Axes and Alliences

Tough Stig Henrik Hoff as a Naziofficer. Downtown Abbey-actor Lachlan Nieboer as an aristocratic British fighter pilot. We’ve met the actors from the war drama Into the White.

Tough battles were fought for our strategically important country after the occupation of Norway April 9 1940. Enlisted men and volunteers held out against the force of invasion longer than any other country (except the Soviet Union), helped by British and French military efforts. The military actions in Britain, known as The Norwegian Campaign, involved actual air battles that the German and British planes fought in order to gain access to Norwegian iron ore and a coastline which was excellent for military purposes.

During one of these battles, two enemy planes shot each other down. Three German and two British soldiers were among the survivors who sought refuge together in a primitive cabin in the Norwegian wilderness. The story inspired director Petter Næss (Elling, Tatt av kvinnen, Bare Bea) and the Scandinavian production company Zentropa to make a wintery chamber drama.

Into the White is not a historical reenactment of what happened April 27 1940, but an adaptation. Næss and the actors have been in close contact with Horst Schopis, bomber and Lieutenant during the Second World War. Schopis, who died in August of last year, was really shot down near Grotli and he and his company spent a few hours with the survivors from a British plane in a simple hunting cabin on the snowy Nowegian plains. Thus the foundations has been laid for a warlike, masculine chamber drama where politics must succumb to personal considerations. Of course not without friction and conflict.

Silent vs. Arrogant
The most important parts are covered by Florian Lukas (Goodbye Lenin), David Kross (War Horse), Rupert Grint (Harry Potter series), Lachlan Niboer (Downtown Abbey) and our domestic Hollywood actor Stig Henrik Hoff (The Thing). We grabbed a meeting with the latter two and just had to ask:

- How close to reality is the story in the film?
Lachlan: The meeting between the German and the British soldiers was shorter in real life.
Stig Henrik: The beginning and the end of the film correspond with what happened in 1940. But they only spent half a day in the cabin. The fact that the film is based on historical events makes people pay attention, and as an actor it’s nice to have some frames to relate to.

Filmmagasinet: Tell us a bit about your characters!
Lachlan: I play Captain Davenport. In real life his name was Partridge, but we decided to not use his real name. His family didn’t want to have that kind of connection to the film, respectively. We drifted a bit away from the actual story and made Davenport and upper-class Brit. He is a leader. Some would probably call him patronizing, maybe also arrogant. He probably doesn’t think that himself. In the film, he is then forced together with the enemy.
Stig Henrik: I play Wolfgang Strunk, a German navigator and Sergant. He grew up in a German industrial family; they own a factory with two thousand employees. He’s going to inherit the company, but he is not that enthusiastic about it. The film shows how Rupert Grint’s character inspires him to figure out what he really wants.
He starts to draw, he’s an aspiring artist, knows how to draw and constantly doodles small sketches that Gunner Robin Smith (Rupert) sees and thinks are fantastically well done.
He’s a silent type of guy who doesn’t like small talk. Doesn’t answer, there’s a lot he doesn’t consider that interesting. He’s neither stupid nor deaf, but is indifferent towards what he considers empty talk.

Filmmagasinet: What did the characters require in terms body language and that kind of stuff. Did people move differently seventy years ago?
Lachlan: That’s an interesting question. I’ve played a soldier before, in the TV-show Downtown Abbey. Of course, he was in the First World War. But you have to ask yourself: What did these people do differently than people today. Are there any differences at all? They were just as relaxed as us in their body language, they didn’t move with this military precision you often see in films.
Stig Henrik: They were more physical at the same time. Used to using their bodies. When I build up a character, I always start with the shoes. If you walk with sneakers with air cushions and stuff you get a light and flexible walk. With leather soles, your walk and posture get harder, you get more strength somehow. Here we walked around in huge flight suits with thick uniforms underneath. Clothes meant for 70-80 minus degrees, which was often the case in planes without heating. We wore the original uniforms, with the belt around our stomach and not around the hip as we do today. The clothes, and walking around in heavy snow adds a lot to the characters. But they were really horrible to wear in a warm studio.

