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Game of Thrones’ Kristofer Hivju on The Last King, Beard Casting, and Why Brienne and Tormund Need Their Own Show

Norwegian actor Kristofer Hivju plays two warriors caught up with politics in his current projects. On Game of Thrones, he’s Tormund Giantsbane, who just convinced the wildlings to lend their support to fight against the Boltons, which was a hard sell. And in Hivju’s new movie, The Last King, he’s Torstein, who is charged with defending the king’s secret bastard child while the country is engulfed in civil war and the line of succession is in dispute. Hivju took a break from shooting Fast 8 in Atlanta to chat with Vulture about beard casting, skiing with a baby, and Brienne–Tormund shipping.

We were worried when you got cast in Fast 8 they might ask you to shave your beard. After all, After Earth did …
Well, I didn’t have to fight for it on Fast 8. They wanted the beard! [Laughs.] On After Earth, they casted me with full, huge beard and everything. And when I showed up on set, the first person I met at the hotel, one of the makeup artists, said, “We’re going to cut everything off!” And at first, I was like, “No way!” I fought for it tooth and nail. I even got Jaden Smith on my side saying, “Don’t do it! Don’t do it! Don’t listen to the producers!” But the problem was, one of the producers was his father. So then when Will Smith said, “Either you cut it, or we recast,” then even Jaden Smith had to back down. So I had to cut it down. And now my beard is owned by HBO. [Laughs.] If you look at my beard, there’s a small “R” there, for the registered trademark symbol. It’s not even my property anymore. I look forward to the day when I can shave it, when I can change my look to something fresh and new. [Laughs.] But now, it’s how it is.

So you and Kit Harington were in the same boat. Although he just shaved his beard …
Ah, he did? Hmmm. Interesting. So he looks delicate? But he has a small beard. It’s easy to get that back. I need five months to get mine.

At least it wasn’t an issue for The Last King, and it really helps you look like a Viking.
When we were starting to film, people were calling it “Vikings on skis,” and everybody loved that. They sold it to a hundred countries that way. But actually, it’s just after the Viking age. And the Vikings only fought for glory and money and beer and women. This is a hundred years after that, and the guys we’re playing, the Birkebeiner, they fought for Norway, and for freedom. If it hadn’t been for them, Norway wouldn’t exist, and that’s what this story is about — the only way to save Norway is to save this child. When Håkon Håkonsson grew up, he became the greatest king of Norway. The Danish and the Catholic Church were trying to get their influence in, but he managed to keep them out, and he ended the civil wars and unified the country. It was a huge thing.

You do a lot of skiing in this film, including a lot of skiing while holding a baby. How much of a skier are you in real life?
Well, Norwegians, we’re born with skis on our feet! When you’re a 1-year-old, your parents put skis on you and you have to survive in the wilderness. [Laughs.] But these were old skis, and a lot of gear, and a baby, so I really risked my life doing it! Seriously. I’m reliving being scared while I’m talking to you about it. I really almost died doing that. We had some help with the stunts, but everyone wants to do as much as they can themselves. For the skiing, I had to do some crazy things to capture it onscreen, but the horse riding as well was tough. It’s one thing to gallop, but when you’re galloping downhill, and it’s sticky, and the horse doesn’t have breaks, and they don’t stop when you tell them to stop? I had some bad falls.

Your character shouts at one point, “Welcome to Ragnarök!” — a reference to the last battle between gods and men in Norse mythology, when the world is destroyed by fire after the Long Winter. It’s a war of ice and fire.
Yes, and in Norwegian, we say that when there is chaos. It’s as good and bad as things can get, at the same time.

Ragnarök and other aspects of Norse mythology are also a huge influence on A Song of Ice and Fire. Freyr, the god of virility, becomes Walder Frey, who can’t stop procreating. The one-handed god of single combat becomes Jaime Lannister.
Right! And Tormund, that’s from Thor the god, and Mund, mouth, so God-mouth. And Giantsbane, bane means if you take somebody’s life.

And then the shieldmaiden Brynhildr, of course, becomes Brienne. So the Brienne–Tormund thing …
[Laughs.] Yeah, that was fun. When there’s so much darkness, if you give a piece of light, they grab it with both hands. That was unexpected for everybody! Nobody saw that coming, even us! And there wasn’t a single fan theory beforehand that would have made it seem possible. I just joined Instagram, so now I see a lot of the things the fans have created, and it’s so touching. Like the Titanic poses. I saw that one, and the funny thing with those characters, it works both ways, if you want to reverse the genders. He can hold her, or she can hold him, because if you get those two characters together, you don’t know who would be the more masculine of the two of them. In some ways, I feel like the feminine part of that relationship. It’s the peak of emancipation!

But what I love is that we’re finally seeing a new side of Tormund. For so many reasons, he’s been kind of a bad guy in the series, and now you see the romantic, the lover. And because of that, everyone has a wish that Game of Thrones become a romantic comedy now! “Please make it a romantic comedy! More love! More love!” What we should do is make an internet series about Brienne and Tormund and their life together. We need our own show.

Kristofer Hivju on Brienne and Tormund Shipping