Blood, sweat, and beards – we talk Netflix’s Vikings Valhalla with Icelandic star Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson

Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson first came to Nordic Watchlist’s attention when we saw him in the excellent I Remember You – despite appearing in a number Icelandic films and series he is also no stranger to rubbing shoulders (or throwing fists) with Hollywood stars.

His Hollywood credentials include the likes of Atomic Blonde, Bloodshot, and most recently, Infinite. And next up, he is playing Olaf Haraldsson in Netflix’s new series Vikings: Valhalla!

Photo Credit: Jónatan Grétarsson

NW: Vikings Valhalla hits Netflix next week – tell us about your role in the series?

JHJ: I play a man named Olaf Haraldsson, a historical figure, commonly known as Olaf the Stout (Ólafur Digri). A saint in the Catholic church and the eternal king of Norway, no less. So there is a lot to draw from. For me this has been a buffet of material to feed off, all these stories we have about the real Olaf and how he went about his rise to become king of Norway back in the day. Lots of ups and down. His life was almost like a soap opera in a way.  

Of course our show being a dramatization,  these historical “facts” are used where and when they suit the show we’re doing and in other cases we make up stuff. We shift things around, people and places, dates and events. But I think the audience knows that by now.

Shows like these are not expected to be a documentary, even if inspired by things that were real. They are a thrilling dramatization of things that were, a culture that was and still is a part of our life today. It really is a privilege to be part of a show that builds on the old Sagas that I learnt about as a child in school as the society that we have evolved from. I am very proud to be a part of the show in that regard. Because it celebrates our heritage.

NW: You have had small roles in The Last Kingdom and Game of Thrones – how does it feel to finally get your teeth stuck into a role like this?

JHJ: That’s the perfect analogy, the bite is juicier for me now. As an actor you always look at your part and how it fits into the main story arch, and figure out what’s expected of you to deliver. And seeing that your part is a fairly important cogwheel in the machinery lights a fire under your ass. Really gets you going. 

Vikings: Valhalla. (L to R) Sam Corlett as Leif, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson as Olaf, Bradley Freegard as Canute in episode 104 of Vikings: Valhalla. Cr. Bernard Walsh/Netflix © 2021

NW: Tell us about the cast you are working alongside – you have quite an eclectic bunch from Sweden, Australia, and the UK. And where was the series filmed?

JHJ: The other cast members are my friends, my family now. That’s such a great part of this job, you get to know people from all over the world. And really get to know them. Especially on this one, filmed in the pandemic reality where you can’t go back and forth but have to stay where you’re filming. In case things shift around due to infection. So all of us have been huddled up together in and around Dublin, Ireland for months at a time where filming takes place. People from, Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Wales, England, Estonia, Poland, and yes, even Australia. 

It’s so interesting looking at footage from the show, especially of the actors I didn’t really film with but only know in off work settings. They just seem like completely different people on screen, really is a testament to their acting abilities I guess. I am very excited for people to see this show, I am so proud of the cast. 

NW: You have been a busy man with a return to season two of Stella Blomkvist and working on Infinite with director Antoine Fuqua – what was it like working with Antoine?

JHJ: Well I really lucked out on that experience. Antoine is such a delicate, precise and intuitive director. I enjoyed being on his set, immensely. He had this thing where he would pley music in between takes that was fitting to the scene. It was great. Just keeps everyone in the mood. He wouldn’t do that all the time. Just when he felt we needed it. A lovely experience. 

Photo Credit: Óli Már – ljósmyndari

NW: What have you got planned for 2022?

JHJ: I will be filming an Icelandic feature film this year, perhaps even two. And that’s great, I’m excited to do that cause for the past seven years I’ve almost exclusively been working abroad. And there’s a nice little film I’ll be filming in Italy soon and I’ve never been to Italy. Other than that I just hope I’ll have fun and get to meet lovely people. 

NW: We always love to ask what you have been watching, reading, and listening to recently – any recommendations?

JHJ: If you find a book by Andri Snaer, I suggest you read it. I’m currently reading his latest book called On Time and Water, it puts perspective on things like… well time and water. It really is great. 

I am currently watching two Icelandic shows called Black Port (Verbúðin) and Black Sands (Svörtusandar), both very entertaining and well made.  I hope both shows make it to season 2. And hopefully I can be on them, BOTH! 

Viking :Valhalla comes to Netflix from 25th February

Interview by Alex Minnis