Kristofer Hivju: Uphill from Game of Thrones

March 2, 2020
We caught up with the Norwegian actor who is a crucial connecting element of cult film Force Majeure and its American remake Downhill.

Norwegian actor Kristofer Hivju is instantly recognisable as the wild and woolly, redheaded, bushy-bearded Tormund Giantsbane from Game of Thrones. In person, he’s a lot of fun, a natural showman, and possesses a deep, bellowing laugh.

But what does an actor do after appearing in such a behemoth production? While he has been keenly preparing his Norwegian series Twin over the past five years, audiences can now see the talented 41-year-old in a small amusing role in Downhill. The film is the American remake, perhaps re-conception, of the Swedish 2014 hit movie Force Majeure directed by Ruben Ostlund. Both films follow a husband panicking in reaction to a life-threatening avalanche, Force Majeure in the Aux Arcs ski resort in Savoie France and Downhill at the Austrian ski resort of Ischgl.

Downhill is directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, previously known for the dramedy The Way Way Back starring Steve Carell and Toni Collette. Downhill, which stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell, naturally has broad comic elements, which set it apart from the brittle dark comedy of Force Majeure.

I spoke to Hivju at a plush ski resort during the Sundance Film Festival.

I watched Force Majeure after Downhill.

Wow, I’ve never met anyone who saw it in that order. How was that experience?

In Thrones I always thought of you as the sensitive big guy. In Force Majeure you’re the male voice of reason as one half of the couple who comes to visit. In both films the visiting couple witnesses what is happening with the central couple and in Force Majeure your character helps make sense of the male dilemma, which the central husband fails to articulate.

Yeah, I felt that.

Yet in Downhill we see more of the point of view of Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s character.

You’re right about that. The focus of the main protagonist has changed. Force Majeure was more about the male role in modern time, or any times actually, because you have those Viking stories as well where there were cowards who did something unheroic and they were stoned for it. Ha, ha, ha! But here you follow Dreyfus’s character and you feel for her even more.

She’s such a special comedic actress and she’s a producer too and she wanted to turn it around.

It’s a good take to do something new. It doesn’t feel like it’s the same people and just another take on that role. It feels like an American couple who experience exactly the same thing, but they relate to it in another way. The scripts are very different.

The main confrontational scene is kept the same but the kids are brought in here more.

As judges. And the ending is different. It’s left more open in Force Majeure. I think Downhill’s ending is very strong, very emotional. I cried. Ha, ha, ha!

How is life after Games of Thrones? Do you feel like you’ve left it behind now?

No. It has this enormous fan base and people have spent so much time in that world, so I have felt a lot of love from the fans. I had six years on Thrones and now I’m trying to find my own path and my own way. So, the first thing I did was make my own TV show Twin in Norway co-created with Kristoffer Metcalfe. It’s about twin brothers who, because of something in the past, haven’t seen each other for 15 years and they have developed into very different people. One is an irresponsible surfer bum who owes everyone money and whose life is a mess, and the other is a father with kids and a Volvo, who runs a tourist resort in Lofoten, which is the most beautiful place in Norway with the mountains and the North Sea.

The brothers meet up and it ends in a quarrel where the responsible brother dies. When the police find the body, they think it’s the bum so instead of owning up to the truth he pretends he is the brother. And that proves an impossible task.

What else have you been doing?

I also have another Beck movie coming up. That’s a Swedish show where Mikael Persbrandt went out and I went in (as the eccentric sidekick policeman to Beck). He had made 30 movies and I did the last seven.

Do you still keep in contact with people from GOT?

There are always events and Comic Cons and now we just had the SAG Awards. Pilou Asbaek is in Sundance (for a US film called Run Sweetheart Run) and I met him yesterday. On Thrones I was on team Jon Snow but the fantastic thing about Thrones is that we shot it in Belfast and stayed at the same hotel, we ate at the same restaurants and it became a very close environment. If we’d shot it in London or Los Angeles we’d have gone to different places every night. So, it was a great, great time.

What would you like to do more of?

I’d like to do more comedy and I want to play in an environment where there’s no snow. Ha ha, ha!

Was it all real snow on Thrones?

We shot it in Iceland, so it was as real as you can get. There were some effects in Belfast, but it feels like everywhere I go there is snow. It must be the beard or something!

You look like a Viking. What is your ancestry? How far back can you go?

All our ancestors are Vikings and I feel that. When my buddies were reading DC comics and stuff like that, I was reading the Viking sagas. So, I was relating to that and I brought a lot of that into Thrones, their way of thinking, their values. I love that.

What do you like about them?

It’s not what you like; it’s to understand the differences. What you can say about them is that everybody wanted to be kings, to conquer and become something – sometimes in horrible ways. There were no social democrats in the Viking age! Ha, ha, ha.

Did they drag their women around like cavemen?

No, no! It was the other way around, because the females had the keys to the farm and they ran everything. So they went out to get some gold and they came back. They ruled the Viking age. I’m actually in the development of a movie where we take that perspective.

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