Did Alexander Skarsgård learn to speak Old Norse for ‘The Northman?’

Image via Focus Features

Now that The Northman is in theaters by an acclaimed director known for grounding his films in the richness of history, Robert Eggers, some may wonder whether the actors in the Viking epic actually had to learn the dead language, Old Norse, that the ancient warriors actually spoke.

In the film, Alexander Skarsgård plays Amleth, a Viking prince on a bloody warpath to avenge the murder of his father at the hand of his uncle, in a tale that is based on a medieval Scandanavian story that partially inspired William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Though we’re not entirely sure what some of the other actors’ Old Norse acumen entailed in preparing for the film, Skarsgård has addressed whether he learned the ancient tongue for the role. And he admitted in a recent IMDB Fan Q&A, that though he memorized some phrases for the movie, he is far from fluent.

“There is a chant, it’s near the end of the movie, that’s in Old Norse, that I had to memorize. Basically, the lines of the mantra at the beginning of the movie, ‘I will avenge you, father. I will save you, mother. I will kill you, Fjölnir.’”

Skarsgård went on to explain that a full year after the movie has wrapped, he doesn’t “remember any of it.”

“And I barely remember shooting the movie. It was just like a muddy, bloody, haze,” he said.

It should be no surprise that Skarsgård’s memory of filming the movie may be a bit foggy when you consider that it was reportedly a very difficult shoot, to the point that co-star Anya Taylor-Joy proclaimed it to be a “miracle” that he even survived the ordeal. No wonder co-star Ethan Hawke compared the film to the legendarily troubled production of Apocolypse Now.

Despite not necessarily remembering any of his Old Norse lines from the movie, Skarsgård indicated he may have an inherent bonafide with the language due to its ancestral connection to Swedish, which he speaks fluently.

“I speak Swedish…so Old Norse is obviously related to Swedish. But a lot of it is quite different. So it’s like, you’re almost getting it but not quite.”

The Northman, which is highly critically acclaimed, is in theaters now.