With a brazen red beard, jolly chuckle and alluring eyebrow wiggle, Kristofer Hivju has been stealing scenes on “Game of Thrones” as the charming wildling Tormund Giantsbane. And this season, he’s become a shipping sensation, thanks to Tormund’s one-sided flirtation with the befuddled Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie).
However, on Friday, the Norwegian actor will bring his brawn, beard and bravado to another tale of swords, royalty and betrayal with “The Last King.”
The Norwegian historical epic tells the incredible tale of how the royal bloodline of Norway was preserved by two ski-strapped birkebeiner warriors. Huvju stars as Torstein Skevla, who rescued the slain king’s infant son Håkon Håkonsson by whisking the wee prince over mountains, down valleys and through bloody battles to safety. If you love “Game of Thrones,” imagine its brutal fight scenes on skis, and you’ll have a sense of the remarkable adventure “The Last King” offers. While there are no dragons, there’s plenty of action and intrigue — and warriors prevailing against impossible odds.
While on location for the much-anticipated “Fast 8,” Hivju spoke with SPINOFF about playing Charlize Theron’s henchman, the unique importance of “The Last King,” his hopes for the Tarmund/Brienne arc, and how “Game of Thrones” has allowed him to live out a childhood dream.
In addition, SPINOFF has been provided with an exclusive clip from “The Last King,” which can be seen below.
SPINOFF: As an American, this birkebeiner story was new to me. Is this historical tale very well known in Norway?
Kristofer: Hivju: Definitely. It’s like a paradigm change, because the whole future of Norway is based on that story. It was David against Goliath, and we won. We had the Danes against us, whose force was much bigger. And they had taken out our king. They were corrupted. There was a civil war. And our last hope was that small baby, the last king’s blood, you know? That was the only thing you could gather each population around. And he grew up to be one of the most important kings of Norwegian history [Haakon IV]. So, these are like comic figures and a comic story, you know?
So was part of the allure of making “The Last King,” bringing this story to life?
Yeah. It’s a funny thing because you Americans, you have a short history, but you have portrayed it so many times in movies. In Norway, we have the richest history of all! But we haven’t done much of it [in movies]. Like, we have so many Viking kings, so many stories, and sagas and stuff. But it’s seldom we dramatize it. So this is hopefully the start of a new era.
What was most important to you in your portrayal of Torstein?
Well, I studied the Vikings and the Viking kings. I’m used to understanding the mentality that they had. This is like a couple hundred years after the Vikings, so it’s just after the change. Christianity has taken root, and the difference is that Torstein and birkebeiner, they are fighting for something larger than themselves. The Vikings were fighting for gold and glory and power. But these people are fighting for the nation, for their king, for a cause. So I love that idea that you have the first root of ideals. It’s something unselfish. They fought for something much bigger than themselves. But still they are Viking-ish. It’s always interesting when people sacrifice their life for something else. And I love the idea of these two tough guys going on a trip with a small baby. We thought we were going to play two action heroes with a baby, but it ended up being two nannies on a skiing trip!
You joke, but the action scenes in this! I’d heard of warriors on skis before, but had never seen it in action. It’s striking. Can you tell me what shooting a battle scene done on skis is like?
They are dangerous. [Laughs.] Especially for the cameraman. He had to go on twin-tip skis, so he was riding backwards with the camera in his hands. And one day he just hit a tree and went boom! That was the stop for him. [Chuckles.] The budget on our movie is much lower than if you would do this in the U.S., and the only difference is you have to do more creative stunts yourself. Safety isn’t that important because safety is expensive. They say about Norwegians that we are born with skis on our feet, because when you’re like 2 years old you have to join your family out skiing. So, I’m used to skiing. But skiing on those old remade skis [for the film], they are different. Then with all that gear and a camera pointing at you — we did a lot of falling. A lot of falling. But you don’t see the falls. [Chuckles.]
How did the action scene shoots here compare to “Game of Thrones”?
Well, for me it was a new kind of weapon. In “Games” I have a sword, and here I have an ax. And an ax is difficult weapon to fight with because in the swing you can’t go back and defend yourself. It can be hard close. So it was fun to learn new weapons definitely. I love that stuff, the days I can just scream and fight. Then I can take out stress in me.
On this season of “Game of Thrones,” Tormund has been stealing the show with his flirtations with Brienne. Have you seen much of the fan response to this?
Well, I just joined Instagram, so suddenly I could get in touch. I can see everything that was happening. And a lot was happening! There’s so much fan art. It’s touching how much work people put in and how much they appreciate it and discuss it, and hope it’s going to happen. [Laughs.] So, I have enjoyed that. It was a fun thing to do, and it came up as a surprise for everyone. But you know, definitely, of course. Of course, Brienne is the perfect woman for Tormund. [Chuckles.]
What do you think makes them a perfect match?
Well, we don’t know what’s going to happen between them. For now, it’s just Tormund’s being in love, and she being not that interested. We’ll see what’s going to happen. The reason why this got so much attention is because nobody saw it coming. She doesn’t need a man. She doesn’t need a man in her life. She has a sword. She’s got fighting skills. But if she was going to have a man, that’d be the man!
It sounds like you’re describing the first act of a romantic comedy. And I’d be totally into this spinoff.
Yeah, yeah, yeah! Let’s make a spinoff series. That’s the perfect spin-off series.
There’s a fan theory that Tormund and Brienne might get married because in the books, a wildling and a woman from South of the Wall marry as a means of diplomacy. Is that something you could see happening?
To speak on behalf of Tormund: Hell yeah! [Laughs.] But we’ll see. We’ll see.
So you’re in the thick of shooting “Fast 8” right now.
Yes, I am. Yes.
And we know you’re playing a henchman to Charlize Theron’s villain. What can you tell us about your character?
He is bodyguard meets henchman, meets muscle, meets co-worker, meets very stranger for Cipher, Charlize’s character. He’s to make life as horrible as he can for Dom Torreto [Vin Diesel] and his gang. But I like him. I think he’s charming.
I mean he has a pretty great beard, so that’s a good start.
Yeah, funny that. Big beard.
A week ago on your Instagram you shared a video of you on your way to watch “Game of Thrones” with fans in an Atlanta bar. How did that turn out?
Well, that was an amazing night! My plan was to take footage and share it, but the whole thing was so intense. I had such a fantastic evening. When I came there wasn’t many people there, so I don’t think anyone noticed me. But it started to fill up, and I was sitting in the corner, just waiting for the show to start. And when my face appeared onscreen, there was a roar in that room that I had never heard before. When I was young, I always wanted to be a rock star. And that was a moment of “Maybe I am! Maybe I am! If not, I’m getting close.”
It was amazing to watch it like that, because it felt like watching a huge sports event. I’d watched it at home with my wife and some friends. But this crowd! When Rory [McCann], The Hound, came back to life, it was like a roar from deep in the forest. And when somebody said something funny it was a huge laugh. When Maisie [Williams] got stabbed, it was like, “Auuuuugh!” It was amazing. And when I left they were very sweet. They took some selfies with me. It was a great night. A great night.
“The Last King” arrives Friday in select theaters and on demand, Amazon Video and iTunes.
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