Interview with Petter Naess at Berns Hotel

published 27 Deceber 2011
written by Malene and Majbritt

On Novemer 18 2011, had arranged to meet up with the director of Into the White, Petter Næss, to meet him at Berns Hotel in Stockholm where he was staying during the Stockholm International Film Festival. The hotel reception was quite impressive with huge chandeliers and great posters of legendary film people such as Quentin Tarantino and Susan Sarandon hanging from the high ceiling. But it wasn’t just the hotel that ended up being impressive – so was Petter Næss and his passion for the film, Into the White. We have some fan questions from the website because we asked if people would send in some questions for you, and then we would choose a few questions. So we have one from Argentina – this is Luciana and she asks: What kind of characteristic made you realize that Rupert was the one for Gunner Smith role? Because even though the agent suggested him, you might have had some thoughts yourself?

PN: I had some thoughts myself, and I mentioned those thoughts to the agent and then he suggested Rupert because we were just starting to search for actors. There’s something about… it had to be a fiery, street-wise [guy] and there’s something about seeing him in the movies, in the Harry Potter movies and all that, that he’s a nice guy but he also has a temperament. He has the ability to be… you know… but even if he’s fiery and he’s really out there and speaks his mind, there’s always a nice side to him. I wanted this Gunner Robert Smith to be a really nice guy that just has a temperament and speaks his mind and dares to confront the enemy and authorities and I felt that from looking at the work that Rupert had done, I felt that he had this – definitely is very charming, boyish and I like [laughs] for me, I don’t know, I’ve always had a fascination for red-haired people, my wife has red hair, my daughter has and there’s something about it that just stands out. I’m not saying that they’re on fire but there’s something about it that’s rare in a positive way. So that combination of temperament and kindness I felt that Rupert had, and also I met him and he’s a nice guy, sweet very sweet. That’s almost always the word that comes out about Rupert, that he’s kind and down-to-earth.

PN: Very much so, yes. And then Alena from Russia said: Were there any funny or strange moments during filming that you would like to share?

PN: I have this… I don’t know if it’s age or whatever it is, but I forget things. With the pressure we have on set, you just have to move forward and you have to constantly… especially out there in the wilderness where the weather is changing all the time and it’s constant time pressure, so I forget. I just forget, I just move on. But of course many strange or funny moments with people out in the snow, the deep snow, the wind, the noise and everything, and they’re not used to it, they’re not used to being there. Rupert and his assistant Sarah, they were just standing there like two penguins or teletubbies or whatever [Næss stands up and makes and impression of a cold penguin]. This image of these people totally strangers to this area, that’s always a funny vision. But I don’t remember any… maybe as we talk, maybe I’ll come up with some, but I’m always worried about that… More the practical…?

PN: Yeah, the practical aspect and make sure that people are okay and that we get the scenes done and I get the material I need because we don’t have any time to wait. They might freeze in the…

PN: Yes, it’s cold all the time. We went in June [to Grotli] and it was so cold… in June up there… and we could only imagine [all laugh].

PN: It was very windy and pretty cold. You must be used to it or somewhat used to it?

PN: I love it! That weather. Half my wardrobe is about being prepared to be out in the wilderness. I seek it, even when I don’t work. Is this the first time you shoot a movie in this kind of [conditions]?

PN: It is actually. That’s very strange, because I am a nature guy, but most of my movies have been taking place in the city or urban stuff. Would you like to try it again?

PN: Yes, definitely. Definitely! You’re a tough guy! [all laugh]. Just looking at the pictures that Zentropa was putting on the blog, I was like: “Oh, my goodness!” And the video with the broom and them counting how much snow there was, and it was all the down the broom… that was a lot of snow!

PN: It was a lot of snow. We would like to go back to the beginning – how did you get the job?

PN: Zentropa in Denmark, they wanted to establish a branch in Norway and then they wanted to get in touch with some directors that they wanted to attach to the company and I was one of them. So I had a meeting with Peter Aalbæk Jensen and Valerie Saunders who’s the head of the company, and I had a few projects and they had this project, “Comrade.” And they told me about the story and I think it was the first draft of the script at that time and I read it and was like “yeah, that’s interesting”, especially since it’s based on a true story. Maybe it’s a little obvious conflict with two enemies that meet but I liked it. And since I’m also one of the scriptwriters with Ole Meldgaard, he wrote the first draft, and then he and I worked on it and then we brought in a third guy called Dave Mango who’s more into hardcore drama. I saw the humor in it and the absurdities, the strangeness when they happen to shoot each other down and meet in the same cabin. Very ironic.

