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Intimidating Rust Cohle and assisting Walter Mitty: an interview with actor Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, by Nate Hill

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with actor Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, who has appeared in a very memorable turn as villain Dewall in season 1 of HBO’s True Detective, the rowdy, loveable helicopter pilot in The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, as well as films including A Walk Among The Tombstones, Contraband,  XL, Stormland, Beowulf And Grendel. He can also be seen in the TV show Banshee, as well as the upcoming fantasy action film The Last Witch Hunter, The much anticipated sequel to Zoolander, and the recently announced adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The BFG. He’s a super nice guy, and I think will be a huge upcoming talent in years to come. Enjoy!
Nate: How did you get into acting, was it something you always knew you wanted to do growing up, or did you fall into it?

Ólafur: I didn´t really decide to be an actor until after my first year of drama school. I know that sounds weird but I sort of fell into acting in college. When college was finishing up, I had no idea what I wanted to do, I loved acting but had never really considered a career doing that. Then one of my friends wanted to audition to get into the drama school here in Iceland and sort of dragged me with him. Of course I ended up getting in but he did not. Even though I got in it still took me awhile to really take the plunge. But in retrospect, getting in was the first step. I was lucky, I got a lot of work straight out of school, lot of smaller parts and as your get older you realize how important experience is. But I wasn´t really using all my potential.

As weird as it seems, one of the best things that has ever happened to me professionally was when I was fired from The City Theatre of Reykjavik in 2003. That really forced me to look at my career and where I wanted to take it much more critically. That´s where the decision was made. I was going to be a better actor, person, an artist. I was going to have a much more honest dialogue with myself and be someone who takes responsibility for their art.

Nate: Who were some of your favourite actors, filmmakers and films growing up?

Ólafur: I was in love with everything film. I remember walking home late New Years night about 25 years ago and seeing one of my favorite films, High Anxiety, I thought it was brilliant (HERE IS YOUR PAPER!) Jaws, Alien, Star Wars, Kentucky Fried Movie, all of James Bond, ohhhhh, to be able to go back and re-watch them for the first time?!!! I also remember loving these teen comedies like Better of Dead and Ferris Bueller´s Day Off. All those actresses and all that teenage angst. I had a crush on quite a few of them.
Nate: Working with Marteinn Thorsson: You and him have done several projects together, what is your working relationship like, and do you plan to collaborate again soon?

Ólafur: Me and Matti are blood brothers. We have done two features and one short together and have in the works at least a couple of films that we want to do. Marteinn is just such a great director to work with, he thinks big and has an extensive background in film, he has worked as a script supervisor, producer, editor, director and screenwriter. There are probably more titles he has held on a set. He is easy, fun, collaborative and honest. You can´t ask for more than that.
Nate: True Detective: You are an integral part of the story despite only appearing in one episode. How was your experience playing Dewall, working with Nic’s writing and acting opposite Matthew? How did ty approach the character? Backstory and intentions etc.

Ólafur: True Detective was such a great experience. I auditioned for a bigger role but was offered this part and fell in love with it. The scene in the bar with those excellent actors, Matthew McConaughey and Joe Sikora was so much fun to do. Joe who plays Ginger in the series is one of my best friends today.

I had studied an Algiers (a neighborhood in New Orleans) accent for my role in a film called Contraband which I was able to use in True Detective. And the writing made the scene easy to do. Overall it was a show filled with good, talented, hard working people led by a man who is one of the best directors working today, Cary Fukunaga.
Nate: A Walk Among The Tombstones: How was your experience working on this, playing Jonas and acting with Liam Neeson?

Ólafur: I had a general meeting in New York with the great Avy Kaufman during which she asked me if I would be around two days later to meet a director. When I met Scott Frank two days later, I had a taxi waiting for me downstairs to take me straight to the airport for my flight home. Scott is such a lovely artist, it was a pleasure to meet him and after a couple of Skype readings he offered me the role. And I can´t really tell you how happy that made me. I though Jonas was such a wonderfully twisted creation. Someone who could so naively get himself involved with the wrong crowd. A crowd consisting of two monsters really. And filming it was truly great. Liam Neeson is one of my favorite actors and he is such a good, kind man. It was one of the best experiences of my life and I would give anything to work with Scott again, which I hope might happen soon…
Nate: Walter Mitty: your character is so funny and memorable, you really gave him a sheepish drunken amiable quality that lights up the whole sequence. How was your experience playing him?

Ólafur: It helped that I had recently played an almost entire film “drunk”. I worked with Jermaine Clement on a film and he asked me twice if I really hadn´t been drunk, I think that might be the best review I ever got. But I have to say that Ben Stiller really made it easy. Both as a director but also as an actor, you could really feel how much he enjoyed the “acting” part and how he made me able to just relax and enjoy being there and not to worry about having to perform. I´ll admit that I there were moments where in my mind was going “holy s..t, that´s Ben Stiller and I´m working with him”. One of the best days of my life was spent at that table drinking that fake beer.

Nate: Do you have any upcoming projects you are excited for and want to speak about?
Ólafur: There are a few projects that I´m excited and a few that I can´t mention. I got to reunite with Ben for a tiny cameo in Zoolander 2. There is a Icelandic tv series called Trapped, which will premiere around Christmas. The series is the biggest thing we have produced here for tv and I´m really looking forward to seeing it. Then there is a film directed by Jörg Tyttel and Alex Helfrecht called The White King. A series for Cinemax, Quarry that really looks incredible and finally The BFG which was an absolute pleasure, directed by Steven Spielberg.
Nate: Thank you so much for chatting , Ólafur, and I look forward to all your upcoming projects, especially The BFG which is a favourite book of mine. 

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