Already in select theaters, and set to debut on various digital platforms this Friday, February 22nd, Jonas Åkerlund’s Lords of Chaos is centered around real-life Norwegian black metal band Mayhem and its co-founder Euronymous (played by Rory Culkin), whose tragic rise and fall is explored here.
Daily Dead recently spoke with Åkerlund, who got his start as the drummer for Bathory and went on to nab several awards for his groundbreaking work in the world of music videos, and he discussed how personal this story was for him, and why he wanted to be the one to bring Lords of Chaos to the big screen. Åkerlund also talked about Culkin’s longstanding loyalty to the project, finding the balance to the “truth and lies” of this story, and more.
I would love to start off at the beginning, and talk about the journey of getting this film made, because I know it took years. What was it, in terms of this story, that you wanted to make sure you were the one to bring it to the big screen and share it with the world?
Jonas Åkerlund: Well, I think I went through all the different traditional things that you have to in order to make a movie like this. It basically started like a little bit of an obsession from my end, when I was just like really touched by this story and I couldn't stop thinking about the story, and I went through what I now realize that a lot of other people were going through, too, which is that the story becomes personal in a weird way, even though it's not. In a way, I thought that I owned this story, I thought it was my story, and I was irritated when I thought other people knew more about it [laughs]. I realize now that there's a lot of people, even people who weren't even born when this happened, so it really is one of those stories that stays with you like that when you hear it.
And then, when I realized that I'm not alone in the world thinking about this, I started to seriously think about making this into a movie. I saw this on the news when it happened, and I heard about it because my friends were friends with all these people and I came from this world, so I started thinking about it back then. But it was around six years ago where I was like, "Okay. I'm going to really try to make this happen now."
I had done a few movies, but I didn't feel like I did anything that really meant anything for me, so I was like, "Okay. My next movie has to be Lords of Chaos. Whatever it takes. If it takes years, I'm going to wait it out. I will do it." So, six years ago, I started to write it, with a lot of confidence, and I wrote it very quickly. I guess it's been brewing in my head for so long, so once I finally sat down to write it, it happened very fast. But it took about six years to get to where we are now, where it was a couple of years to get it financed, and then it took a couple years to make. It’s been a long, uphill battle, and to make it happen, I needed a couple of brave producers, investors, crew, and actors.
When you're doing a story like this, where the characters are actually based on people with real lives, how does that change your responsibility as the storyteller?
Jonas Åkerlund: It's a balance. There are moments that I cared about, so I knew they had to be included, there are some moments that come from my desire to create a movie. I’ve had to face some of the people that were there, and go through their stories and figure out just what I did believe, and what I didn’t believe. That’s why we say that this movie is based on truth and lies, which is like me saying that it's a true story, and I've been really listening to all these people who were there, and I've been trying to respect everybody that's been involved, but it's also a lie because at the end of the day, I'm making a movie, and so we have to lean into that, too.
Obviously, there are a lot of sad people left behind from this story that are still very, very affected by it and I do care about them, and I have been in contact with all of those people, trying to find the balance between being respectful and understanding, and at the same time, making this movie mine, because there are so many perspectives in this movie, because it involves this whole community. But I did meet with Euronymous' parents and Necrobutcher and Hellhammer and all these great people that felt this story on a personal level, in a way that none of us can ever possibly understand.
I've been a big fan of his for a long time, but it's so great to see Rory in the forefront of this film, because it feels like he really comes into his own in this movie. Can you talk about what it was about Rory where you knew that this guy could pull off Euronymous? In some ways, it’s almost like he’s playing two characters, and I just think he’s really great. Everyone is, really.
Jonas Åkerlund: He was truly dedicated and very loyal to this project from the beginning, because like I said, it did take a while to get it made. I kind of made the mistake of going out to cast this very early, and when you cast 18, 17, 18, 19, 20-year-old people, they can change so fast, within a year, they can look completely different and have a different voice. But Rory has had this baby face forever, so I was lucky there [laughs]. No, but seriously, it was a combination of the meetings we had, the stuff he said, and his extreme talent, his eyes. There was just something in his eyes that I could see how, on one hand, they could be very dark and evil, but on the other hand could belong to this sweet, beautiful little boy. In many ways, it really helped me develop Euronymous over the years by having Rory attached. I was so extremely grateful to have him on board, and all the actors in this movie, too, but the fact that he was so loyal for such a long time, means the world to me.
There's a lot of ugliness to this movie. I don't mean that in a disparaging way, but there's almost a bluntness to these characters and their actions, especially how twisted the ego can become and how it drives these men to do some horrible things. And yet, there's also a humanity to these guys, too, which is important. So, how hard was it to find the balance between these inciteful things that they were doing, but also finding characters that you could still relate to, that you could still empathize with? Because I don't think it's an easy thing to pull off.
Jonas Åkerlund: To me, the story I've seen so many times before, in books and the documentaries, it's an easy story to read about, where you just Google it and you can spend hours in front of the computer reading about it. And all those platforms have one thing in common: they have this feeling where the story is just about these “evil demons” from Norway in the ’80s and ’90s, and it didn’t feel right to me. Especially when I saw all these pictures that they took, it kept reminding me of just how extremely young they were when all of this was happening. And I haven't seen that in any of these documentaries. They never say, "Wow, they were so young." They were basically very young, extremely driven, and productive children, with families and friends and homes and had pretty good upbringings.
There wasn't really anything to blame, either. It wasn't drugs or abuse or bad upbringings or these things that happen in society that tend to lead to this type of behavior. For these kids, it all came from somewhere else, and that's part of the obsession, I think, for many people. Part of my take of the story was to remind audiences that they were humans and they were very young, because that’s where the power of this story is.
It's interesting to me, again, that this is a story that took place, starting in the ’80s through the ’90s, and yet there are so many parallels as to what's going on in our world today. Is that something that was in the back of your mind at all when you were working on this project?
Jonas Åkerlund: Yeah, I definitely thought about that all the time. In many ways, Euronymous was a little bit ahead of his time, using the world as a platform for his message. He was famous and known all over the world by just basically sending out tapes and having pen pals all over the world, which is pretty much what everybody's trying to do today, but you do it much quicker with the internet.
And he took a lot of pictures before mobile phones, too, so there were a lot of pictures of these kids out there. And also, I think the most important thing is he did affect a lot of people without social media. He managed to get all these individuals to stop thinking as individuals. There was nothing wrong with it, they were not stupid. But somehow, they stopped thinking as individuals and started to think like a group. And the group became more important than anything else, so the decisions became based on what the group would think, and not based on common sense anymore.
And that happens all the time on social media today, so there definitely are a lot of parallel universes between how Euronymous approached the world with what we do on social media today. He just had to really work for it.
In case you missed it, check here to read Heather's Sundance review of Lords of Chaos and her interviews with the director and cast!