PN: It’s destiny and irony and everything and I also felt that I liked to kind of undress men of their vanity – the officers and everything that the uniforms do. I’ve been in the army myself, or the military, the air force – as a 20 year old boy, you have to do that in Norway. I guess you have to do that in Denmark and Switzerland as well, I don’t know? In Switzerland you have to go, it’s not a choice…. Except if you’re going to school, then you can postpone.

PN: When you get a uniform even though you want to go out and shoot and kill, it does something to you. Finds a way to look tough and cool and everything. I wanted to see what would happen when these five men, officers and enemies with a world war going on, and what happens with these men when they realize that “we’re the same.” I wanted to explore that and also the fact that they’re pilots, they can fly, they can be up in the air, but this is the first time in life experience for all of them, it’s the first time they crash, the first time they’re out in the snow, the first time they lose all their food and don’t have a shelter, it’s the first time they meet the enemy. So everything – and they’re out of food, they’re out of wood for the fire and they have to find out how to survive and rely on each other. And the biggest problem is to rely on themselves, because especially the German Horst Schopis, who takes the Brits as prisoners of war, suddenly he’s in deep shit, because then he’s responsible like you saw in the clip yesterday. “According to the Geneva convention we have a right for three meals a day…” And also because in real life it was only the Germans who had handguns, the Brits didn’t have any, so at the moment he pulls his gun and say “you’re prisoners of war of the third Reich” then he has lost in a sense because they’d been arguing about things but then he doesn’t have any arguments, his intellectual capacity or his authority is not strong enough so he has to pull a gun. So that weakens him and then the Brits can start with their arrogance and their psychological warfare so he’s constantly, the British officer, is constantly doubting the German officer’s authority and it makes him doubt his own authority. So… I don’t remember the question now [all laugh]. The question was: How did you get the job? [more laughter]

PN: … more why I took, why I decided… That’s what you said yesterday, that you were very excited about the movie. But would you say that would be unexpected for us fans and just general film viewers, to see the humor in a film like this?

PN: I think it’s quite unexpected and very human actually. A chamber drama I think you call it… but it’s constantly affected by the surroundings, by the nature and the fact that they don’t know where they are. They don’t know if they’ll ever get out of there alive or who’ll get out of there and they’re in no-man’s land. Is the wilderness a sixth main character essentially? It has such a huge part that it is a main character along with the actors?

PN: I think the cabin is a character in itself and nature is a character. For me, the cabin is like an old lady – “this maybe isn’t much, but it’s all I got. And if you’ll take care of me, I’ll take care of you.” Is that part of the reason why you changed the title as well?

PN: Yes, “Into the White” is this unknown landscape, just blank. Literally white… People reacted very well to the first poster, it’s very dramatic and you know something bad is going to happen. It was something you wanted to do, to go to Grotli?

PN: I was not sure where I wanted to shoot it because we were looking at other places up in the mountains. There was something that made a real impact on the actors. The rest of the wreck is still there [at the actual place of the crash]. It’s on the border to the National Park. I brought the actors out there and I told them that five feet under here, under the snow, the actual plane is. You can find the plane, or part of it. But you did do some filming at the actual spot or no?

PN: No, because of the national park. I wanted to do it, but also I wanted it to be high up in the mountains, with no trees or anything, because I know as soon as you see trees and hills you know there’s a valley going down somewhere and you can follow it. So I wanted it to be on top so it’s only white. And there’s no sense of civilization or…?

PN: Nothing, nothing. But did you end up removing any particular scene that you would have liked to have in the film? A scene you were attached to?

PN: No, I don’t think I’ve taken out… almost the whole entire script is, a few minor scenes that are not… But you don’t feel like you had to compromise?

PN: No, no… I had to… then again, I don’t remember really, because it was such a high pace. What would you say is your favorite scene, if you have one?

PN: [thinks a long time] I think it’s actually a very good script [laughter]. I think every scene deserves its place in the movie. How was the atmosphere on the set?

PN: I would say it was very good. It was stressful, but it was very good. Would you ever consider hiring Rupert again in another kind of role?

PN: Sure. I mean, he’s a great actor and he’s a cool guy. What kind of role could you imagine him in?

PN: I don’t know, it depends on what kind of project I want to make and then the idea of the actors comes later. But at one point in life it would be nice to find the actors first and then say “here we have the actors, let’s build some characters around them, let’s write a play or a film.” But now I have many bigger projects in store, also theatre. I start rehearsing a play at a theatre in Oslo on the 9th of January, and then some other big projects. It’s [Into the White] inspired by a real story, how much did that influence your work? Both on set and before filming.

