The team behind Netflix’s “Against the Ice” – which screened this week at the Berlin Film Festival – had to battle punishing weather conditions and freezing cold, as well as star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, when shooting in Greenland.
“It was quite challenging, working with Nikolaj. Apart from that, it was alright,” joked actor Joe Cole during the Berlin press conference. “My character is quite different from me. He is relentlessly positive, upbeat, excited to be around this ‘celebrity.’ He is in awe of Nikolaj. Can’t say the same.”
Inspired by a 1909 exhibition led to disprove U.S. claims to northeastern Greenland, the film sees Cole as Iver P. Iversen, an inexperienced mechanic who joins Danish explorer Ejnar Mikkelsen (Coster-Waldau) on his journey. Later, he becomes his only companion after their crew leaves them behind.
“We were sure we wanted to shoot on location,” added Coster-Waldau. “First of all, it looks much better, but also for selfish reasons. It’s just easier for an actor.” The “Game of Thrones” alumnus also co-wrote the script with Joe Derrick and co-produced the film alongside acclaimed Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormákur.
“There is something about going to places no one has ever been in. That’s very human – we are just curious beings. If there is something behind a closed door, we want to see it,” he said.
Starring another “Game of Thrones” favorite, Charles Dance, the film was directed by Denmark’s Peter Flinth, who collaborated with Coster-Waldau on a short “Requiem” back in 1991 – the actor’s very first on-screen appearance. Later, they reunited on “Nightwatch,” with Flinth serving as the film’s assistant director.
“[Mikkelsen] was so determined to fulfil the mission and bring the results back to Denmark. I was interested in what drives an explorer and what happens when two very different people get together under such extreme conditions,” said Flinth, who decided to follow in the footsteps of the expedition with DP Torben Forsberg. “It was an eye-opener. The hut they built from the shipwreck is still there after 110 years!”
The pandemic made their predicament even more universal: “It’s like a contradiction, because they are stuck in a very small space out in the middle of nowhere. When COVID-19 caught up with us, it became much more relevant.”
“These guys survived because of each other, because of their friendship. Mikkelsen thought he could do everything on his own, but of course he couldn’t. He needed Iver. That’s the simple beauty of this story,” added Coster-Waldau, calling the pandemic “a blessing in disguise” and praising their local “super crews.” “We were all together, all the time. Which was just fantastic.”
“It was a dream for every producer,” agreed Kormákur. “You keep everyone in a hotel at all times, they can’t go home, they can’t go to the city and they can’t get drunk.”
The team also mentioned an old postcard that caused the only significant rift between the isolated duo, jealous of the women depicted on it.
“We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of 20 women on that postcard. These two guys would make up stories about them, so they deserve a special thanks,” said Flinth.
“That’s what we do, isn’t it? We constantly make up stories,” added Coster-Waldau. “In Mikkelsen’s book it’s just a short paragraph, but he described how they fell in love with these women, how they became real to them. That was the one time when they had a falling out.”
The ever-changing dynamic between the two men, trying their best to survive, was what attracted Cole to the role.
“I actually hugely respect Nikolaj as an actor, so there were elements of truth I could bring to this. I came in quite last-minute and I said to Peter: ‘I feel underprepared.’ He went: ‘That’s absolutely perfect.’ This guy, Iver, is not an explorer – it’s about two people helping each other out. There are times when he is leading me and then there are moments when he is losing his mind. And my character has to step up.”
“I have done quite difficult travels in my life and it always surprises me who becomes strong under such circumstances,” observed Kormákur. “It’s not the loud guy, it’s not the macho. When I was doing ‘Everest,’ it wasn’t the actors I expected. It was the others, shy and nervous, who pulled through really nicely.”