Filming The Northman Felt Like A Homecoming To Anya Taylor-Joy

One upcoming release every movie fan should be excited for is Robert Eggers' "The Northman." The film is based on the Scandanavian legend of Amleth, a prince who sets out to avenge his murdered father Aurvandill by killing his treasonous uncle Fjölnir. If this story sounds familiar, it was Shakespeare's inspiration for "Hamlet."

Anya Taylor-Joy will play Olga, a character without a mythic counterpart. In an interview with Collider, Eggers described her as "a Slavic woman who's been enslaved by Vikings, but she's what you would call a cunning person or a white witch."

Taylor-Joy's first film appearance was in Eggers' debut feature "The Witch." That means working with the director again wasn't just another job for the actress. Instead, it felt like a homecoming.

Taylor-Joy's previous work with Eggers

Before "The Witch," Anya Taylor-Joy had only a few minor roles on British TV and a deleted role in "Vampire Academy" under her belt. After losing a role as a teenage Maleficent in the eponymous 2014 film, she auditioned for Thomasin, the eldest daughter in "The Witch" who finds her faith tested as her family suffers.

As she later told People Magazine, she was convinced she wouldn't get the part because the script described Thomasin as "plain": "Okay, there's a lot of things that I can do, but I can't really change my face that much." Taylor-Joy was wrong; indeed, her literally wide-eyed face was perfect for Thomasin.

Eggers was a film novice himself, having come up in theater production. "The Witch" was inspired by his childhood growing up in New England, particularly his memories of visiting the Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts.

As often with debut features, he had to cut corners for his passion project. For one, he had hoped to film on location in New Hampshire, but tax incentives meant he had to settle for Canada. The choice created a new problem — logging had robbed Eggers of a forested area he had envisioned for the film's setting. The crew was eventually able to find a suitable location in the unincorporated community of Kiosk, Ontario.

Director and star reunite

Owing to the small budget and remote filming location, the cast and crew of "The Witch" became tightly knit during filming. Anya Taylor-Joy told Indiewire in 2021:

"My first heartbreak was not a relationship. My first heartbreak was finishing my first job [on 'The Witch'], and experiencing that loss. The loss of there was a world that existed with a group of people that became my everything for a period of time, and now it's over. I had no concept as to how to deal with that."

However, that hard work and heartbreak paid off. "The Witch" became an undeniable success, grossing 10 times its budget and being hailed by some as one of the best horror movies ever made.

Both Taylor-Joy and Eggers have been on the upswing since. The former is now one of the most prolific young actresses working, racking up roles in "Split," "The Queen's Gambit," "Peaky Blinders," and more. Eggers' next film, "The Lighthouse," earned similar acclaim as "The Witch." Now, Taylor-Joy and Eggers' paths cross once more for "The Northman." They are also joined by "The Witch" director of photography Jarin Blaschke.

During the promotion tour for "The Witch," Eggers said of Taylor-Joy: "Anya has a very enigmatic quality. I can stick the lens two inches from her nose and you don't quite know what she's thinking, but you want to."

This enigmatic quality will doubtlessly serve her well in "The Northman." The film's trailers show Olga enslaved alongside Amleth and allying with him, but whether a cunning witch like her will be friend or foe to the prince remains to be seen.

Different shooting conditions

Speaking to TotalFilm, Anya Taylor-Joy said:

"It really felt like a homecoming, and I was absolutely elated every single day. We've all maintained a family unit. But what I will say is that the scale of this film is much bigger. There were definitely moments where Rob, Jarin and I would look at each other, and we're like, 'Okay, this is different than me helping lay down the dolly track. We're moving up in the world!'"

Indeed, "The Northman" was made at a much higher budget than "The Witch" was. Originally set at $65 million, the budget of "The Northman" ballooned to $90 million — both figures dwarf the $4 million price tag to make "The Witch." Rather than the crew being confined to a remote forest, "The Northman" was filmed in multiple locations across Ireland.

"The Witch" had an unknown cast. Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie, who played Thomasin's parents, both had minor roles on "Game Of Thrones," but they were far from household names.

In contrast, "The Northman" boasts a star-studded cast. Alexander Skarsgård stars as Amleth and Ethan Hawke will play King Aurvandil. Nicole Kidman will portray Queen Gudrún (Amleth's mother/Aurvandil's wife), while Willem Dafoe (who worked with Eggers on "The Lighthouse") will play a court jester named Heimir. 

The biggest change from the time of "The Witch" to "The Northman" is that Taylor-Joy and Eggers are now stars themselves. Speaking to Collider, she recounted an interaction with Eggers while filming "The Northman:"

"Something that was said a lot the first day on set was, which I loved, was, we made "The Witch" kind of thinking no one was ever going to see it. So the fact that, 'We're making a Robert Eggers' movie' is now a thing, we're both just like, 'This is amazing.'"

In short, Taylor-Joy learned the lesson that lies that every hero's journey. When you return home a changed person, your home will be just as different as you've become.