Nobody Went Method On The Set Of The Northman, And That's Refreshing To Hear

There exists a persisting misconception when it comes to epic feats of acting — namely, the tendency to praise method acting as the highest caliber of dedication a "true" thespian can give to a role. Yet with the recent lambasting of method-actor-in-chief Jared Leto, whose take on the titular character in "Morbius" has been panned as totally flaccid (not to mention his unnecessary commitment to using a wheelchair on-set, slowing production in the process), it feels like we're finally ready to move past this enduring falsehood.

As it turns out, incredible performances don't come from acting like a completely insufferable jerk to fellow cast and crew members. Who knew?

Unsurprisingly, "The Northman" director Roger Eggers is well aware of this fact. While filming the forthcoming Viking film, the cast was subjected to harsh elements and inhospitable conditions while Eggers tackled his signature long takes. But once the cameras stopped rolling and the day's filming concluded, the cast immediately left the pressures of their roles behind. A thoroughly exhausting and challenging shoot, "The Northman" is said to boast some of the greatest performances from the actors involved — with Alexander Skarsgård's Amleth receiving considerable early buzz. According to a recent IndieWire interview with Eggers, Skarsgård exhibited an excess of vulnerability when inhabiting the role, while also in turn producing a furious "scream that ['Possession' director] Andrzej Żuławski would potentially approve of."

There's a bit more to the process, though. Let's delve into what exactly made this performance from Skarsgård so special — besides the fact that it ditches method conventions.

The harsh elements got actors in character

As it turns out, no one really needed to go method on "The Northman" because filming in such dreary, ruthless conditions pretty much induced the rabid rage necessary to depict these brutal characters. Yet particularly in the case of Skarsgård, the frustration of having to endure these frigid elements produced a rage that was conducive for channeling the character of Amleth. Unfortunately for Eggers, this anger seemed to also be targeted toward him for keeping the Swedish actor in the uncomfortable climate, especially when multiple long, unbroken takes were required in order to capture a specific scene. Eggers told IndieWire:

"Nobody was method on this film. In my perfect world, everybody is happy, best friends, and very familial. But the thing is, when it's freezing cold and raining, and the wind's blowing, and you're on the side of a mountain, it's tough and you need to stay focused. Sometimes, I think it takes a lot of tries to get the performance when you're doing these long, unbroken takes. I'm just trying to get the scene, but I think that some of Alex's performance is just because he wanted to wring my neck. That's not any kind of calculated, sadistic directing technique. It's just like, we had focus buzz, or the lens was fogged, or somebody slipped in the mud and the take wasn't usable."

By now, Eggers' inclination toward minute details and period accuracy is well known, with his previous projects "The Witch" (2015) and "The Lighthouse" (2019), set in 17th century and 19th century New England respectively, both entrenched in the visual and cultural hallmarks of the eras they take place in. However, his penchant for perfection when it comes to nailing historically accurate garb and architecture isn't a tactic the director employs with his actors. Instead, he is much more interested in a raw emotional commitment untethered to "perfect" standards. This was definitely true for Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe, whose New York theater backgrounds meshed well with Eggers' on the shoot of "The Northman":

"They are both New York theater guys and so am I. We just went into my office, put all the furniture aside, and started rehearsing it like we'd rehearse a play. We really got into it, knowing that you couldn't be the least bit self-conscious. The great actors want to bear everything. That's what it is, that's the job, and luckily I was working with great actors on this film."

Just because Eggers has an open approach to the actors' character development doesn't mean that his style meshes well with everyone, though. For Skarsgård, there was a lingering suspicion that the director took some sort of sadistic pleasure in shooting multiple long takes, often requiring the actor to remain on the unforgiving set for much longer than he would have liked.

But Eggers isn't actually into Kubrickian cruelty

There was one particular scene in "The Northman" that seemed to confirm Skarsgård's personal suspicion. It consists of a shamanic ritual that turns humans into beasts — a scene that was shot overnight during freezing rainfall. Because of the fantastic elements at play, the actors had to sustain a level of adrenaline in order to sell the scene, meaning their dissatisfaction with the weather couldn't show on their faces. Skarsgård was pumped when the scene was finally finished, but just before he began the journey home, a devastating flaw was revealed. According to Eggers in the aforementioned IndieWire interview:

"Then we got [the take] and it was like, 'That's a wrap, thanks everybody, go home, wonderful job.' And then, as everybody's getting in their cars on the way back to the trailer, taking off their stuff, we realized the lens was fogged on the good take. So we said, 'You guys have to come back, put your wet stuff back on, and do it again.' Alex was like, 'You did that deliberately!'"

The prospect of changing into warm, dry clothes before they're yanked out from under you is certainly upsetting. But Eggers elaborates further that he took absolutely no pleasure in calling the cast and crew back on set. In fact, when the interviewer brings up the parallels to Stanley Kubrick's directorial style, Eggers denounces the legendary British filmmaker's poor decorum with actors.

"But I didn't do it deliberately. That's the thing. As much as I admire Kubrick's filmmaking, what he did to Shelley Duvall on "The Shining" is not OK. It's one thing as collaborators for everyone to push each other and demand the best, but you can't be cruel."

So, acting in an Eggers production might be incredibly physically demanding, but he will never personally drive his actors crazy due to his own inflated auteur complex. For that reason, the demands of method acting (which Jack Nicholson utilized while filming "The Shining," another reason why Duvall unduly suffered) are nowhere near required.

After all, as Robert Pattinson noted in an 2018 interview with Variety ahead of the release of Eggers' "The Lighthouse", in which he plays wickie madman Ephraim Winslow:

"I always say about people who do method acting, you only ever see people do the method when they're playing an a**holes. You never see someone being lovely to everyone while they're really deep in character."

Honestly, good riddance to method acting. Hopefully for Eggers' next project, a remake of the classic German expressionist film "Nosferatu," actors will continue to forgo this played out form of performance.

"The Northman" hits theaters Friday, April 22, 2022.