PN: I think it was a great inspiration to have met Horst Schopis, the real guy. It was a great inspiration to meet him and hear him just tell what happened. But it’s very… what our story is inspired by is true events, we’re inspired by the fact that they shot each other down and met in the same cabin and later in life they met. Everything that we have invented, we have created it based on books written and there are many articles, the hotel owner at Grotli had stories too. We’ve met people and talked to people, and I got a report from the ski patrol. So we are very much inspired by this report, by the fact that these guys were young, untrained soldiers who were traumatized, more likely than not, after having shot someone. So these were not professional killers or murderers, so it was just young people in the resistance movement trying to do something for their country. And I was very much inspired by the fact that he told me, I asked him “when you landed the plane on the snow, weren’t you happy that you were alive?” “No, I was just disappointed, I had failed. I was no longer a man of honor, I was a failure.” And he said they had to take one step at a time, to find and bury the real gunner that was shot in the fight in the air, and then find shelter and then find a way back home. And then he was taken as prisoner of war, and he spent seven years in Canada, came back in 1947 and they had lost. That really influenced him, he’s been serving the rest of his life to regain his dignity. So the mission came before the man, in a sense?

PN: Yes, and also what I’d read and seen about this British guy who speaks in this kind of [speaks posh English:] “Well, there was some planes and we shook hands…” who’s typical British, kind of upper-class cliché. So I’m inspired by the real characters and what I read about them and meeting Horst. The rest is just fiction, what happens is five men, two enemies who meet in a cabin and have to survive together. But did Horst Schopis have any ideas or demands?

PN: No, he didn’t even read the script. He was just looking forward to seeing the movie. I guess he would have been very surprised. But all of the characters come out of this movie with dignity and we don’t point at anyone and say “you’re the bad guy.” The only one, the guy David Kross plays, he’s a kind of a hardcore Nazi who reads from Mein Kampf and all that, but then he’s got nothing because he sees that the enemies have become friends so his ideology just doesn’t apply anymore. Everything is taken away from him and he doesn’t have anything left so I feel sorry for him as well. So I think we take very well care of all the characters. Is the time span the same in the movie as it was in real life?

PN: No, in our movie it’s five days, in real life it was only one night. And I don’t think they even spend the night… I never really understood that – whether if they spent one night in the cabin together or not. Because the Brits they walked down – because the cabin was 500 meters away from Grotli Høyfjellshotel… so the men had met there at the cabin, and they didn’t take them as prisoners of war or anything, they didn’t even touch their guns. The Brits they went down to the hotel and they entered the hotel and there was no one there. So they found chocolate, biscuits and brought back to the Germans and then I think the Brits went back to the hotel again and slept in a room. And then the next morning when the Brits were about to take off, the Germans came and then the Germans were a little bit more hostile and anxious so they said “No, you’re not going anywhere on your own. You take one of the Germans with you.” And then the ski patrol came and shot… So it was just the day after. It’s a good setup for a story, but if we made a movie out of what actually happened it would be very boring. A short film…

PN: A fairly short film, yes. I’m not saying it would be boring but it’s much more interesting to have these people trapped in these surroundings. Now, it’s a Norwegian production, but were there any advantages or disadvantages having such a mixed international cast?

PN: I think it’s mainly advantages. It’s a little bit odd to say it’s a Norwegian movie or a British movie or a German movie, because it’s an international movie. But it’s made in Norway by a Norwegian director, co-writer so we tried to make a Norwegian movie but I think that’s mainly when we’re in Norway that it’s a Norwegian movie. But will it have a Scandinavian feeling to it? Because sometimes you can sense like “this is an American movie…”

PN: Yeah, I think it has a European and Scandinavian feel to it. I’ve never seen a Scandinavian movie like this, but I think with the humor there and the nature and all these things, I think you’ll… The dark humor is very Scandinavian it seems.

PN: Yes! But what are your expectations? Worldwide…?

PN: First of all, I think it’s a good movie, so I… The fans are going crazy. Every time we talk about distribution, they’re like: “is the movie coming to the US?” The Americans are very keen, they’re talking a lot about it.

PN: I think it could be a big success in England – of course I think it’s a very rare occasion with the Germans and the Brits going together like that, in Germany it could be a big film, and for Americans and… I think it’s more a human drama than a normal war movie. It could be two Christians and two Muslims, it could be two Jews and Palestinians, it could be any conflict where people who are in conflict, it could be two neighbors that had been arguing over the height of the fence or whatever. So it’s all about this universal story about what happens when prejudices are being put to a test – “what I’ve been told, what I’ve heard, it doesn’t apply anymore.” You’re not the bad guy just because you’re German. You don’t have to drink beer all the time just because you’re Danish [laughs]. [laughing] Is that the stereotype??