Troubling Easter weather

Filmmagasinet: How horrible was filming on Grotli in general?
Lachlan:
The worst part was when it was snowing when we needed sun and dry weather. And vice versa. We tried to play god with wind machines and fake snow. But it resulted in too much waiting around. We hung around, had a smoke, drank some coffee.
Stig Henrik: And then the wind kept changing direction and we had to turn the wind and snow machines around. They’re the size of a helicopter. That led to an incredibly tight schedule, with four times as much shooting in a day than usual. It was pretty intense.

Filmmagasinet: How long did you stay there?
Lachlan:
For three weeks…
Stig Henrik: Three HEAVY weeks. The Norwegian Easter weather changed between extreme cold and warm and sweating. It was also physically tough. I went around with a sleigh…
Lachlan: I was worn out after every single day of filming. Luckily I had Stig Henrik to hang out with…

Filmmagasinet: What was the atmosphere like between takes?
Lachlan:
Everybody hated each other and then we went to bed. Hahahaha. No, we had a great time. We had some drinks and stayed up. Grotli Hotel is a beautiful place, and they took great care of us. And then we went skiing and snowboarding and stuff like that.

Bog Soup
Now, almost a year after filming, Filmmagasinet and the two actors sit in the lobby of a rather impersonal and charmless entertainment establishment. The early afternoon has darkened already. But the atmosphere is not bad at all. Lachlan Nieboer has aristocratic curly hair, a bit more modernly scattered than in the film. Closefitting clothes in wool, a white open shirt. Stig Henrik is rocking a mixture of biker and handyman. Boots, leather pants, hooded sweater and a biker jacket that he obviously doesn’t use inside. The actors drink coffee and coke and praise director Næss, who is talked about as generous and precise, as a person who knows what he wants, someone who cares about the actors, maybe because he’s an actor himself. Someone who listens and takes advice, and offers clear answers to whether he likes it or not. Stig Henrik and Lachlan tells us about how they played out the scenes from the script like theatre in front of the crew before filming. A mood creating method.
Lachlan: It does a lot to your energy.
Stig Henrik: And it shows how you are in the film even though the camera isn’t on you. I even ate bloody bog soup between takes. I didn’t even think about it! Hahaha!

Language confussion
Stig Henrik learned German to get his role, while Lachlan went a long way to play his:
Stig Henrik: I like the aggressive way you express yourself in German. The big challenge was talking English with a German accent. “Ez iz izi zo zound morze French zan zerman”, hehehe. I have a lot of scenes with Rupert where I just speak English.
Lachlan: Rupert decided to speak with a Liverpool dialect. I chose a cool, cocky way to talk…
Stig Henrik: Camp, to say it bluntly.
Lachlan: I tried to push it as far as I could without making it ridiculous.

And with a Norwegian director and actors from Britain, Germany and Norway, it created a bit confusion on set.
Stig Henrik: By the end, everybody switched to English.

Filmmagasinet: It sounds like a nice, but pretty intense shoot.
Lachlan:
It was fun and worth the effort. This was a role I REALLY wanted. When I met Petter Næss for the first time I had learned all the lines and created my own Captain Davenport. In fact, I was a bit unsure whether Petter understood who he met, me or the character. We acted the scenes together and the part was mine.

Nature
Time to get a little philosophical. Like in the Oscar nominated Joyeux Noël from 2005, Into the White is about people underneath the uniforms, about soldiers that meet face to face while serious international war politics hover in the background. What does the film tell us about people and war?
Stig Henrik: We live in an unstable world. Take July 22. We have an asshole in Norway, assholes all over the world. The film is about how you meet the enemy. For example, I’m damn tough when I’m driving my car. I swear and yell at people. But when I go outside my metal shell I become more humble and human. In the film, two planes shoot at each other without thinking about the fact that there are people inside the hulls. You don’t picture suffering, pain and death. But when you meet the people inside something amazing happens. You turn out to be people with common goals. You take care of each other.
Lachlan: Haha! You said it. It’s about conflict and solution, like everything else in life. You need friction and conflict to move on. If you see it that way, the film is quite philosophical. And then nature plays a critical role. After all, that’s what we’re fighting against.

Translation by Malene.

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