Alexander Skarsgard Says Norse Mythology Is 'Like A Religion Created By People On Shrooms' [Exclusive]

It turns out that Robert Eggers and Alexander Skarsgård are a match made in Valhalla. The two collaborated on the A24 film "The Northman," starring Skarsgård and co-written and directed by Eggers, an intense Viking epic based on "Gesta Danorum," a 12th century chronicle of Denmark. Skarsgård wanted to make a Viking movie for years, but wanted to find the right team to bring his childhood daydreams from the Swedish island of Ölanda to life. Eggers, who has a keen eye for making harsh landscapes beautiful, and brutal violence uncomfortably resonant, also happens to be a big history buff. With the right combination of talents, they set out to make a Viking film that felt authentic to the old sagas while still being a wildly entertaining ride for 21st century audiences. 

One key to their success was digging into Norse mythology, a rich tapestry of legends from the Poetic and Prose Eddas and additional Viking sagas featuring warriors, gods, giants, and the world-ending ragnarok. While we've seen plenty of fantasy-heavy takes on ancient Scandinavians and their gods, ranging from "Thor" to "Beowulf & Grendel," there haven't been many that truly depict what it was like to be a Viking and believe in their myths and legends. "The Northman" seeks to change all of that. 

'Can we, as an audience, see the world through his eyes?'

In an interview with /Film's Max Evry, Skarsgård revealed that while he loves the fantasy fun of films like "Thor," he really wanted to see a historically accurate version of Vikings on the big screen:

"How this idea was born was basically about 10 years ago I started thinking about how I've never seen a historically accurate depiction of the Viking age. I've never seen a big, epic Viking adventure film based on the old Icelandic sagas that captures the laconic tone that's really harsh, just like the landscape. It started to percolate in my head about why I've never really seen that. I think that the 'Thor' movies are wonderful, and they obviously take a lot of creative freedom. They're very inspired by a lot of the old sagas and have elements of them, but they've turned into something else. I think they're very entertaining. Taika [Waititi, who directed 'Thor:Ragnarok'] is a dear friend of mine, he did an amazing job on his 'Thor' movie. I loved it, thought it was super funny, but again was wondering why there had never been a more realistic or more grounded Viking movie."

The "Thor" films have some neat takes on Viking ideas, like the rainbow road leading to Heimdall, the Bifröst, but they are based on Marvel comics, not the original Eddas. They mixed up the gods (Loki is more like Thor's uncle than brother) and changed all kinds of things, but "The Northman" intends to set things straight. Norse mythology is complex and was a major part of Viking life, as the gods, the Æsir, were harsh and were believed to interact with humans sometimes. They believed heavily in fate, controlled by the Norns, three women who weave our mortal lives like a tapestry, similarly to the Greek Fates. By tapping into those beliefs and how they would shape his character, Amleth, Skarsgård was able to truly get into the right Viking mindset. 

'It's like a religion created by people on shrooms'

Skarsgård wanted to explore Viking myths and legends from a historical and sociological perspective, digging deep into the way his ancestors once lived:

"I wanted to have an opportunity to go deeper into the Norse mythology, really get into the headspace of a Viking 1000 years ago. How would someone like Amleth perceive the world? Can we, as an audience, see the world through his eyes? Can we understand his relationship to fate, to the Norns, to the spirits inside of him. The woods, the gods, the deities, all those aspects. It's such a rich culture and a wild mythology. It's like a religion created by people on shrooms. Basically, I had the desire to tell the story through the eyes of someone who actually lived 1000 years ago in Northern Europe."

While the bit about a "religion created by people on shrooms" sounds like a joke, Skarsgård isn't entirely off-base. One group of Viking warriors were berserkers, who went into a blind rage that scientists now believe may have been induced using locally growing plants and fungi. It's entirely possible that Viking warriors were drinking tea made with henbane or hallucinogenic mushrooms in order to enhance their abilities in battle. Hallucinations and other side effects from ingesting the poisonous plants might have helped shape their legends, further blurring the line between mythology and reality. 

"The Northman" hits theaters April 22, 2022.