Mortal is a new fantasy action film from the Norwegian film director and screenwriter André Øvredal. The film has been years in the making and now it’s finally arriving this week. I recently got the chance to chat with André Øvredal via Zoom about his film, the logistics of that epic bridge scene, and adapting The Long Walk.
Sarah Musnicky: Hello!
André Øvredal: Hey. Nice to meet you.
Sarah Musnicky: To start things off, what inspired the idea behind Mortal?
André Øvredal: It was a wish to make a grounded take on the Thor mythology or the Northern mythology that was different than a Marvel spectacle. I mean, that’s amazing stuff but I wanted to make a Norwegian movie about it because it’s never been done. And then how do you do it? You have to go the opposite direction to that because we don’t have the resources in Norway to do that, to compete with that. So, it would be a small, intimate character study of a person who is lost in life meeting another person who is actually, in a way, lost in life and make it about that meeting and put it in a rural world that is far removed from New York and Paris.
Sarah Musnicky: It’s interesting that you mentioned the Marvel movies because the first thing that I thought was, as an American, I think most of us have only been exposed to that mythology because of the Marvel Movies. And I really appreciated how you tackled the mythos in this.
André Øvredal: The weird part is actually the Marvel movies are closer to mythology than this is. I had to turn it upside down to make it work.
Sarah Musnicky: Yeah, but I also think your interpretation has more of that humanesque quality that the pagan gods were more known for because the pagan gods were incredibly flawed compared to, you know, the monotheistic religions. So, I really appreciated the human, the “mortal” quality if you will.
André Øvredal: Yeah. That’s a good point. That’s a good point.
Sarah Musnicky: Speaking of the title of the film, because the film is about a god, I was wondering how you came about landing on the title Mortal?
André Øvredal: Well, it’s also about a human being. It’s about being human. It’s about what makes us human. And the contrast between trying to be a human and a god at the same time in a way made Mortal, being also a religiously toned word, just the right title. But I spent a lot of time figuring out what to call the movie. Months and months and months and I found this word and I was like, this is the movie to me.
Sarah Musnicky: I can totally relate. Making up the title is the hardest part of any writing creative process, so I feel you. [laughs]
André Øvredal: [laughs] Yeah. It was really tricky.
Sarah Musnicky: One of the most fascinating things for me in this film was seeing how people reacted to Eric, especially as the movie progressed. It also made me think about how would we as a global society react to a living god now. I was wondering if you could talk about that.
André Øvredal: No, I think that’s the core, big concepts of the movie and I’m trying to touch upon it without making it too big of an issue. But it is, how would religions respond to having actual evidence in a way of another God existing. It would be a slap in the face of most religions, I think because it would disprove their god and I think that’s, I don’t know. How that would play out in reality, you never know. It could go either way. They could not care. It could be a war of religions, between societies. Who knows?
Sarah Musnicky: There are a couple of scenes in this film that just looked logistically complicated. The helicopter scene, for one, and the bridge scene as well. What were those scenes like to coordinate and shoot?
André Øvredal: The helicopter scene was, we had to build a rig that was basically a skeleton of the interior of the helicopter and then we put it on a pivot thing that was, like, somebody was sitting and controlling that. And we were shooting inside and it was great fun. It was like a ride in a way in a controlled environment. So, that was easy comparatively.
The bridge sequence was the opposite. It was completely out in nowhere-land. There’s this stunning bridge that I had seen being built during the years 2013, ‘14 when I was actually writing the first draft of the script. I was driving past there, going back to see my parents, I had to take a ferry actually across the bridge wasn’t in operation. I was like, I have to put that scene. That middle scene has to go right there in the middle of that bridge. And we got the location manager who was able to talk the government into it somehow. I don’t know-how. And we closed down one lane and we kept the other one open and closed for 15 minutes at a time. In the middle of summer, where there are tourists everywhere, it created, it wrecked a bit of havoc on the traffic situation in the area.
We started shooting it at 3:30 in the morning when the light was up. Because it was in the middle of summer, the light comes up here in Norway at that time. It was an amazingly intense shoot for five days on that bridge.
Sarah Musnicky: Well, it certainly paid off. That scene is absolutely stellar to watch, especially with the fjords and everything.
