In connection with the premiere of Elizabeth Banks’ crazy new horror-comedy Cocaine Bear, Filmmagasinet interviewed Kristofer Hivju, who plays the role of a Norwegian tourist on a mountain hike in the Appalachians. Suddenly, the tourist and his fiancée find themselves in the middle of an unpleasant encounter with a berserk bear in a heavy cocaine-induced stupor. How will this turn out?
Kristofer Hivju is undoubtedly one of Norway’s biggest and most internationally recognized actors. Over the years, we’ve had the pleasure of seeing him in Game of Thrones, The Fate of the Furious, The Witcher, a whole series of Swedish Beck films, and much more. In Cocaine Bear, we meet him in full hiking gear, seeking outdoor adventures with his fiancée, played by Hannah Hoekstra. Kristofer talks about the movie and the filming:
Cocaine Bear looks like a pretty crazy film. Is it as wild and intense as the trailer suggests?
-The story is true, this thing with the cocaine and the bear actually happened, but that’s where reality ends. They took a true premise and thought, ‘how could this have gone?’ This movie is crazy bananas super fun. I thought it was hysterically funny the first time I read through the script and had a blast, says Kristofer.
–This is a story that weaves together a lot of different smaller stories, destinies, and people, an ensemble piece with a great cast. It’s been a joy to be a part of this!
It looks like it offers both intense action, horror, and humor at the same time? Is this the movie that has it all?
–Yeah, you could say that, but it’s still a Universal studio film. It’s really cool that they let Elizabeth Banks go crazy with this material. In studio films, you usually have to go through a lot of approval processes if you want to make changes to the script. But here, there was free flow, complete trust – just make what you want to make. We spent half a day just improvising scenes. It was great fun,» says Kristofer.
Can you say more about the story in the movie and your role?
–We’re in Appalachia, up in the American mountain wilderness. I play a Norwegian tourist who’s on a hiking trip with his German fiancée. They’re out to experience American nature and have a good time. It’s going very well until they encounter a bear that’s behaving very strangely.
After having ingested an ungodly amount of cocaine?
–Yeah, and that’s not good for anyone, especially not bears.
From the trailer, not so good for your role either?
-It remains to be seen, Kristofer says with a sly smile.
So, you’re playing into the classic Norwegian stereotype in your role?
–Yes, and it was wonderful because then I could finally use that ‘Norwegian dialect’. Thor Heyerdahl is, of course, the big inspiration there. The film is set in the 80s, and we were lucky enough to find a picture of a European couple who were hiking in the US at that time. We shaped our roles based on this picture and managed to make our look more or less identical.
I heard the bear has been referred to as Pablo Escobear. Do you know what happened to the bear in reality?
-The bear died in reality. I don’t remember it killing anyone either, but it definitely does in the film.
How do you research for these roles?
-I often start with what I like to call the DNA of the character. I have a lot of respect for the first impression. When I read a script for the first time, I put it aside and think about the impression I’m left with. Before I start analyzing and breaking down the role, I try to figure out what matters to the character and who he is as a person. I often try to grasp the situation. What kind of situation is this person in? In Cocaine Bear, the characters were largely created along the way because a lot of the film is improvised,» Kristofer explains.
–I am very meticulous and always prepare very well. I usually get lines, but it’s in the moment when I can speak freely as the character that I feel like I am the character. And not all roles allow that. Elizabeth Banks is a actor and comedian herself, so she works in a way that she finds fun to be worked with. We went on a pretty long hike with the camera team in tow and filmed a lot. We could have made an extra little film just out of that. There is a lot of extra material and a lot of free improvisation.
–Banks works a bit like Ruben Östlund and thinks ‘is there more here?’ Is there more we can come up with? More madness? We film what we’ve planned first, then we see where we go from there. The characters are the same and the story is the same, but the colors you fill the characters with matter a lot. We came up with new situations, changed and moved things around to see what we could end up with.
You’re constantly involved in big Hollywood productions, how has the road to Hollywood been for you? And what kind of roles are you looking for now?
-I actually started in American film when I worked at Trønderlag theater and got a role in The Thing. That was almost twelve years ago now, and since then I’ve mostly worked in American film and some Swedish film. The road started there, and then it rolled on from there in a way. I’m looking for interesting personalities, roles where I can ‘offer something’. I can always be a little tough and like that, but there are so many different stereotypes in American film that can be fun to play with. Regardless, I’m looking for a personality and something I can bring to life.
What’s next on the horizon? I know you’ve been working on film projects like Distant and Red One, can you tell me about them?
–Distant doesn’t have a premiere date yet, so we’re waiting on that. But I can tell you that it’s a science fiction film about a spaceship that crashes on a hostile alien planet. It’s a fun movie with a lot of comedy. Red One is what I’m currently filming, which is why I’m in Atlanta. It’s a Christmas movie with Dwayne Johnson and Chris Evans.
–You’re involved in projects from the research stage to when they suddenly become a reality. Right now, I’m just completely focused on Red One. I’ve also been involved in a couple of new Beck movies that will be coming out soon. They’re just ticking away, and I’ve been working on them for a few years now, with 10-12 movies. It’s fun!
Are there any other aspects of Cocaine Bear that people should know about that they don’t get from the trailer?
–It’s made to be a sensory feast. And it has a wonderful cast, with a lot of talented actors with unique humor. This was Ray Liotta’s last film. He was a lovely guy and a wonderful actor. As I mentioned earlier, Cocaine Bear is a pretty free film to be produced by Universal Studios. It’s the kind of movie that I’m sure Tommy Wirkola would have loved to tackle, I think he’s going to enjoy this movie.
Thank you very much for the interview!
-Thank you too, and good luck with Filmmagasinet and the new podcast!