Aksel Hennie som Petter i PionerNorwegian movie star Aksel Hennie tells us that he almost died when shooting the intense thriller Pioneer – resulting in a scene that, entirely accidentally, become one of the most memorable from the Erik Skjoldbjærg production.

“I almost died in one scene,” he told us during a phone interview. “I was asked to skid off the road and it wasn’t supposed to be a stunt at all. It was supposed to just a skid, stop the car and get out. But I drove too fast, my fault, the car rolled over, also my fault, and it flipped. I didn’t get what happened, I continued acting and the door to the car was yanked open, and the car exploded. The hood popped open and nobody could see if I was still alive. It was the press day for the movie too so we had the entire Norwegian press there. Pretty rock and roll.”

It’s no surprise to hear such a story, as Hennie was described by his director as a risk-taker who enjoyed an adrenaline rush. Though to counteract that, it’s worth noting that the talented actor, who starred in the darkly comic thriller Headhunters, takes his roles completely seriously, and research is a big part of his process when getting into a character. In this instance looking back to the beginning of the Norwegian oil boom, when deep sea divers bravely attempted to recover oil from deposits at the bottom of the seabed.

“I thought I knew a lot about it, until I started digging in it. It’s a well-known case but how big it is I didn’t know,” he said. “Luckily they opened up and I was able to talk to a lot of the real guys. I did a lot and lot of researching, way deeper than I ever have before. It was a really interesting research period.”

Hennie plays Petter, one of the courageous divers, and the character who attempts to uncover the corruption within the situation, becoming embroiled in a menacing conspiracy. However, in spite of his character’s devastating journey, he had a fantastic time working on the project – and playing such a volatile protagonist. “I loved it and had a great time doing it,” he said. “It’s in the script, but it’s a lot to do with Erik the director. That’s his way of telling stories. Sometimes you think, ‘what the hell am I watching right now?’”

It sounds like both Hennie and Skjoldbjærg shared a strong bond during the making of this film – but the former admits that they couldn’t see eye to eye on everything, most notably, concerning the character’s quite overstated and exquisite facial hair. “It was my idea,” Hennie laughed. “Erik didn’t want it because he saw it at first as too big and too much, but we saw old photos of these guys and they were rockstars. When they were out on the oil platforms and they came back to their small towns, they were rockstars. They had moustaches, they would wear gold, the coolest dudes ever.”

Talking of cool dudes, there are plenty in Scandinavian cinema at present, and Hennie tells us that he’s noticed a change in the perceptions of film fans across the world. “When I’m in Hollywood or London, I feel a different interest from people, they’re more educated when it comes to Scandinavian movies than they were before. Obviously something is happening, I don’t know if it’s the ‘golden age’ but I’m in a good place!”

Hennie himself has made the move to Hollywood, taking on the role of Tydeus in the forthcoming blockbuster Hercules, starring Dwayne Johnson and directed by Brett Ratner, and it’s something the Norwegian actor admits he has always dreamt of, while citing Headhunters as the film that allowed him these glorious opportunities.

“No doubt about it. Headhunters has been a very important film for my career,” he said. “Right now I’ve been able to tell stories that I used to be told as a kid. It’s great to do a huge action movie in Hollywood… I mean, One of the first movies I ever saw was Tarzan. But it’s more the fact I’m able to work with great talent, telling cool stories and just doing what I do.”

Pioneer is released on April 11, and you can read our review here.