André Øvredal: Yeah. It’s an amazing environment. It just goes into the mountainsides on both sides, like in the movie, but you really have to take a drive to really feel it.
Sarah Musnicky: In casting Eric, did you originally envision the character as an American?
André Øvredal: Yes. It was always an American to me because there are, I would say, 4 million Americans I think I read somewhere that all have Norweigan heritage. And that basically means that every Norweigan has family in the U.S. like him that come back every now and then to meet their ancestors or families. In addition to that being a natural aspect of the story for me, we also needed a person from the outside who would collide with these forces basically from where they end up. And, if he was simply a Norweigan, that would have happened at birth basically. So, it wouldn’t have worked.
Sarah Musnicky: In terms of casting, what was the casting process like for finding your Eric?
André Øvredal: With the Hollywood system, you start by going to an actor in the right age range who can work and we started making lists. And his name pops up. Nat’s name pops up. I knew him. He’s a great actor. He’s fun. He has charm. But he also, when I talked to him on Skype like this, which was the first time I met him, he also had this darkness about him. He also had that introverted side to him that came very naturally as part of the character. And that balance between boyish charm and darkness really worked for me. So, he was just spot on. And, as an actor, he was just great.
Sarah Musnicky: And, in finding Christine, did you guys initially do a chemistry test before deciding on a Christine? What was that like in figuring out that dynamic? Because they both have great chemistry onscreen.
André Øvredal: That’s good. I think that was due to the way that production worked and the fact that we were all kind of together and we became a close-knit group and they became friends. Because we didn’t really have an opportunity to do a chemistry read because he was on the other side of the planet. So, we just had to take a chance basically. But also knowing that you can, in a way, make that work because we’re all human. We all interact with each other and, if we like each other, it’s movie magic. [laughs] It’s simple stuff to a degree.
Sarah Musnicky: I apologize in advance because this is a stupid question. However, I have to ask this for my own curiosity. If you come across someone like Eric, how do you think you’d react?
André Øvredal: It depends. [laughs] It depends on the situation. I think if I came across somebody who was clearly dangerous like if I was one of the kids in that group at the beginning of the movie, you would step back away. But, if you realized that he’s a god if you’re on the other side of the movie…I don’t know. It would be fascinating to understand how that works. Yeah. No, it’s a very good question. It’s not a stupid question at all. No. No. It’s a very good question. It’s actually a very unique question. I haven’t heard it before.
Sarah Musnicky: Great. I’m just going to pat myself on the back for late night question generating.
André Øvredal: [laughs] I don’t know. It’s almost like everybody has to ask themselves that and I don’t have my answer either. Even if you answer it in a situation like this, your reaction would probably be different when you’re in the actual situation anyway.
Sarah Musnicky: Yeah. I was about to say, it’s kind of like how we watch horror movies and we go, “I would totally react differently. This person is just silly.” But then you are thrust into that situation and your brain just peters out. You don’t know how you’d realistically react anyway.
André Øvredal: I agree and I think that’s something I’m really fascinated with movies in general. And also, what drives all my movies is the fascination of how humans react to something supernatural. How they react to something that’s inconceivable in many ways, whether it’s a troll, like in my first movie, or whether it’s the power of a dead witch as in Jane Doe.
Sarah Musnicky: So, I’ve just been notified that we have time for one more question. So, I’m just going to quickly ask about The Long Walk. I know stuff sort of stalled out because of COVID-19, but I wanted to ask you how it feels to get to adapt something by Stephen King. Especially The Long Walk, it’s one of his, I think, one of the more notable works.
André Øvredal: It’s just an amazing honor and privilege and I can’t actually believe that it’s even a thing. You know, you grow up as we all do, out anywhere and you read his books, and you think he’s the greatest writer and you love his books. And, suddenly, one day you are sitting there and you have the responsibility to put one of those books on film. You can’t really relate to it. You just have to do the job in a way because that perspective of what you are actually doing is impossible to take in.
Sarah Musnicky: That’s how I felt when I heard that you had been tapped to do Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark because I grew up with those books. So, I was like, Oh my God I am excited for him, but I’m also scared for him. [laughs]
André Øvredal: [laughs] But it’s the same thing. It’s such a part of the culture and then it’s scary, but it’s exhilarating as well because you know it means something to so many people that what you do will actually mean something. And that’s invigorating.