Embarking on a physically and emotionally-driven journey can often be a daunting challenge, as it requires constant dedicated work and commitment to carry out your set goals. But wholeheartedly embracing the entire experience, including the collaboration process with your colleagues, can make the encounter less frightening and more exhilarating. That process is intriguingly presented in not only the complex protagonist’s determination to rely on his fellow Vikings during their voyage in the action adventure film, ‘Northmen – A Viking Saga,’ but also in the actor who plays him, Tom Hopper. The performer immediately appreciated the close collaboration he developed with director Claudio Fäh and his co-stars on the independent film, which is currently available on Blu-ray, DVD, VOD and Digital HD.
‘Northmen – A Viking Saga’ follows a group of Vikings in the ninth century, who are led by Asbjorn (Hopper) as they set sail for Britain, with the aim to plunder the rich monasteries in the northern part of the island. But a storm smashes the ship to pieces on the rocks off the coast of Scotland, the only part of Britain without any Viking settlements. Soon thereafter, Inghean (Charlie Murphy), the daughter of the Scottish King, falls into their hands, and the Vikings see this as an opportunity to demand a large ransom. The King immediately sets his wolfpack — a group of mercenaries well known for their savagery — on the Vikings. The Northmen, along with their hostage, now have to force their way through the rough highlands, where they meet the brave and mysterious Christian monk Conall (Ryan Kwanten). Having the wolfpack close on their heels, a desperate race against time and a battle over life and death begins.
Hopper generously took the time to talk about portraying Asbjorn in ‘Northmen – A Viking Saga’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the actor discussed how he was drawn to play the Viking leader because he appreciated the camaraderie and brotherhood between the characters in the historical action adventure film; how he and the rest of the cast had a week of rehearsals before they started shooting, so that they not only emotionally bonded with each other, as well as developed the same friendships as their characters had, but also so that they could prepare for the physically demanding stunts and action sequences; and how he enjoyed working with Fäh as the film’s director, as he guided the actors to develop their characters’ own backstories, and was encouraging in the way the cast wanted to approach telling the overall story.
ShockYa (SY): You play Asbjorn in the new action adventure film, ‘Northmen: A Viking Saga.’ What was it about the character, as well as the script overall, that convinced you to take on the role?
Tom Hopper (TH): The main thing that really attracted me to the role was the idea of the camaraderie between my characters. Asbjorn is the leader of the Vikings, and I liked the idea of playing a character who leads this type of group of guys. Playing a character who’s part of this brotherhood is always something I wanted to do, as I’ve always been a of films like ‘Saving Private Ryan.’ Those types of movies always bring a warmth to my heart, because I like seeing a group of friends who always stick together, through thick and thin.
SY: Besides the rest of the Vikings that Asbjorn works with throughout ‘Northmen: A Viking Saga,’ he also comes into contact with Inghean, the daughter of the Scottish King, and a mysterious Christian monk, Conall. What was the experience like of working with such a large cast that represents such different characters, including Charlie Murphy, who portrayed Inghean, and Ryan Kwanten, who plays Conall?
TH: We had about a week of rehearsals and time to work together before we started shooting. We did a lot of cardio together, as well as a lot of team building and group activities overall, to make sure that we were bonding. That really helped us, as it allowed us to form these friendships before we started shooting, which is really important for a film like this. So we all got along really well all the way through filming.
While we were very close while we were shooting, it was also a very grueling shoot. We had very physical, long and hard days. So it was good that we supported each other, so that we could help each other throughout the shoot. We all became very good friends, and I still keep in contact with the rest of the guys now. It’s been two years since we shot the film, but we still stay in contact with each other. It was a very special project, and I made really good friends on it.
SY: Asbjorn leads a group of Vikings in the ninth century who aim to plunder the rich monasteries in Scotland, the only part of Britain that doesn’t yet have a Viking settlement. What kind of research did you do as you were preparing for the role, in order to connect with his mindset?
TH: Yes, there were a few things I did before we began shooting. Obviously, I wanted to research the Vikings’ mythology, and see how much of the script was truthful. I think a lot of the reality was that the Vikings did land on Scottish shores, which remained a problem for them. Scotland viewed the Vikings as savages, so if they landed and became stranded there, it would have been a problem for them. So as I did the research, I realized what a big deal that was. So doing that type of research really raises the stakes when you’re shooting this type of film, and makes it a bit more real.
