Pilou Asbaek and Julius Avery Interview: Overlord

Actor Pilou Asbaek is known to the world as Euron Greyjoy on HBO’s Game of Thrones. He also starred opposite Scarlett Johansson in 2017’s Ghost in the Shell.  Now he plays Dr. Wafner in the war horror film Overlord, where World War II American paratroopers are caught behind enemy lines and discover dangerous and horrifying creatures created from Nazi experiments.  The film’s director, Julius Avery, also wrote and directed 2014’s Australian crime thriller Son of a Gun which starred Brenton Thwaites, Ewan McGregor, and Alicia Vikander.

Pilou Asbaek: It’s one of those films you want to see with your friends. I saw it for the first time in a big IMAX cinema, alone.  And this film really, it gets on your skin because it's intense. It's high paced, it's intense. You never know what's around the corner. Honestly, you never know because it could be a monster, or an American soldier, or whatever. But, when I saw the first 15 minutes of this film, I felt like I want to give high fives.  I wanted to go like, ‘f*** yeah!’

Screen Rant: Well, that’s great that you brought that up. That first 15 minutes. I almost forgot that this had a horror element in it. It's just like a straight up war movie, but it's done so brilliantly because it's intense. Just as intense as anything else you would see.  Talk to me about the special effects. Because this is almost seamless, of that stuff.

Julius Avery: Well, we wanted to try and keep it as in camera as possible. Very practical. A lot of really cool, all the action beats we wanted to do old school stunts and practical effects. And all the makeup is in camera as well, and practical. So, I'm just selfish and I consider myself to be a performance director. And I know what actors like. They like it to feel as real as possible.  And if you can stay away as many like dots and put it in camera, like put the prosthetics on the actor, they're going to respond to that in a positive way. The C-47 was cramped and tight. It didn't have any fly away walls. You're in there and you're in there for 10 hours. And it's hot, it's sweaty, it feels, it smells and feels like what it would be to be on that plane. And so, for me, that's all about just getting it as real as possible for the actor. And VFX for me on this film, they were there as support, but the heavy lifting was practical.

Screen Rant: I want to talk about Billy Ray and Mark Smith, their script. Brilliant. I loved it. So, what was the scene? What was the part of reading that script that got you on board? You're like, ‘You know what, this is gonna be a lot of fun.’

Pilou Asbaek: Because how many times do you get to do this kind of film? This is not a horror film or a second World War film or a fantasy film or reality film. It's all of it.  It's like a roller coaster. And when I read the script I was like, ‘How in hell is this going to be possible? How is this going to be on the screen?’ It's like a little bastard. And I thought, honestly, I read the script and I was like, ‘They need my help. They need a guy to come in and tell them all the things they wrote about Wafner, let's do the exact opposite.’ And I remember the second meeting when like, ‘Seriously, let's go the exact opposite direction.’ And you went like, Jules was like, ‘Yes, finally someone's said what I was dreaming to do.’ But casting has different stages and Wafner is not the lead.  He’s the main villain, but he's not the lead. So, when you come around, so my character, you need the collaboration with the other guy. We were ping ponging. It goes back and forth.

Screen Rant: That's a great point, talking about collaboration. Because it seemed like you guys had a lot of freedom. At least some of the other actors told me there was a lot of freedom that came about creating those characters on the screen.  Can you guys talk to me about the collaboration process?

Julius Avery: I tend to hire filmmakers. They might be a cinematographer, or they might be an actor, but deep down they’re filmmakers. And so, I value everyone's opinion, and I like strong opinions.  I think great actors, they come prepared with their idea of what they want. They'll always try-- I always love it when an actor plays. They try everything and they allow themselves to be open.  The only way you can do that is by creating a team environment where everyone feels safe. And if you drop the ball, no one's going to f***ing laugh at you. I always try and keep the time pressure off of the set.  I don't like anyone looking at the clock or anyone chattering about that. We've got time. Let's explore it.

Pilou Asbaek: Exactly.  I never felt at one point, I would come with the most stupid ideas, and not once did you go like, ‘That’s a f***ing bad idea, bro. It's not going to happen.’ Every single time, he would open up and be like, ‘Okay, let's try it out. Let's try it out. Because everyone knows who's the captain of the ship.’ It’s this guy. He's got the final say. That's how it is.  It's a team effort, but at the end of the day he's the captain. So, you got to feed the captain different options, so he can bring the material home, sit with his editor, and create the film that he's building up here.

Screen Rant: It really is a collaborative effort with everybody.

Pilou Asbaek: It is. And if I want-- the best possible performance always comes out of generosity. That's a great quote. Now, science fiction and horror are kind of cautionary tales about what society is going through. Can you talk to me about some of the themes of Overlord’s cautionary tale that you're trying to present to the audience?

Julius Avery: For me it's like, you f**** with Mother Nature, bad things are going to happen. There's that. It's the question of do we need to play-- The central question is like, ‘Do we have to be as dirty as them to win war?’ And there's two opposing thoughts on that in the movie.  And they come to a head. And it’s really up to the audience to decide themselves whether or not that's how far are you willing to go as a human.

Screen Rant: Interesting. Now, I know that a lot of the other cast members had to go through a boot camp. Did you go through said boot camp as well?

Pilou Asbaek: Noooo.

Screen Rant: No? [laughs]

Pilou Asbaek: I'm getting too old for boot camps. They had started shooting already when I came aboard. So, they were a team. So, we thought it would be funny if I kept a distance to the guys. So, we weren't being super friendly from day one. Because normally, you want to find friends. Because you feel insecure. But after like 10 hours and 25,000 cigarettes, people were like, we were like this. The only thing we were, we surprised them was that we're using a lot of real prosthetics and that's one of the things I'm so proud of in this film is what that department did.

Screen Rant: And you guys knocked it out of the park with that stuff.

Pilou Asbaek: But honestly, those guys are geniuses. What you guys created is genius. It's one of the best departments I've ever worked with in my life.

Julius Avery: And we did all the makeup, all practically and old school. Like we did the—there’s snapping neck in the movie. One of our guys gets his neck snapped back. And we did that with puppetry, old school puppetry and animatronics. It's very visceral and you can feel a texture. And if we had done a VFX, it probably wouldn’t have—

Pilou Asbaek: It’s not the same.  Because that's the point. It adds something to the character and it adds something to the other guys’ performances.  Movie’s not better than its weakest link. And if you can give that to your colleagues, they're going to react better and they're going to be better in the film. So, when we did the most hairy prosthetic work, they hadn't seen it. So, we would shoot those guys, reaction first. And then revealing it. I love that.  You're helping your friends, but you're also helping your own performance.

More: Jovan Adepo and Mathilde Ollivier Interview for Overlord

Key Release Dates
  • Overlord (2018) release date: Nov 09, 2018
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