawls like a dog and then sees images of his family strung up like puppets. 

When talking to GQ about the movie, Hawke recalled working on the scene. And he admitted how much fun he had working with Dafoe. 

“We have one amazing scene,” Hawke said. “We get naked and do some kind of Viking acid and howl at the moon together. And oh my god, if you have to be naked and howl at the moon, he’s a great person to do it with.”

Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe rehearsed the initiation scene in an office space 

To create the intense initiation scene in The Northman, Hawke and Dafoe prepared by rehearsing beforehand. And according to writer/director Robert Eggers, the actors were required to shed any constraints. 

“They are both New York theater guys and so am I,” Eggers told IndieWire. “We just went into my office, put all the furniture aside, and started rehearsing it like we’d rehearse a play.”

“We really got into it, knowing that you couldn’t be the least bit self-conscious,” he continued. “The great actors want to bear everything. That’s what it is, that’s the job, and luckily I was working with great actors on this film.” 

Robert Eggers reveals how filming conditions added to the ‘The Northman’ casts’ performances

In his chat with IndieWire, Eggers talked about the vibe on the set of The Northman. He noted that while none of the actors was method acting, tough filming conditions enhanced their performances. 

“In my perfect world, everybody is happy, best friends, and very familial,” Eggers said. “But the thing is when it’s freezing cold and raining, and the wind’s blowing, and you’re on the side of a mountain, it’s tough and you need to stay focused. Sometimes, I think it takes a lot of tries to get the performance when you’re doing these long, unbroken takes.”

Skarsgård had a few anger-filled scenes in the film. But Eggers suggested that some of the actor’s intense performances were fueled by behind-the-scenes issues. 

“I’m just trying to get the scene, but I think that some of Alex’s performance is just because he wanted to wring my neck,” Eggers admitted. “That’s not any kind of calculated, sadistic directing technique. It’s just like, we had focus buzz, or the lens was fogged, or somebody slipped in the mud and the take wasn’t usable.” 

The Northman, which also stars Nicole Kidman and Björk, opens in theaters on April 22.

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