Be it films such as Insomnia, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, or television series such as The Killing – there’s a frustrating inclination for American producers to remake successful, Scandinavian productions, to make them more accessible to the US audiences. However in the case of Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg’s Oscar-nominated Kon-Tiki, it was shot simultaneously in both Norwegian and English – which lead star Pål Sverre Hagen admitted was a rather weird experience.
“It was very strange, but we got into a way of doing it so that after a while we didn’t think so much about it, it became everyday life,” he said. “But it’s a strange challenge and you get to know the different languages very well. English is very cinematic and works for film. Norwegian is more difficult. I learnt a lot from it, but of course it was a very weird thing to do. My performances are very much the same though. Making the change would happen seamlessly. We got into the energy of the scene and went back and forth between the languages. If I saw them both and didn’t hear the language, I wouldn’t be able to tell them apart myself.”
When asked if he can see more studios taking this approach, Hagen admitted there’s a chance this could well catch on. “Maybe. It’s not been done very often. I know Angelina Jolie did it with her film In the Land of Milk and Honey – a Serbian production. They did the same and it worked very well for them. So yeah, maybe.”
The story is one that is ingrained in Norwegian culture, as Thor Heyerdal’s epic journey across the Pacific on a mere raft is one that is celebrated in the nation, making something of a legend out of the ambitious explorer. “Any Norwegian of a certain age will know this story – and I’m one of them,” Hagen said. “Thor is a very natural part of our history, and I knew the raft and the whale shark, I remember from going to the museum as a child.”
What comes with playing somebody so revered, however, is a degree of pressure, given the pre-established expectations many will have of the great man – but Hagen admitted he felt freedom given the story they were telling. “He was a very characteristic guy, he had a very specific way of speaking and people have very strong opinions about who he was. But what gave me some freedom, is that this is a film about the time before he became legendary. That was the real task, to find out who he was before he became the legend. I spoke a lot to his son, and he became my most important source. He liked it, and I’m very grateful. It would be very sad if the family felt that what they saw was alien to them.”
Remarkably, Hagen and his co-stars did actually shoot on a real life raft out in the ocean, which the actor admitted made for an immersive experience – which was helped along by the congenial atmosphere amongst the cast and crew. “The raft you see in the film is a real raft and made the same trip in 2007, so it was magic to work on it. We shot in the open ocean for weeks and weeks. Having that experience was incredible, and the days we had when alone on the raft, just the actors was pure magic.
“It was a really wonderful group of people, so generous. To have six male actors of the same age on a small, confined space for a long time could create trouble if we weren’t generous towards each other, but it was a good group and I’m proud to call those guys my friends.”
For Hagen, Kon-Tiki just feels like the start – and though turning in a brilliant performance in dark comedy In Order of Disappearance, he admits that a future in America or England could well be on the cards. “I would be happy to work in America or Britain, of course I would. Amazing things are made there and perhaps I will one day. Travelling with this film and getting to know both worlds, I’ve found the most important thing is the people making the film, more so than where it’s made. I feel that it’s a healthy focus to have, to try and find people you feel a connection with and want to work with, and use that as a guiding star instead of chasing something unspecific, somewhere.”
But that’s not to say he isn’t completely settled in Norway either, as he commends the quality of Scandinavian cinema at present. “It does feel like an exciting time, and the fact we can create films like Kon-Tiki opens up a lot of possibilities. It shows we can keep up the same level of quality as American films.”
The Kon-Tiki experience is one that has lasted years for Hagen – which seems fitting given the nature of this incredible true story. The picture was first released in Norway in August 2012, before it’s Oscar nomination at the 2013 ceremony. But now, over two years after the initial release, Hagen is still promoting this title – but he ends by telling us what a pleasure it is to do so.
“All the guys, and myself of course, are off doing other films and are working, but when they called me up and said, “now it’s Britain’s turn”, I was like, “what, really?”, but it really is my pleasure. This film and this story is very strange and very special and if I can help bring it to the world, I certainly do it – with a smile.”