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Headhunters – Aksel Hennie interview


Interview by Rob Carnevale

AKSEL Hennie talks about the appeal of playing someone like Roger Brown in the film version of Jo Nesbo’s Headhunters and why he loved the film’s physical element, despite being dropped in some unsavoury positions.

He also talks about the film’s success internationally and what it means for his career and why it’s a great time to be Aksel Hennie.

Q. What was the initial appeal of playing Roger Brown? I gather you didn’t like him when you read the first few pages of the script?
Aksel Hennie: After four or five pages I hated him! I really hated his guts. He steals, cheats and… but after six pages, when he starts to get problems, he started to get human and I began to like him at first and then I loved him and rooted for him, and then I wanted to be like him when the movie was done. And that’s how a good protagonist should be.

Q. Was he a difficult character to find initially?
Aksel Hennie: I mean, I got great help from Jo Nesbo’s book. It’s there. His inner voice is there, so he’s easily understood. Jo writes in a very understandable way. The most challenging thing when it comes to finding the character is trying to find out who he is when he’s not him… he has this inner core that’s small. He’s an alpha dog that really underneath is a poodle. He’s a poodle wanting to be an alpha dog and lying… a lying poodle. But when he starts to dress up differently and act differently suddenly he becomes this aggressor. So, it was about trying to find what his arc is, what his process is and how he works. How does he look and feel? That’s what’s challenging because his arc is so intense and so twisted. Basically, it’s been fun. It’s just a positive, positive experience.

Q. Had you read the book prior to getting cast as Roger?
Aksel Hennie: No I hadn’t. I’d seen a TV advert when it came out and when I saw that it was formed and made as a movie trailer and I was like: “No! Why aren’t I involved in this project?!” And then I realised it was a book and seven years later I was involved. But I didn’t read it until I read the script.

Q. Have you read any of Jo’s novels?
Aksel Hennie: Yeah, I love his writing. It’s cool. He’s a personal friend of mine as well so I have to read his things [laughs]! I feel obligated to.

Q. Did you liaise with him about bringing Roger to the screen? How involved was he in the whole process?
Aksel Hennie: Jo is the most supporting guy ever in the way that he gave us total freedom. Every question that I asked him was answered with: “Aksel, do as you please and I will be pleased.” So, I did and he was pleased. To have that confidence as a writer to say ‘go and do whatever you want with my stuff it will be good’… for me, I don’t know if I’d be that tough. But he’s supported us all the way… stood behind us being there when we’ve had questions. But more or less, he’s been a generous friend who has cheered all the way to the premiere.

Q. What kind of questions did you ask him?
Aksel Hennie: I asked him all kinds of small questions but he’d respond with things like: “I don’t know [why he does that], it’s just the way he is!” He has this character in his head but he always said: “Aksel, you’re the actor. I’m the writer. Just do him. He’s there.” And that’s the way I felt as well. I felt he was in the book. I love analysing scripts and books and just going through the script together with [director] Morten Tyldum made it easy to find him because he was there. The inner thoughts are what you look for in a script and they were there in the book.

Q. You mentioned being gutted about seeing the trailer for the book and thinking you’d missed out on the film, so how relieved were you when your friend, Morten, was named director?
Aksel Hennie: I didn’t find out until he called me. I didn’t know about it. But then he called me and said: “Aksel, I have our project!” Morten has been a tremendously important guy in my career. We’ve followed each other’s careers all the way, from my first short, my first feature to Headhunters. So, we’ve followed each other all the way up and after Buddy we’ve been looking for a project together and there it was. So, he was like: “Do you want to do it?” And I was like: “Yeah! Can I read the script first? But yeah!” I just wanted to work with Morten and the fact it was the first Jo Nesbo was, of course, enough to just say yes. All aspects of the project were fantastic, so there was never any doubt in my mind.


Q. How did you take to the physicality of the shoot? Roger is put through the ringer, so was it tough physically?
Aksel Hennie: I love physical acting. As long as I can, I do my own stunts, which means in this film all of them! But I love it. Jo writes very physical. He writes very explicit. And for an actor that’s so much fun. I almost broke my collar bone in the fight with Lotte. I went over the kitchen thing and almost broke it. But it just gives energy to the scene, so it was good [laughs]. And it self-healed!

Q. How did you approach the day you had to get dropped in the shit, literally?
Aksel Hennie: In Norway, when people read the book that’s the only thing they’re talking about… that specific scene. And then people kept saying: “Aksel, you’re going to play Roger Brown in Headhunters?”; “Yeah!”; “Ah, you’re going down into the shit!” So, everybody was waiting for that scene. On one of the days we shot it – and we shot it numerous times from all kinds of angles – but all the press you could imagine from Norway was there. But it was still fun. It’s just a mix of granola, olive oil, breadcrumbs, chocolate mousse, chocolate soufflé, chocolate, chocolate, chocolate and then a lot of coffee, which led to my girlfriend drinking coffee for one year afterwards. I came to bed every night smelling like a cafe! But it was fun. It was cold. I think we shot in November and I was always wet with blood or shit or water and I was running into woods a lot. So, I was really, really, really cold for a lot of the shooting period. But it’s been a fun journey and I think you can see in the movie that we had a bunch of fun. I feel the movie has an infectious energy.

Q. It’s a great time for Scandinavian cinema and this will keep it in the international spotlight…
Aksel Hennie: It’s a momentum. Right now, I’m getting so many…. the buzz is great. To be me in LA right now is good. I’ve just got management, a talent agency and people seem to love the movie. Mark Wahlberg just came out and said: “I love Headhunters. I want to remake it!” Well, that helps. It’s cool. Mark Wahlberg… he’s one of my idols and I love him. But most importantly, the film is getting to travel. I do this for an audience. All the movies that I participate in are movies that I would like to see for myself. It’s basically how I choose movie roles. Would I like to see this movie? Is this movie important? Why would I do this? And Headhunters is a movie that I would like to see in the cinema. And when it’s sold to 50 countries or whatever, for me it’s a great deal. I make movies for an audience so if that audience grows, I feel really honoured and thankful for it.

Q. Have you had any offers from America? And would you go?
Aksel Hennie: I would love to go! I mean it’s a bunch of people I would love to work with. But I’d love to work in England too. I would love to work in international movies just because the talent all around the world is great. There’s a lot of good talent and the audience base is bigger. Norway is a small country, so if I can be able to tell my stories to a broader audience, that’s great. It’s more a dream than a goal.

Q. You’ve written and directed a film, Uno, so is that something you’d like to do more of?
Aksel Hennie: Right now I’m concentrating on the acting bit and that’s been enough to concentrate on. But I’m writing and one of these days I’m going to direct again. But as a director, I feel like you have a bigger responsibility towards the audience and I want to be totally sure of what I’ve written before I try to go out there and steal someone’s 90 minutes!

Q. Is it easier for European actors to get roles in America and England?
Aksel Hennie: Yeah, the world is getting smaller and smaller and that helps a lot. It’s already proven. You have Joel Kinnaman, Alexander Skarsgard, Stellan Skarsgard, all the Skarsgards [laughs], and then you have a bunch of European actors… people coming from England – all the good ones are coming from England.

Q. What was it like having a film critic as a co-star? Did you give Synnove [Macody Lund, who plays your wife Diana] a bit of a tease?
Aksel Hennie: You know what, when I read the script Synnove was the first one I had in mind. We tested all the actresses in Norway and then I said to Morten: “I know this girl. She works as a film critic.” He said he knew of her and asked whether she’d reviewed his movies. He said: “Were they good reviews?” I said: “Yeah.” So, he said: “Cool, try her!” And she was reluctant at first. She didn’t know if she wanted to do it. But she came in better prepared than any of the actresses and nailed it. She was so good to work with. She was totally professional. You couldn’t say that she was an amateur at all because she was so into it and we just helped each other like fellow actors and actresses should do. So, I didn’t give her a hard time. I love her. I think she’s beautiful in all kinds of easy. She’s obviously stunning but she can act as well and she’s a good mother, person and friend.

Synnøve Macody Lund and Aksel Hennie

Q. How much of you is in Roger Brown? Are there similarities between the two of you?
Aksel Hennie: My personal view on that question is always… there is always a similarity in all the characters. If you’re sitting in the cinema watching Roger Brown thinking that he’s something else than you, then you have a problem because then you’re like him. We’re not that different, I feel. Roger Brown is a guy who suffers from low self-esteem. Who hasn’t got that? Everyone of us wakes up in the morning, goes to the bathroom, looks in the mirror and asks: “Who am I? Who am I today? Do I feel good enough? Do I feel big enough? Do I feel sexy enough?” Some days, the answer is ‘yes’ but sometimes it’s not. He’s of course like this intense, complex guy that has our small complexes times 140. But still yes I can see myself having low self esteem and I can see myself lying to be liked.

But hopefully and luckily we’re able to see that in most of us and we have films that can show that to us so that we can lead good lives. To me, the headline of Headhunters was Roger Brown’s journey towards honesty. It’s important. Be honest with the people you love. Headhunters is a popcorn flick – you can laugh and shout and do whatever you want having great fun. But at the bottom of it all there’s this theme of being honest to the people you love. I want to be that. And if Headhunters is one of the movies that help me realise that, then that’s perfect.

Q. You mention the self-esteem and confidence that comes with image, so is that magnified for an actor, who has to deal with the highs and lows of an industry that always requires you to be on the lookout for the next job?
Aksel Hennie: Hopefully and luckily you experience that so many times that it almost goes without noticing. Of course… but not just as an actor, but as human beings. We always get rejections, whether it’s in love or anything in life. And then negativity tends to creep in. But hopefully we are honest towards the people around us so that we can conquer it.

Read our review of Headhunters