Refn directs one of most expensive Danish films

INVERNESS, Scotland — In a remote Scottish forest, far away from any trace of civilization, one of the most expensive Danish films ever is being made.

Viking epic “Valhalla Rising” is helmed by Nicolas Winding Refn and stars Mads Mikkelsen of “Casino Royale” fame. The script was written by famed Norwegian author Roy Jacobsen, from an original idea by him and Refn. The $7 million production was skedded to wrap last week after two months of intense shooting in often grueling circumstances.

“The first two weeks, we shot on a mountaintop where it was below zero in the mornings, where there was constant rain and wind and where I had to act half naked. I was sure I was gonna die,” Mikkelsen told Variety.

“Valhalla Rising” is a Danish/French/British co-production, with Danish Nimbus Film producing for Danish Scanbox and with Scottish Screen, Vertical and Wild Side as some of the co-producing companies. Wild Bunch has signed on to sell the film, which is planned to open throughout Scandinavia this time next year. Shot in English, with an all-British cast apart from Mikkelsen, the pic is meant to appeal to auds beyond Denmark.

“This is a genre that (Refn) knows, and we think the film has a great international potential. Not as a blockbuster, but as a fine arthouse film, which will make money,” says the pic’s executive producer Mads Peder Ole Olsen of Scanbox.

The action is set 1,000 years ago, and the Scottish forests and mountaintops are stand-ins for Newfoundland, where most of the story takes place.

Refn had local hits with action pics “Pusher” and “Bleeder,” both starring Mikkelsen, but almost went into bankruptcy after his U.S.-shot “Fear X” flopped. After having made two more “Pusher” films, he dissolved his earlier production company to make the dream project “Valhalla Rising.” Shooting the film entirely on location and in often severe weather, has been an advantage, he says.

“It has an effect on the actors. It pushes them,” Refn says. “I have also shot the whole film in chronological order, so we have had to accept the weather as it’s been. There is one scene where you can see it turning from sun into a rainstorm.”

Mikkelsen plays a one-eyed, mute, escaped slave who joins the Vikings on their way to what turns out to be America. Early footage appears quite violent, but Refn says the prelude to violence interests him more than depicting the actual violence.

At the remote hotel near the shoot, Refn has spent evenings writing drafts for two more films for the popular “Pusher” franchise about a tough drug dealer, one to be shot in Miami, one in Bangkok.

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