PN: Yes. In Norway we think you’re drunk and happy and having a good time… I promise we’re not drunk right now [all laugh]

PN: And I know, I’ve been to Denmark a lot, the Danes are really proper, sophisticated people but that’s the myth that they drink all the time. Did you have any pranks or private jokes on the set?

PN: There was a lot of giggling. Rupert is known to giggle a lot…

PN: They soon learned how to make him giggle and they started to do it on purpose and I must admit, I didn’t think that was very funny because of the time pressure but suddenly I heard [impersonates a stifled giggle] and it was Rupert. I always appreciate people laughing, just not when I know I would have to get this scene. But I know how it is when you start to giggle, you know that you shouldn’t do it and you giggle. What about his accent? Did he have a coach or did he learn it himself?

PN: He learned it by himself. Well, he had a coach in England, so he had learnt it when he came. We didn’t bring the coach to set. What was it like to have someone like Rupert in the film, when he brings so much exposure and attention because of the Harry Potter films?

PN: I mean; I like that. I like that the things I make get some kind of [attention]. Well, we saw that in Sweden, he was almost stalked.

PN: Yes, and of course – that doesn’t bother me [all laugh]. But then he has his assistant and she can say “we have to go now” and all that, because he doesn’t want to be rude. He’s not rude, he likes to talk to people. But of course if he didn’t get some help, he would just be stuck with people who want to talk to him. And I can understand that they want to talk to him, because he’s a nice guy. But for me it was no problems at all, on the contrary – it gave a lot of attention to the project. He gets it, and I don’t, so it’s okay [all laugh]. Did you get any delays on the schedule because of the weather and stuff.

PN: Up in the mountains, we did all the time with the constantly changing weather. And it was three weeks in Grotli?

PN: Three weeks. 15 days of shooting. And that’s only one-third of the movie, I think, almost. A little bit more… 32-33-35 pages of the script out of 199, but a lot of delays because of the weather. So you had planned on staying there for less time than…

PN: No, we planned for three weeks. We had to get … one day, because the weather was so bad and the camera didn’t work because of the humidity inside the camera. So that was an extra day – so 31 days of shooting but still it’s only 30. But no, the weather – you just have to use it, because we wanted all kinds of weather… in-between the cloudy and real bad weather. But then when you put up a wind machine to create a storm or something, you have to have the wind machine coming from the same direction as the wind, because [otherwise] you can’t use the wind machine… and the wind was changing all the time and moving this huge wind machine, big motor with a big propeller in the snow – it’s not very practical to do it in real nature, but… …it has a better effect.

PN: It has a better effect and especially for the Norwegian crew, they love it. And you can also see that it’s not special effects. It is real – and it looks amazing.

PN: Some of it is the snow machine and stuff like that, when they go closer, but altogether it looks good. I think that’s it.

PN: Are you happy? Of course, thank you. And I think we look forward to it even more now after seeing some of it [at the presentation].

PN: That’s good. Because with just the pictures, it’s hard to imagine what the film is really about and the feeling of it.

PN: Well, if you’ve got a better impression of it now, that’s good. We do!

PN: And you can do a lot of work for us! [with a smile] Well, we are!

PN: Yeah! It looks so fun.

PN: I think it’s gonna be a… in a positive sense… a rare kind of movie, but I think a very entertaining and it’s not necessarily an art house movie. I think it’s for a large audience. I have a daughter who is 16 – she loves it, she thinks it’s great. I think that it’s a universal story. For different ages as well as countries.

PN: … and there are no women in the movie. There are two nurses in a Norwegian military camp. You might get some comments about discrimination…

PN: But I think that it’s definitely a movie about men for women. I think women like to see these men… they are strong men, but also vulnerable. They are just human beings. And they will discuss more petty matters as who should do the dishes. It’s also interesting to see a war movie that’s just not about people shooting each other. It’s more interesting.

PN: There are two shots in the movie. You might hear the ratatatata, but you never see the planes – you only see the shadows on the snow. Like the poster?

PN: Yes, you will see the shadows. It’s pure nature, untouched by civilization – you see the shadows, and then they just crash land and you see the plane – and the rest is that they shoot an animal at one point and one of the guys get shot. And I said yesterday, it’s very rare that the Norwegians are not the heroes. When we drive around Norway, there are a lot of memorials everywhere from the Second World War for the soldiers who fought bravely. And we’re like “did they play a big part in the war?”

PN: Quite a few did play an important part, the saboteurs. But most of them didn’t do anything. But they like to say they did?

PN: Yeah, we’re just a small country with only 3-4 million people – and we beat the hell out of the Germans. Yeah [laughing]

PN: So nice to meet you! Thank you – good luck with the movie.

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