Aksel Hennie discusses Norwegian thriller Pioneer


Released on August 4 on Blu-Ray and DVD, Pioneer tells the fascinating and tragic true story behind Norway’s oil boom in the early 1980’s. Predicting a huge revenue stream from the newly discovered North Sea oil and gas fields, the Norwegian government had to find a way of constructing pipelines at depths of up to 500m – the commercial diving industry had never attempted to work at such depths before.

Aksel Hennie stars as Petter, a deep-sea diver who, along with a group of fellow divers from Norway and the US, were the first crews to attempt the work. When tragedy strikes on the first test dive and Petter’s brother dies, he takes it upon himself to find the cause of the accident. He discovers an industry built on greed and deceit, and one which is perfectly willing to put others’ lives at risk for financial gain.

Nordic Noir sat down with Hennie to discuss his role in the film, near death experiences and his opinions on the pioneers themselves.

Nordic Noir: How did you first become involved with Pioneer?

Aksel Hennie: Erik [Skjoldbjærg, the film’s director] called me, and ever since I saw Insomnia (1997) I wanted to work with him. So, even before I had read the script I wanted to do it. The backdrop of the story is known in Norway, but this particular part of the story isn’t that well known to the general public. The families who were affected by this event were sceptical to begin with, but luckily after they saw it they were grateful, which is all we could ask for. We needed to be respectful and humble, because if you aren’t truthful you can damage people.

NN: Did you take part in the underwater scenes, or did you use a double?

AH: Yes, it is me! There was only one scene I wasn’t allowed to do because we filmed it in Iceland in super-cold water. But the rest of it was me. I’ve done recreational diving before, but for this I asked to go down to 60 metres and really test myself. Then we did some pressure chamber diving, down to 70 metres on helium. Acting underwater is so hard though – everything is so heavy and tiring and you are obviously wet all the time.

NN: There is a spectacular car crash that happens during the film, which apparently wasn’t staged. Can you confirm that?

AH: It was my fault – they asked me to drive faster, but I chose to drive a lot faster! I felt I was in control of the action and that it wasn’t dangerous. The director and the whole crew were the opposite side of the shot and they all thought I was dead. It wasn’t until I saw the slow motion playback that I realised how close I was to dying. I’m fortunate to be alive. Immediately after the crash I felt OK, but seeing it again I just froze and went into a cold sweat. I only had a couple of scratches and my elbow was injured because it hit the actual ground. It’s crazy how close I came to dying.

NN: Would you be interested in moving into English language films?

AH: I’ve done some Hollywood films this year, one called The Last Knights and another called Hercules. If I’m able to carry on doing that it would be super because there is so much talent in Hollywood, but I will never stop making Norwegian movies because it’s my language and it’s my home.

NN: What is your opinion on what happened to those divers?

AH: We know that a lot of people have and are still being mistreated but we now live in one of the richest countries in the world. I ask the divers ‘Was it worth it?’ and they always answered ‘no’. If you ask me, I say ‘yes’. I’m sorry to say that, but of course it was. I look at my daughter, she is at a good school, she gets medical help if she needs it, we live in a perfectly functional country. It wasn’t like that before those crazy talented pioneers went down and did those jobs though. In a cynical way, it was worth it but I can understand why those divers cannot feel what I feel. So my response to that answer is believe me, look at what you have made. I am super grateful for what they have done.