Dutch actor, writer and environmentalist Rutger Hauer stars in The Last Kingdom as Ravn, a philosophical Viking poet and wise man. Here he spills on the multinational cast, cloudy eye make-up, and his mischievous on-set antics.
Tell us about your character in The Last Kingdom.
Rutger Hauer: I play a man called Ravn, and I’m a Viking ex-warrior and former Viking King. I didn’t know much about the period, but of course it’s every boy’s dream to be a Viking so I had to do it. I would imagine that Vikings never turned my age, so Ravn must have been doing something right, otherwise why would they have kept him around? I see him as the spiritual leader of his tribe.
What was it about the script that attracted you to the role?
Rutger Hauer: The script for The Last Kingdom is really tight and I quite fancied playing a Viking. I thought it would be great fun but then I realized my part is for an elderly, blind Viking, which makes it a bit more of a challenge! My approach to the role has been to try to show some heart through the character. Everyone’s characters are warriors and I think it’s important that we express some warmth; they were people after all. It’s always been clear that The Last Kingdom was never going to be a soap opera. Nick Murphy (director) had very firm ideas for my character. He expected me to approach it one way and I gave him something else. The big sport in this game is to give directors something new that exceeds their expectation. That’s the charm.
What was it like to act with Tom Taylor (young Uhtred)?
Rutger Hauer: Tom was lovely to act with; the two of us have really got something going on there! He is an amazing, instinctive actor and you can’t really buy that level of talent. I had planned to take him out for a surprise trip on my motorbike, just to try and take his mind away from the set, but the team decided it probably wasn’t the most sensible idea and so I had to give up on my plan. It’s hard for kids to work these schedules, not that Tom seemed in any way phased by it.
What other mischief did you get up to on set?
Rutger Hauer: I’ll always find a way of making mischief on set, with anyone between the ages of five and ninety-nine. There’s sometimes a moment when you feel that things are getting too normal and the energy dies. Especially with kids; they have to know that you’re going to do something, that you’re going to try and play games with them. Tom (young Uhtred) was totally up for that, but was also very professional. When I’m doing a scene with somebody and I feel the atmosphere getting a little too serious, I will do something naughty.
Why does your character’s family adopt young Uhtred and Brida, both Saxons?
Rutger Hauer: Uhtred lost his father in the same battle where the Vikings found him, so I think it was just unconventional thinking and they liked him. He just so happens to learn very quickly and becomes an adopted Dane. It goes beyond passports and boundaries I think; he’s an orphan and so they take care of him. Later on, Uhtred becomes one of the leaders. I’ve not read Bernard Cornwell’s stories before, and so I’ve ordered all of the books from the Internet because I’m desperate to hear how he gets on in the end.
How real does Ravn’s world feel to you?
Rutger Hauer: I love that we can say to the audience, “you think it’s tough now?” Back then they didn’t have phones, they had to graft, clean, find something to eat, and if they wanted warmth, well you better go and find yourself some wood! Not only that, but there was another tribe who would also want your wood! Things that are really simple now were incredibly difficult in comparison. I don’t think a lot of dramas show how life was in those times, and I think we are bravely and believably attempting to. Nick Murphy (director) is all about making scenes believable and my performance is coming from the same place; I want Nick to believe it, I want the audience to believe it. I want the story to move us.
What is Nick Murphy’s (director) style of filming like?
Rutger Hauer: Nick’s cameras are always moving! As an actor, the advances in camera technology give you more stress and more freedom in equal measure. It’s all very well reading through your script in your trailer, but sometimes you just need to be on the set so you can feel it and smell it. I like to find a few quiet moments on set to soak up the atmosphere. It was pretty hard to find a quiet moment on that huge set, though! They can photograph us in the most amazing ways, but as actors, we need to make sure that we are playing our parts convincingly, otherwise none of it matters. No matter what the scene is about you have to really fight your way into the atmosphere. I guess that’s when the craft comes in, because a scene without atmosphere doesn’t exist.
What costume does your character wear?
Rutger Hauer: Everything was so well thought out. The tattoos are a visual stunt to illustrate the Vikings’ characters. They gave me all this amazing long hair. The teams went out of their way with the make-up and costumes to make them feel as close to the real thing as possible. You cannot wear those costumes and make-up without getting into character!
Have you enjoyed working with such a multi-national cast?
Rutger Hauer: Yes, I think it adds a really nice element to the project. There are tons of actors from around the world who can come in and play these roles, so it’s nice to extend the casting for a British production to include that larger selection. We have Danes, Brits, Swedes, Germans, Hungarians and obviously a Dutch guy. I like the combination of accents; we don’t really know what they sounded like in those times anyway, so we might as well have some variation in there. It’s movie making after all.
How much can you see through the cloudy eye the make-up department have given you?
Rutger Hauer: It’s a funny thing, because in real life this is my better eye. At least I can see where I’m going with my other eye, but I can’t write a text message or read my script. Everyone else had to do that for me.
Does that make it hard when you’re acting and trying to make a connection with other actors?
Rutger Hauer: Nick Murphy (director) doesn’t really want me to play blind. I praise him for it and I completely agree, because it can all so easily become a bit shtick and I would rather create someone who you can follow and believe in. The blindness has a function in the story, but we also kind of swept it under the carpet. They say that I can ‘see enough’ and so you never know how much he can see or what it all really means. But that’s my character.
Humor is important in this show and it really adds to the feel of these being real people .
Rutger Hauer: Humor is often the first thing to get lost, and I don’t think that’s right or fair. It’s not that I’m not serious, but I don’t think you should ever lose your sense of humor. I hate it when that happens, and you feel it when everybody is playing tragedy and you wonder where the lifeblood has gone. That’s just my sense of reality; you can be playing a serious drama but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a laugh.Read More