This past Tuesday night, Jonas Åkerlund’s Lords of Chaos closed out the Midnighter premieres at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Starring Rory Culkin, Emory Cohen, Jack Kilmer, Sky Ferreira, Valter Skarsgård, and Sam Coleman, Akerlund’s Lords recounts (in its own way) the start of the Norwegian Black Metal movement in the late 1980s, which was pioneered by Euronymous (Culkin), the founder of the band Mayhem, and how jealousy and egos corrupted the scene once an eager fan-turned-bandmate Varg (Cohen) takes Euronymous’ ideologies as a battle cry, culminating in an unforgettable showdown between the two musicians.
Ahead of its premiere, Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak with a handful of folks behind Lords of Chaos, including co-writer/director Åkerlund, co-stars Culkin, Kilmer, and Ferreira, and producer Danny Gabai, who discussed the challenges of taking the infamous story of Mayhem and bringing it to the big screen, blending fact and fiction, the responsibilities of creating a story based on real-life people, and more.
Jonas, I've been a huge fan of your work for a long time, and I'm really excited to see what you're going to do with Lords of Chaos. Can you talk about what it was about this particular story that you wanted to turn into a film project? And what was the line that you had to walk with this film, because your opening mentions truth and lies?
Jonas Åkerlund: Well, for starters, I've been fascinated by this story for years. Ever since it happened, I've been fascinated by the story, and after 30 years, it's been growing on me. I've noticed that a lot of people are still very emotionally attached to it, and have a lot of opinions about this story. Even young, new generations that weren't even there when it happened, have a lot of opinions and know about this story. There have been books and documentaries and all these other things too, and I always thought that it would translate into a good movie. So, that's been my thought process over the years.
And the other thing is that because so many years have passed, there are so many different perspectives to this story. I came to the conclusion that even the people that were there don't really know what happened at this point. The story has changed, it's been told in so many different ways, so it wasn't fair for me to say that this was the true story, but it kind of is the true story. But adding “and lies” at the start of the film gives me a little bit more freedom to say that this is our way of telling the story.
Like I said, I don't even think the people that were there could tell us what really happened at this point. So, even though this is a true story, we took a little bit of freedom in order to also create a movie, so we stretched it a little bit.
Danny Gabai: Interestingly, the true story is so bizarre and there are so many crazy twists and turns in it, that in a number of cases, Jonas actually toned down the reality of what actually happened, just because it didn't seem believable when you saw it in that movie, because it was just so crazy.
Jonas Åkerlund: Right. And that's again, us believing that we know exactly what happened, but we don't. But we took parts of police reports, things we found out about the crime scenes, meeting with people and talking to them and doing all the research we could, basically. In terms of the look of the movie, the good thing was that these kids were very good at taking pictures, so we had a lot of real references, in terms of how the actors should dress, and what kind of instruments they had. Stuff like that.
Danny Gabai: The other thing you did that I thought was great was you spent so much time talking to the real people that were involved, and then got these guys [the actors] in touch with people that knew the real people, so that you could focus on trying to capture the emotional aspect of what these people went through. That’s something that the docs or the books weren’t able to really do.
For the actors, what was the appeal for all of you coming into this project? And is there a different sense of responsibility you feel as performers, playing characters that are based on real people versus fictional ones?
Rory Culkin: Yeah, like Jonas was saying, they sort of documented their experiences, so we had a lot to go off from. Jonas also had a photo script where, between each scene, there were personal photos of Euronymous and other things, and that was really helpful. Coming into this world, it wasn’t the easiest to follow because there were so many different characters with these demonic names and things like that. But once we got the visuals, it was much easier, and we got to speak to people that knew Euronymous, and some actors spoke to family members too.
Jack Kilmer: They're all such eccentric characters, and they made for such great opportunities for us as actors. I've never played anyone who was an actual living, walking, breathing person before, so that was new for me, to study the way someone walks and all these little details that make a person who they are. I was also a big fan of the music, and it was something I had to jump at because of Jonas and everyone involved.
Sky Ferreira: For me, it was completely different, because the person I play might bea combination of different people. So for me, I had to take some of my own personal experiences and play her up as a bit of an outsider. I was extremely jealous that everyone else had all these people, and I was sort of like "Okay, what do I do?"
There were some things I wanted to make sure of, because there weren't many women around them, and she has to be able to stand her ground as a character. I didn't want her to just be a groupie or anything, because that’s not who this character is. The way I looked at it was, Ann-Marit was more about her helping show the other side of Euronymous, the more human side of who he was.
Rory Culkin: But yeah, there's definitely extra responsibility that comes with playing somebody that existed.
Jonas Åkerlund: You want to be respectful, of course.
Rory Culkin: Absolutely. But at the same time, you want to make it your own, you just have to find the balance. There’s a delicate balance, and I hope we did those boys justice.
Lords of Chaos feels like a story where it would be easy to focus on the sensationalism to everything. How much did you guys lean into the human drama, and was that a big challenge, finding that balance between making an audacious movie that serves the Black Metal movement, but still finding the humanity to these characters?
Jonas Åkerlund: No, I think the focus was more on what the actual boys went through, in terms of the emotional side of it, than the relationship side of it. But there is a root of reality to what they did, and our take with this movie was that both of these aspects are very important. It has the extreme ups and the extreme downs. The movie's basically in three acts. The first act is very playful and fun and young, and then it slowly becomes more and more serious, and the very last act is very sad. It’s an emotional roller coaster throughout the film, that’s for sure.
Danny Gabai: When Jonas first brought us this project, the thing that really jumped out at us was that he really did own it on the emotional side, and was interested in the more humanistic character-driven side of the story. It wasn’t just him saying, "Look at all these crazy details." He really wanted to focus on getting to the root of how did these young kids that came from good homes and good backgrounds get to this place? How did something like this ultimately happen? And he had a very different perspective on this story than I'd ever seen before. Sure, it's a provocative story, but Jonas saw it as a very humanistic story that he could tell.
Jack Kilmer: Jonas knows better than anyone the aesthetics and the humor that's involved with the story, but he also brings a lot of emotion to it because it's very close to home for him. In a way, he grew up around this world, and he would tell us about the real people as well, and his own experiences would give us these stories that we could draw from for our performances.
Rory Culkin: And like you said, there's a delicate balance, where we are trying to humanize them, but they are fu**ing legends for a reason. You just have to be able to find that balance.
In case you missed it, check here to catch up on our other live coverage of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival!