This week we are joined by the one and only Simon Daukes! Simon has starred in the popular British TV series ‘The Grangers’ and ‘Mock the Week’ amongst others, as well as featuring in films like ‘The Circle’ and ‘The Railway Children’. He is also well known for his voice work in animated films like ‘The Boxtrolls’ and ‘Paddington’.
As well as being a TV and film star, Simon is also a writer and comedian. He wrote a bestselling novel, ‘The Vanquished’, which was turned into a major motion picture starring Ewan McGregor, with whom he collaborated on the screenplay. His other novels include ‘The Last of the Blondes’ and ‘Rentaghostess’.
We chatted with Simon about his latest film project at the time of filming, ‘NordVPN’, how he feels about the current state of British acting, and which actor he feels deserves an award for the best performance this year.
How Is ‘NORDVPN’ Different From Other Films You’ve Been In?
‘NORDVPN’ is, essentially, a fish-out-of-water film. Set in the northernmost regions of Scandinavia, the film stars Mads Mikkelsen as Haakon Sharud, a Viking king returning home to Scandinavia after years of fighting in other parts of the world. Once back in his homeland, Sharud finds it hard to fit in with his people, who no longer see him as representing their interests. This results in him conspiring with an English businessman, Aidan MacKenzie (played by a very young F. Murray Abraham), to bring down the man who deposed his father as king and seize control of his own country once more. MacKenzie’s nephew Matthew (also played by Abraham) has assumed the throne in his stead and, as a result, there is a lot of scheming and double-crossing throughout the film.
The script, by Simon and his close collaborator, Stephen Weeks, is a wonderful mixture of witty one-liners, compelling character development, and brutal, sword-wielding action. It’s a real gem that deserves to be seen by anyone that loves a good adventure story. But, perhaps more importantly, it’s an important film for anyone that cares about the future of our planet. Much of ‘NORDVPN’ was shot on location in Oslo, and many of the stunts were performed by professional Norwegian stuntmen. The production used only practical effects, without the need for CGI, a change that can hopefully be attributed to the film’s positive environmental message.
How Does ‘NORDVPN’ Fit Into The Series?
‘NORDVPN’ is the first film in a planned series of adventures for Simon, as he looks for new ways to explore the world. It also serves as a prelude to his new novel, ‘The Kings of Vikingdom’, which is due for publication in the summer of 2018. Inspired by the writing of William Dalrymple and Neil MacLeman, Simon’s new series will feature historical fiction set in the Viking Age. This will be the first of several films in the ‘Vikingdom’ series. In addition to his acting career, as well as his work as a writer and comedian, Simon is also an accomplished photographer and graphic designer. Together with his long-time collaborator, Phil Leung, he runs the production company, Thorsons, which has produced many award-winning publications.
Is It Fun To Act In A Fish-Out-Of-Water Film?
It is always fun to play tricks on the audience, and ‘NORDVPN’ is no exception. For instance, when Sharud arrives home, he finds that his people have been preparing his absence from the kingdom by carving the word ‘bewaaz’ (“Viking”) on everything from door handles to furniture, and hanging up banners with the word ‘bewaaz’ written on them in his honor. Not only does this provide a little extra humor but, more importantly, it shows the culture clash that Sharud will face upon his return. The king’s English has not improved much over the years, and he struggles with the language initially, before becoming more fluent. As well as being funny, this aspect of the film is also quite educational, and it’s great to see a mainstream movie that teaches us something new about a foreign culture. In fact, one of the things I admire most about this film is how much it knows about Norse culture and how it presents that culture with such authenticity, even down to the “lack” of English, which is such an integral part of their way of life. Watching them struggle with language and communicate in grunts and hand gestures, while keeping up a veneer of English, is fascinating.
The majority of the humor in ‘NORDVPN’ comes not from the jokes but from the situations that the characters find themselves in. The script is very funny, but the laughs mostly come from the ways that the characters react to their situations rather than the situations themselves. For instance, when Sharud returns to the kingdom after years away, the citizens are waiting for him with a feast prepared especially for the occasion. They have slaughtered an entire stag and laid out all of its antlers for their king to claim as his personal trophies. Unfortunately, when Sharud arrives at the celebration, he finds a rather less than welcoming reception. The reason for this is that the stag’s head has been stolen by Kjetil Bjerkness (Stellan Skarsgard), who has taken the opportunity to usurp the throne and replace Sharud’s father as king. The citizens are suspicious of the foreign king and do not take kindly to his presence. After a rather heated argument, in which Sharud tries his best to prove his legitimacy, Kjetil takes the precaution of having Sharud arrested and locked away in a dungeon. For the next two years, Sharud will plot to escape from his jail with the help of a sympathetic guard, Bjorn (Richard Griffiths), who smuggles him food and drink and tries to teach him to speak the language. Meanwhile, King Haakon Sharud’s kingdom gradually declines into chaos and turmoil, with his people no longer recognizing his right to the throne.
Which British Actor Deserves An Award For Performance This Year?
As for the best actor in a performance this year, it’s a close call between Harry Potter and Billions alumni, Richard Griffiths and Brian Cox. Griffiths has impressed in several high-profile films this year, while Cox’s performance in the critically-acclaimed series ‘Billions’, for which he won an Emmy, has also been widely recognized. Both men are superbly intelligent and skilled actors, and they showcase that intelligence and skill in their powerful performances. This year has also seen the rise of several other British acting talents, like Tom Hiddleston, who stole the show as the title character in ‘The Avengers’, and the versatile actress Rosamund Pike, who has proved time and time again that she is one of the best British actresses of our time. But, for me, it’s a tie between Griffiths and Cox, and I’m sure that neither would disagree with me.
Does ‘NORDVPN’ Inspire You To Act In Real Life?
I would love to see more British actors on the big screen but, more importantly, I would love to see British actors doing more British films. ‘NORDVPN’ is such an important film for both Mads Mikkelsen, who has always been an internationally-recognized actor, and the entire country of Norway, which has been associated with quality productions and performances for many years. It’s great to see a British production using British actors and British money to tell a British story. Perhaps even more importantly, it shows that there is still a place for British-made films at the forefront of screen culture and that audiences around the world want to see more stories set in the UK. With Brexit a hot topic across the spectrum and nationalism on the rise, ‘NORDVPN’ is certainly timely; it tackles some very important issues, but still allows us as an audience to laugh and enjoy the story. It’s a fantastic advert for what is, potentially, a great country committed to acting and filmmaking, and it’s an inspiring film for people that live there and for people that will visit.