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Q&A: Ryan Kwanten talks “NORTHMEN”, “DEAD SILENCE” and more…

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Ask a diehard action adventure fan to name a modern day actor they’d like to see cast as a bloodletting, philosophizing warrior-monk in an ultraviolent Viking buddy flick, chances are Ryan Kwanten wouldn’t be the first, second, third, or even tenth name to come up. And yet… the TRUE BLOOD/DEAD SILENCE star imbues the role of Conall in NORTHMEN—A VIKING SAGA with such authenticity, vim, and vigor, the choice in retrospect can only be called inspired.

Which is to say, yes, Kwanten proves himself able to pull off fight sequences badass enough to strike monk-fear into the hearts of any and all diabolical individuals amongst the audience. Yet his performance is also nuanced enough that he does not appear campy or ridiculous in the film’s (somewhat) quieter moments, bringing a bit of necessary gravitas to the Christian-versus-pagan debates that add substance and nuance to the history of the ninth century time period NORTHMEN strives to portray.

“While not quite monk status, I do think I have a centered approach to life,” Kwanten replies when FANGORIA asks what similarities his real world self might share with the man of God he portrays. “It takes a lot to ruffle my feathers.” We decided to put that boast to the test via a conversation that hit on everything from temporary monkhood and Viking playlists to mourning Jason Stackhouse and Donnie Whalberg’s “genuine fear of puppets.”

FANGORIA: Conall sort of embodies one of the major thematic hinges of NORTHMEN—basically, things are not always what they appear—and just seems like such a fun, unique, multidimensional role to dive into.

RYAN KWANTEN: It was a surprising offer to receive—and yes, also the kind of role that you could easily make a snap judgment at and be wickedly wrong. There is a mystery to watching and playing someone like this and it was a huge draw for me to play the line of monk and warrior and then put him in the wake of these desperate Vikings.

FANGORIA: When we spoke previously you noted a film about Vikings could easily be mocked if not done right. Was that something that drove you to up your game for NORTHMEN?

KWANTEN: We—cast and crew—were stone cold obsessed with making this a hard-hitting exploration of this genre. We wanted to push the limits and see just what this genre was capable of.

FANGORIA: Were there any particular cinematic touchstones you looked to for inspiration in doing so?

KWANTEN: A bunch. The Vikings and myself had several movie viewing nights where we watched films like VALHALLA. Also Sean Connery’s performance in THE NAME OF THE ROSE was a reference point.

FANGORIA: You did your own stunt work, right? Were there any moments during the actual shoot where you thought to yourself, “What have I gotten myself into?”

KWANTEN: [Yes.] It’s always great to step outside of the comfort zone and challenge yourself and this gave me that in spades. There were a couple moments that got a bit hairy, but I’m a guy that likes getting his hands dirty.

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FANGORIA: It must be interesting to have a job where part of the gig is training to do cool stuff like handle medieval weapons, no?

KWANTEN: It still makes smile to think that I’m really just making a living playing pretend. The skills I’ve picked up from characters that I’ve played probably have no real use in everyday life but are very cool. And in this case with Conall, his staff fighting was very much a deep-rooted part of who he was.

FANGORIA: As a fan of these kinds of adventure films, was it surreal at all when you showed up on set and hit wardrobe, and got immersed in this Viking milieu?

KWANTEN: It was a trip to see the Vikings or The Wolves charging at me in their full get-up, weapons raised and war cries belting out—an electricity runs through you.

FANGORIA: I imagine shooting an action-filled flick like this set in a time before modern comforts must have presented some challenges. Did a one-for-all-all-for-one camaraderie form amongst the cast?

KWANTEN: Making films requires a sense of trust and respect from top to bottom. NORTHMEN was no exception. We bruised and bonded together.

FANGORIA: I see Popsugar posted a pool party playlist from you. Do you have a fighting-monk/Viking playlist?

KWANTEN: I was listening to a lot of Trentmoller at the time. Also Gesaffelstein. And shooting in South Africa there was such rich and eclectic local talent with a primitive feel that really seemed to work well with our film.

FANGORIA: DEAD SILENCE seems to be undergoing a reevaluation even amongst critics who were not kind upon is release. Is it gratifying to see that film continue to live on and grow its audience eight years on?

KWANTEN: I thought DEAD SILENCE was buried! So it’s satisfying to see it garner some attention. That’s what I love about genre filmmaking—the hardcore audience, and there are a lot of us, can operate under its own banner of success completely independent of critical or box office success.

FANGORIA: Do you have any particular memories from the shoot?

KWANTEN: I remember James’ meticulousness and how he really takes pleasure in the crafting of the tension of the scene. I remember loving working with Donnie [Wahlberg] and how he had a genuine fear of puppets. Go figure, huh?

FANGORIA: We’re a year removed from the end of TRUE BLOOD. Has that time away given you any perspective on the show and its influence?

KWANTEN: TRUE BLOOD provided some of the best working years of my life and has changed it immeasurably. I was nostalgic in the second season so to have sustained an audience on HBO for seven seasons was and still is something that I will be forever grateful for.

NORTHMEN – A VIKING SAGA is now in select theaters and on VOD.

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About the author
Shawn Macomber http://www.stopshawnmacomber.com
The ravings of noted South Florida pug wrangler Shawn Macomber have appeared in Decibel, Magnet, Reason, Maxim, Radar, Shroud, and the Wall Street Journal, amongst other fine and middling publications. He also hosts the podcast Into the Depths and pens the metal-lit column Tales From the Metalnomicon for Decibel magazine.
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