Viking: Where did you grow up and how did that upbringing affect your career path?
Kristofer Hivju: I grew up in Oslo, and I'm a third generation actor. My grandmother was an actress and my father and my mother are actors, so I grew up at the National Theater. I had no intentions of becoming an actor—actually, I wanted to be a rock star. I was playing bass in a band and I didn't do any acting before I was 16. But that changed when I got the part of Hamlet in a school production. I didn't even ask for it, but they said, "let's take the guy who has the acting parents and hire him!"
When I did act for the first time, I felt the rush; the kind of dope that you can't get anywhere else but on the stage. So I just went up to the head of the school and said "I have to change to a drama school now."
V: When you started acting, did you think you were going to be in movies and on TV shows?
KH: I discovered acting from inside, in a way. From my first meeting with the craft was experience, how to use the craft. I wasn't like, watching these people on TV and saying, "I want to be like them." I just experienced how fantastic it is to have that power and have that extreme concentration, and the joy of making people laugh of making them cry; that emotional power, if you want to call it that. I've seen the craft from inside with my mom and dad as actors. I've seen the glory and the hell of acting, in a way.
When I went into it I knew what to expect. And nobody told me it's going to be just fun.
When I told my dad I was going to drama school, he said, “if you want to do this, you really have to want to do this, because it's a lot of pain and a lot of persistence. But if you get good at it and if you love it it's the greatest thing.”
My dad, he really loves being an actor and he really is one of the best actors in Norway. I knew how much work it takes to get it just right.
V: Do you have a favorite genre that you like to work on?
KH: The theater is what I've done mostly; It's what I've been producing and writing myself, and that will always be my job. Theater has been my wife and movies have been my mistress. Film is what someone has been hiring me to do, but theater is really what I've been doing.
When I started 6-7 years ago I met a good friend of mine who is a movie director, and we started to create stories. We made some films and they had some success, so in a way my love for screen-telling started more as a storyteller than as an actor. Acting is just a different way in.
But right now I really love doing screen work, because I love the principle that you just do a scene, and then you're finished with it and you can go on. In theater, you can do a major successful night, but you know that the people who are going to watch you tomorrow didn't see that. You have to do it perfectly again.
V: You just got a part as Tormund Giantsbane on Game of Thrones. How do you get into character for something like that?
KH: I'm already a Viking, so making me a Wildling [a class of people from the show] is not a long process. I'm really trying to get into the universe by reading the books and understanding the principles of that world. I'm also working out, doing training, and practicing my English dialect.
V: Are you excited about expanding your work to the American scene?
KH: Very. For me, watching American movies is something that started with sitting on my father's lap when I was 10 years old, and seeing films that I was not allowed to see. Being in that extremely safe zone, and looking into that spectacular world, that's where that dream started.
At one point I was very close to getting a part on True Blood so that was like the start of my American career. I told my girlfriend that Hollywood just called, and we just celebrated together in our first small apartment on a very rainy day. Suddenly they called for that audition.
V: How did the audition go?
That was the first taste for me, and I enjoy doing auditions. I love getting like one scene from a huge movie with some huge star, and just to do that scene, for me, is just incredible in itself. Then to go further and further and getting the job, it's a special kind of game. It's not the kind of game that they play in Norway. In Norway you go to maybe one audition and they hire you. Or the director calls and says “do you want to do this part? I have a cool project.” So it's like being in a competition over here. And of course competitions are most fun when you win.
V: You also got a part on the movie “After Earth” with Will Smith. Have you started filming that yet? What was the process like?
I enjoyed it a lot. The funny thing is that I came down to them with this huge beard, and the first person I met—the makeup guy—said, “you need to cut everything off.” I thought that they had cast the whole package! But [Director M. Night] Shyamalan didn't care about the beard. It took two days to shave because I was fighting to keep it. I thought that it would be cool to have a military guy from the future that I was playing have a big beard, and I said maybe they changed the rules of hair politics in the army. I convinced a couple of the producers, and Shyamalan was always on my side, but when the issue came to Will Smith's table, he said one inch, no discussion. That's as far as we can go. So I went from this enormous beard to totally shaved up and military. That was a fun sight.
V: How is acting in Norway is different from acting in America?
KH: Acting is acting. Whether I'm standing on a stage and 50 people are watching or doing a big movie with hundreds of people around, the work is the same.
But it's fantastic that they come to your door in a limousine, and put you on first class, and that you travel in your bed and a bar and a movie theater and a restaurant at the same time for 16 hours. That makes traveling is fun.
But they do treat you really well in America. I think their philosophy is: if we treat you well, you perform better. That's really generous and exotic. Also everything is bigger, but that's true for all of America.
V: What are your future plans?
KH: I'm trying to take it one day and one roll at a time. So, now I'm going into the shooting period with “Game of Thrones” and I'm looking forward to that. So let's see where it goes! I have my own things I'm working with, but who knows. You can try to resist the flow, but you can’t avoid it.
V: Is there anything else you want to tell Viking readers?
KH: The “Game of Thrones” premier is in March, 2013. One thing I can say is that not that many Norwegian actors are working abroad. My point is that my agent [I don’t have her name, but I know you were in touch] has been my bridge into the American film industry. It helps that she is Danish, and the Danes have been making great movies for a while. Norwegians have too, but Denmark has more contact with the US, and she has really done great work for me and made this journey come alive in a way. You can't forget the people who help you.