André Øvredal cut his directing teeth on commercials and shorts. Now he’s making his mark on the international moviemaking map with his first feature film, Troll Hunter.
Written and directed by Øvredal, Troll Hunter follows a trio of student filmmakers and a mysterious poacher as they expose a top-secret cover-up by the Norwegian government.
Here, Øvredal chats to freelance film journalist Jan Gilbert (www.jangilbert.co.uk) about the inspiration behind his creations, troll hunting tours, and the Norwegian Prime Minister’s appearance in the film.
Q. Where did the inspiration for the different types of trolls you depict in the film come from?
Øvredal: I had to create my own mythology because in the books [The Fairy Tales of Asbjørnsen and Moe], there isn’t a mythology. They’re just stories about trolls, and they don’t really follow a common pattern. There’s no common mythology.
The names for the trolls… Tosserlad, Ringlefinch, Mountain Kings… I created myself. The way they look is based on the original drawings from the 18th century that accompany our fairytale book. That was the most important thing to me, to make sure that the Norwegian audience, who the movie was made for originally, recognised the way the trolls look.
And then we played around with everything else – we created a mythology, made them into animals more than human-type creatures. They can actually smell Christian blood, it’s not just something they say they can do like in the fairytales. Here I take that and make it into a little joke that they actually do, so I can utilise their big noses for something sensible!
Q. I read that you, and the artists who designed the trolls with you, got inspiration from the look of old people in their 70s and 80s as well…
Øvredal: I think mostly that was the effects guy… he was really doing so much research on that kind of thing to be able to build a character. I wanted the trolls to feel really old, a 1000 years old, and he did tons and tons of research about how to create an old body with lots of muscle.
He looked at, for example, older male bodybuilders who were bodybuilders when they were young. And he used that kind of understanding, the way the skin and body looks when it gets older when you have that kind of build. So he put that into the design of the trolls.
Q. What made you revisit these children’s stories now as an adult?
Øvredal: I wanted to make a film about something amazing. I’m a big fan of films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Jurassic Park, and the trolls could be part of a movie in that category. And I wanted to make that kind of movie if I could.
And the trolls haven’t really been utilised for anything but souvenirs for a long time in Norway. So for me it was a goldmine realising that if I shot it as a documentary and got the best producer in Norway in on it, I could actually get to make this film and it could really revitalise a lost, cultural icon of Norway, as I saw it.
And I loved the trolls from my childhood, reading all the fairytales, and I especially loved the drawings, almost more than the fairytales themselves. Just a few years ago, before I started working on this film, I had some of these drawings hanging on my wall, just because I enjoy them.
The trolls have been part of Norway since the Viking era. At some point I guess there must have been a belief in trolls, that they were as real as the Northern gods, and they were used to frighten children into not doing things they shouldn’t be doing. But also they’re part of a general everyday mythology.
Q. Were you frightened of them as a child?
Øvredal: I don’t know if I was so much frightened as I was amused or enjoyed hearing about them, and then reading about them as I got older.
Q. Do you think people will be coming to Norway on troll hunting missions now?
Øvredal: I really hope somebody starts a troll hunting tour in the area where we shot the final part of the film. That would be great fun! I hope our tourist industry is able to jump on the bandwagon, but I’m not sure how they think! But I do hear from a lot of people abroad that they think the film does show Norway in a very beautiful way.
Q. I really like the political conspiracy element you bring into the film, the government cover-up of trolls. It’s done in quite a comical way as well with the film’s epilogue. How did that come about?
Øvredal: The government conspiracy was actually something the producer suggested I consider, and I thought it sounded like fun so we did it! Also, it’s fun to poke fun at the government. It works in every culture! But in real life, the Prime Minister doesn’t actually speak about trolls, he speaks about an oil field [off the coast of Norway] called the Troll Field, and we re-edited his sound a little bit.
Q. Was it pure chance you found that press conference footage with the Prime Minister talking about that, or was it always part of the script?
Øvredal: That was pure chance. We wanted to add something like that to the ending. We had a different ending which we cut from the movie because there was such a heightened attention on these pylons that the Norwegian government last summer wanted to put up all over the Norwegian fjords, ruining the beautiful views.
It’s become such a political hot potato that we had the pylons in the movie already for another reason, to fence in the trolls, and we wanted to capitalise on the political situation. We actually contacted the Prime Minister first to see if he wanted to be in the movie but he couldn’t say yes even though he wanted to! So we found the footage and by accident in that interview, when he was talking about the pylons, he was also saying the word troll, so it worked!