Q&A: “THALE” director Aleksander Nordaas
The latest in the line of Scandinavian scare flicks puts a modern slant on native folklore. THALE (currently on VOD and opening in select theaters tomorrow, April 5 from XLrator Media) showcases a new and beautiful addition to the genre bestiary courtesy of Norwegian writer/director Aleksander Nordaas, who discusses the movie with Fango below.
THALE stars Jon Sigve Skard as Leo, a “cleaner” at bloody crime scenes who has brought his old friend Elvis (Erlend Nervold) along on his latest job. Elvis is understandably squeamish while his pal is jaded, and soon they’re both confronted with an unexpected development: While searching an old house in the middle of the woods, they discover a secret basement laboratory where a beautiful naked woman, Thale (Silje Reinåmo), is being experimented on. They soon learn that she is part of an ancient race of beings called the huldra, and the more the duo learn about her origins, the more their lives are put into peril…
ALEKSANDER NORDAAS (pictured right): Basically by asking the actors and producers if they wanted to start making a film. We went outside the state-funded process here in Norway, and just went into our first production week without any backing. It was just pure will and some available locations.
FANG: You’ve worked with lead actors Skard and Nervold before…
NORDAAS: I’ve actually worked with all three stars before, Silje as well. We did a short film together in 2008 called IN CHAMBERS, but I knew the two guys from way before then—from 2004, when we did our first feature film, SIRKEL. So I knew how to use them as actors, and I felt that knowing them personally would help with the low-budget project we were doing. There was a lot of past experience there.
FANG: How did you create their characters together?
NORDAAS: The collaboration with Silje was very important, as she had a pretty revealing character to play, but also with the male actors on how to adapt their personas into new roles. During rehearsal, I had to base those two parts a little bit on what I already knew of them as people, but at the same time, they are pretty different in THALE than they are in real life. Especially Jon, who plays Leo; when audiences have met him after screenings, they don’t think he’s the same person, even though he looks very similar. In the movie, he’s very distant, but in real life, he’s very happy and friendly. It’s fun to see their reactions after the film.
FANG: The movie kind of starts out as a crime film combined with some comedy, and then becomes a horror movie. How did you approach that transition in the writing?
NORDAAS: I find the writing process is more of a gut feeling; it’s not about just sitting down and saying, “OK, now I’m going to write a horror film.” Basing it on a genre feels more creatively blocking to me than being able to add elements that feel significant to the story, you know what I mean? I had a lot of fun adding these elements to THALE.
FANG: Can you talk a little about the folklore behind the film, and how you worked it into the screenplay?
NORDAAS: Well, everybody in Norway knows about the huldra; her chief characteristic is that cow’s tail. So we kind of borrowed her from our folklore and threw her into our own modern legend, so to speak. We gave her some additional abilities, and explored and blended in some of the others, making our own contribution to the mythology.
FANG: How did you and Reinåmo collaborate to bring that character to life?
NORDAAS: It was a major challenge for Silje, though Thale was written for her. I knew that she had what it took as an actress to play that role. She had the guts to go ahead and do it, and knew what would be demanded of her. She was involved very early on in the creative process. Basically, we went through it shot by shot, talking about where the camera would be and what she was going to do with her body language, her eyes, etc., just so we didn’t repeat all the gestures over and over. That would have become tedious, so we had to approach it very carefully.
FANG: We learn more about Thale via flashbacks; how did you develop that approach?
NORDAAS: Well, the flashbacks needed to be in there because we had to know something about her past, where she came from and how she got to be where she was, so we used them as a kind of a tool to reveal those things. But we kept them to a minimum, and tried to use them as effectively as possible.
FANG: I’ve read that THALE’s budget was only $10,000…
NORDAAS: Yes, it was around $10,000 after all the material was shot and edited. We made this movie as a long-term investment, so to speak, in hopes that someone would see the potential in what we had shot and fund the rest of the process, like the postproduction and CGI. Luckily, they came through.
FANG: It has a great look for a movie shot on such little money.
NORDAAS: Thank you; that’s good to hear, because even though we knew we were going to make this film on a low budget, we didn’t want it to look low-budget. So we spent a lot of time on the outdoor visuals, the lighting and the props. I spent quite a while planning out exactly how I wanted it to look. That’s the good thing about doing a low-budget film: You don’t have a schedule to worry about. I had a lot of fun doing it.
FANG: You served so many functions on THALE, also including cinematographer, editor and set decorator. Did it ever become overwhelming, doing all of that yourself?
NORDAAS: Yes, yes, yes—a lot of the time, but I knew I had to do it that way, so I just had to swallow it and move on. I’m not going to do that much again, ever, but it’s good to have an insight on what it takes to do all that for later productions.
FANG: Where did you find all the scientific gadgets seen in the lab scenes?
NORDAAS: Basically, at the dump. I had my father help and search for that stuff. I told him what it was about—the devices and all that stuff—and we just put it together in a way that made it look as if it was working. I think the only thing that wasn’t junk was a microscope we needed for one shot that we borrowed from a nearby school. The rest was basically all rubbish. What Thale uses for breathing underwater in the bathtub was actually an old shoe dryer.
FANG: How was THALE received in Norway?
NORDAAS: It did pretty good there, but has actually done better worldwide, at least so far. In Norway, there have been a lot of different receptions, but internationally, we have yet to receive a bad notice.
FANG: What are you working on right now?
NORDAAS: I’m currently developing a couple of projects, and we’ll see which one happens first. I’m actually uncertain about my next step, but there a lot of different things I’m working on and I have to decide which one to move on with, which is a new situation for me.