Obviously, a major part of preparing for the role was getting ready for the physicality. I trained very hard to play Asbjorn, because you see how physically demanding the role is on the pages in the script. But I’m used to doing that physical training for some of my other roles.
SY: With Asbjorn leading the group of Vikings across Scotland, particularly when they begin defending themselves against the King’s mercenaries, what was the process of approaching the physicality of the role, and performing the stunts and action sequences?
TH: I’m always keen on doing my own stunts, because it really helps with the shots, and it’s always one of the fun parts of shooting. I think that more actors should perform their own stunts. But there’s obviously insurance that doesn’t allow us to do certain things. If something goes wrong and the actor breaks a leg, that will affect the rest of the shoot. But I definitely don’t shy away from doing my own stunts when I can.
SY: What was your experience of working with the film’s director, Claudio Fäh, in developing the Asbjorn’s backstory, as well as the overall story?
TH: Claudio’s amazing, and I had the best experience working with him. I really trusted him, and if I’m lucky enough to have the chance to work with him again at some point, I would definitely take it. Working with him was great.
When I first got the role, Claudio was keen on Skyping on a regular basis, so that we could constantly talk about the film. There wasn’t a lot of depth about the characters on the page, so he was keen on us creating our characters’ own depths and backstories.
We would then collaborate with the other actors to make sure that everything fit. We did a lot of improvisation work together before we even began shooting. We didn’t have time to do that when we started production, so Claudio made sure we collaborated before filming began. I think that makes a massive difference when you’re shooting, as well. So Claudio’s brilliant, and I loved working with him.
SY: Speaking of improvising on the set, why do you think that process is so beneficial for your process of developing your character’s relationships with the other characters in the film?
TM: I think that’s incredibly important, because it allows us to all be on the same page. Claudio led that from the beginning, and when he set that tone, it trickled down throughout the entire cast. It’s very important to create the atmosphere where the actors can bond.
SY: While the action and stunts in these action adventure projects play a large part in their overall look, the costumes also help set their visual tone. How do the costumes influence the way you approach playing your characters in the genre? Do you have any input on the overall look of your characters, particularly on your television series?
TH: I went in very early on to have my wig made, and during that process, I started talking to Claudio, the producers and the make-up department about what Asbjorn should look like. We went back and forth about things like how long his hair should be, and whether or not his arms should be showing. So we were definitely collaborative over the costumes, in order to make sure everything looked right.
SY: What was the experience of filming ‘Northmen: A Viking Saga’ independently like overall? Since the movie is largely driven by its visuals, including the action sequences and the costumes, did filming independently influence the way you approached playing Asbjorn at all?
TH: It was obviously great to have the creative freedom that we had on this film, as that’s not always the case with everything you do. But this was definitely an exception, in terms of filmmaking. The creative side was really open, and that was a rewarding and great experience. I didn’t realize that the process would be so collaborative when we first started shooting. But everyone put their hearts into the film, and that really made a difference.
SY: The action adventure film (received) a theatrical, Digital HD and VOD release before it (debuted) on Blu-ray and DVD. Are you personally a fan of watching movies On Demand, and why do you think the platform is beneficial for independent films like this one?
TH: I think the On Demand release is really important. Not everyone can get out to the theater these days, so it’s great that On Demand is available. People also have these big cinema systems in their homes now, which offers a great viewing experience. But I think this film also looks great on a much more massive scale on the big theater screen.
SY: Besides ‘Northmen: A Viking Saga,’ you have appeared in several other period action projects, including the television series ‘Black Sails’ and ‘Merlin.’ What is it about the genre that you enjoy acting in it? How does appearing on the television series compare and contrast to making a similarly themed movie?
TH: I just love acting overall, no matter what the medium is. I’ve done a lot of sword fighting, and I really enjoying doing it. I’m lucky that I can pick up the choreography for the fights relatively quickly. So I get a kick out of performing that choreography, especially since when I was a little boy, I would dream about playing roles like this, and being in movies that involved these kinds of scenes. So whenever I film these types of scenes, especially on long shooting days, I always think back to when I was a little boy and wanted to play around, and be a part of these fight scenes.
Written by: Karen Benardello