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GAME OF THRONES’ Kristoffer Hivju Talks THE LAST KING, Axes Vs Swords, and Tormund Dancing

Snow. War. Giant weapons. Kings. Betrayal.

You’d think Kristofer Hivju—whom you know as Tormund Giantsbane (and your mom knows as the guy with the big orange beard from those hotel commercials)—would get enough of all that with his work on Game of Thrones, but in his new movie, The Last King, he had to deal with them all the same.

I talked with Hivju (it’s tough to type his name phonetically in English, but the “i” sound is like the word “it” and the “j” is silent–Hi-view) about The Last King, which is based on the true story of two men that rescued the last remaining heir to the throne of Norway, a baby, during civil war. Hivju plays Torstein, one of the two rescuers and one of the main characters of the film.

The film opens by telling us this is a true story, but being unfamiliar with the history of Norway I wanted to know just how important this event is to the country. “This is the history of Norway,” Hivju said, “Without him (the baby, Hakon) there is no Norway as we know it.” Though Hivju’s Torstein is very real, he said little is really known about the man beyond what he and Skjervald (the other rescuer) did in saving the child, which gave him some freedom to create the character, which he said ended up being far gentler than he originally envisioned.

While the story seems to be sacred to Norway in the same way stories of our Founding Fathers are to us, Hivju had something else in mind when asked what he wants viewers to come away with from the movie: “friendship.” That certainly comes across, as Torstein compassionately helps his friend Skjervald through his own issues even as they flee to bring the baby to safety.

And in its simplest description, that is plot of The Last King, a chase film—on skis. “We say we are vikings on skis,” Hivju told me, “Everybody skis.” That feels like an apt description when you watch him sloshing his way with his giant axe on his back in the movie.

(He said it’s more fun to play with a sword than an axe, because once you start swinging an axe you have to commit, though if you connect with an axe you can do some real damage.)

Going in I was worried, as a diehard Game of Thrones fan, that I would never be able to see past the big, bushy beard and Tormund, but that quickly disappeared, because not only is Torstein much calmer and sweeter than Tormund, Hivju’s performance made the character his own, which was helped by using his own voice, which is far different than the one he uses on Game of Thrones.

“Originally I used more of my own voice early on, but then one day I dropped it and everyone said ‘That’s Tormund.'” Hearing him go in and out of the two voices was way more dramatic than you’d imagine, but it was clear to see (hear) how he uses it to differentiate the two, even with all of the inherent similarities between the roles of big, strong, heroic warriors.

Don’t think he’d get rid of the beard to help do that, though. “It would be like you shaving your head, you’d be bald,” he told me. Fair enough. (If I could grow his beard I would.)

Besides, he was tasked with a job in this movie far more difficult than facing down White Walkers: acting with a baby. “The baby dictates the scene,” he said, “When the baby cries you have to respond to that.” There’s a wonderful scene with the two men in a small shack with the baby, where they try to entertain the child with a wooden horse, which Hivju said was improvised, the way you might really try to clam down a baby.

THE LAST KING, (aka BIRKEBEINERNE), front l-r: Kristofer Hivju, Ane Ulimoen Overli, 2016. ©Magnolia Pictures
Truly, appearances aside, Torstein is quite different from Tormund. Which also included the size of the role. “On Game of Thrones I’m a part of Jon Snow’s story, so I think about how I fit in to that, but here I am the lead,” he said, adding that it poses a different kind of challenge. (If you are curious, he said he hasn’t read the books, but he has read the Jon Snow and Castle Black chapters.)

What wasn’t different though was all that snow he had to shoot in. The Last King could have just as easily been filmed north of The Wall. “Eighty-five percent of the movies I’ve been in have been filmed in snow,” he said, “But right now I’m filming Fast 8 and it’s cold. I thought this was supposed to be a summer movie!” Well, at least he’s getting to play a villain in that movie.

I couldn’t let him go though without asking him one question about Tormund’s interest in Brienne, so I wanted to know what he thought the wildling might be able to do to get her interested in him. I don’t know if his plan would work, but I sure as hell know I want to see him try it.

“Dancing, maybe dancing.”

Only one way to find out. But you can also tell her how good you are with kids.

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The Last King is in now airing in select theaters, as well as On Demand, Amazon Video, and iTunes.

What other types of roles would you like to see Kristofer Hivju take on in the future? Tell us in the comments below.

Featured Image: HBO
The Last King Images: Newgrange Pictures

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