An axing masterclass with Johan Hegg

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Amon Amarth frontman Johan Hegg makes his acting debut in ‘Northmen – A Viking Saga’. Directed by Claudio Fäh, it tells the story of a gang of bloodthirsty Norse raiders who get unstuck on the coast of Alba. You could say it was the role Hegg was born to play – so we got his take on filming battle scenes, getting into character and why the Scottish coasts looks remarkably like South Africa…

The co-writer of ‘Northmen: A Viking Saga’, Bastian Zach, is a big fan of Amon Amarth. Did he create the role of hoary Viking combat veteran Valli with you in mind? Johan: “When it came to the casting they were discussing what they were looking for with this character, and he said he always pictured someone like me, so that’s why they decided to ask me: I look like me! I guess for them it wasn’t much of a gamble really, it’s a pretty small part – although at first it was meant to be just a cameo appearance, and then it kind of grew.”

**Was that because you were so impressive onscreen? **“I don’t know really! I wasn’t even supposed to do the fight scenes myself, that was meant to be some stunt guy, but by the time I got there they’d changed their minds. They said ‘you can’t very well be in this film and not do your own stunts – because it’s so much fun’! And it was, it was lots of fun. I’ve been doing sports all my life, and the way I looked upon it, I was just doing a different kind of choreographed sport. It was kind of difficult at the beginning, the people doing the stunt training had to tell me to stop, because I was really going at it, having so much fun! They were like, ‘I think you’re done for today, you’re really gonna feel this tomorrow!’”

**Which bit did you enjoy most during the filming? **“To be honest, I enjoyed all of it. There was so much new stuff, so many things that I kind of knew but really didn’t know about filmmaking. I have a completely different view of acting based on this experience. Maybe I was a bit daft before, but I never realised how much work these exceptionally talented people put into their characters, the effort they put into portraying them. It really is astonishing to see them work, to see how deeply they go into it. Most of them didn’t know anything about Vikings before they did this movie so they had to do a lot of background reading; it’s not as if they can just stand there and read the lines, it has to be believable. And if you can’t find the mindset for your character, it’s not going to be believable.”

“The next person who makes an ‘Inspector Norse’ gag gets a bit of this…”

**Did you act as an unofficial Viking advisor onset? **“I wouldn’t say it like that – but maybe a little bit! There were a couple of instances where they were like, would a Viking do this, would they act like that? And I’d say ‘oh, you know, perhaps not!’ It’s tricky, because if you look at how Vikings really dressed, they didn’t look very rock and roll. I know a woman who was involved in creating costumes for The 13th Warrior with Antonio Banderas, where the producers hired two people to create two completely different wardrobes; one was authentic Viking clothing, and the other was more fantasy-based with leather and studs and all that crap, and of course the actors all went for the leather and studs! Some people have criticised the clothing in this movie, but in all fairness there’s not a lot of armour that has survived from those days, so nobody really knows how they looked. But there is a lot of attention to detail, even to the point where there’s a crossbow in the movie, which is kind of weird, but there is a Pictish rock carving where there’s a person holding what looks to be a crossbow, so potentially they did have them. But there are some things people complain about where you have to go: ‘Come on, it’s only a movie! It’s not a documentary,’ you know?”

**South Africa stood in for Scotland on the film shoot. Presumably this guaranteed better weather? **“The weather was strange, actually. I was lucky, when I was there it was warm and sunny, but the week after I went home they had rain and snow and it was crazy! The first time I heard they were shooting in South Africa I thought, ‘That doesn’t make sense!’ But I figured they know what they’re doing. Then when I got down there I totally saw that it was going to work; just being there reminded me a bit of the Highlands, then you can render the film and do angles and make it look even more so. It definitely worked out really well, it’s very believable as far as I’m concerned. Maybe not for a Scottish person, though!”

Northmen – A Viking Saga is out now on DVD and download.