Rory Culkin chased “Lords of Chaos” for roughly five years. There was something about the story of the rise and bloody fall of Norwegian black metal icon Euronymous that the actor couldn’t shake. So he kept his dirty blonde hair long and kept frequent tabs on the long-gestating project, routinely calling his agent for updates.
“I was discouraged a lot and thinking, ‘Who’s going to put money into a movie about kids in face paint burning churches down and killing each other?'” said Culkin.
Finally, he gave up the hunt and got a haircut.
“Literally two weeks later I got the call saying we were going,” Culkin said with a chuckle.
After the waiting and false starts, “Lords of Chaos” has finally arrived at the Sundance Film Festival in all its gruesome, iconoclastic, decibel-shattering glory. Hours before its midnight premiere on Wednesday, Culkin, decked out in a red sweater and black jeans and nursing a water bottle, warned the finished film is not for the faint of heart.
That’s because Euronymous (real name: Øystein Aarseth) led a band of wouldbe Satanists, who painted their faces like KISS, celebrated death and destruction, and helped popularize a kind of music that’s devoid of lyricism and heavy on primal screaming. Their hellish personas were in stark contrast to their placid Scandinavian surroundings — in a country known for its stunning natural beauty and low crime rates, their idea of a good time was to torch churches. Euronymous’ time in the spotlight was short-lived, however. A dispute with fellow rocker Kristian Vikernes (“Brooklyn”s’ Emory Cohen), who went by the stage name Varg, ended when Euronymous was stabbed to death in the stairwell of his apartment building.
“Lords of Chaos” doesn’t stint on the savagery, and the murder scene is a particularly tough sit, but what drew Culkin to the project was a chance to humanize Euronymous and show this musical demigod’s vulnerable side. Despite his “burn everything” mythos, Culkin believes that the black metal star was sort of a poseur.
“Real metal heads and hipsters will get upset about this, but I think he just wanted to be famous,” said Culkin. “I’d like to think that he didn’t really believe a lot of the things he said. He was a good guitarist and great promoter. He was saying what the kids wanted to hear. I think he was preaching these things because he wanted to be Ozzy Osbourne.”
Culkin wasn’t a musician before he took the part, but he threw himself into researching the role and took lessons on the guitar from various black metal artists. It took a lot of effort and some bloody fingers to get it right.
“The first lesson I took was in Brooklyn,” remembers Culkin. “With black metal they’re moving so fast, they’re thrashing, and I’m trying to tell him slow down. Just slow down. At the end of the lesson he goes, ‘Why did they hire you?'”
Making the movie also required embracing a musical genre that Culkin admits he didn’t particularly enjoy.
“I’m more of a Jefferson Airplane or Zeppelin kind of guy,” said Culkin. “It’s pretty rough music. It took me awhile, but once I could get past the screaming and actually hear what they’re saying, I could see the beauty in it. It’s beautiful even though they’re saying things like ‘chainsaw gut f—.'”
Culkin grew up in an acting family. Brother Macaulay Culkin became a global superstar with “Home Alone,” while another brother Kieran Culkin nabbed a Golden Globe nomination for his work in “Igby Goes Down.” Rory, the baby in the family, has been making movies since appearing in 2000’s “You Can Count on Me” at the age of 10. In a career that includes stints in major studio films such as “Signs” and “Scream 4” and critically acclaimed indies like “Gabriel,” Culkin says “Lords of Chaos” was his most fulfilling experience. He was so taken with the project that he tried to convince the financiers to turn the two-hour film into a mini-series and was crushed when cameras stopped rolling.
“The only negative I can take away from this film is that I may never get this again,” said Culkin. “This is just the pinnacle. This is peak Rory.”
Eventually, Culkin is eyeing a move behind the camera, but he wants to produce more movies before he directs. “Lords of Chaos” marks his first producing credit and the experience was novel for the actor.
“There was this huge ensemble and for first time, I felt like I’m the leader here,” said Culkin. “These other actors were looking up to me and asking me for advice. I’d never experienced it before. I’m always the one looking up to other actors.”
He’s also aware that “Lords of Chaos” is being greeted with some wariness by parts of the black metal community who fear that Hollywood will sanitize Euronymous. Culkin hopes that skeptics will give the film a chance.
“If it sucks, the movie will get buried,” he said. “If it works, maybe they’ll enjoy it.”