“We hated each other,” says Danish actor Johan Phlip “Pilou” Asbæk of director Tobias Lindholm.
Why? “Because he was a bastard.”
On the set of 2010 prison drama R, Lindholm asked other actors to physically attack Asbæk, his star, during a round of improvisation. Then, in 2012, Asbæk spent four weeks playing the hostage of Somalian pirates in Lindholm’s A Hijacking, for which he first put on 40 pounds, then lost it to achieve an authentically starved look.
“He didn’t know what he was doing,” the actor recalls of those early days with Lindholm. “I wasn’t very skilled or trained. So we collided. We found out that I had some boundaries that he needs to respect, and that I needed to shut the fuck up and just do what he was saying. It was during these difficult collaborations that we found we liked working together.”
Nowadays the two are close collaborators and friends. Their latest collaboration, A War, premieres in February. The film, which shot in Turkey, Jordan and Spain, centers on a fictional Danish army officer, Claus Pedersen, charged with the negligent targeting of civilians during a chaotic firefight in Afghanistan.
“It wasn’t the physical part which was difficult—that just required working out,” Asbæk says of preparing to play Pedersen. “The difficult part was understanding the way a soldier would think.”
The pair’s dynamic relationship still bears fruit. “You know what they say about the Olympics? The head of the Olympic committee always ends it by saying, ‘This has been the best Olympics so far.’ I always like the last film I’ve done. I love A War. It gives nuance to this world that we’re living in. It’s trying to say that there are no easy decisions to be made in our lifetimes.”
This year may mark a turning point in the 33-year-old actor’s life, with a slate of high profile roles lined up. His star ascends rapidly worldwide in spring as he plays Euron Greyjoy in the sixth season of HBO’s megalith Game of Thrones. Fresh from that shoot in Dublin, Asbæk seems comfortable and excited. “It’s awesome, man! I can’t say that much about it, but I can tell you it was fun!”
He then appears in Woodshock, by fashion designers-turned-directors Kate and Laura Mulleavy, Timur Bekmambetov’s Ben-Hur remake (as Pontius Pilate), and Rupert Sanders’ live-action futuristic thriller Ghost in the Shell, based on the cult Japanese manga. In short, he’s blowing up.
Off-screen, Asbæk has a three-year-old daughter with his wife Anna Bro, “one of the best playwrights in Denmark, if not Scandinavia, if not Europe,” whom he met at theater school. While his acting heroes are ’70s film stars (“Gene Hackman in The French Connection and, of course, Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter”), his plans for the immediate future are just to soak up some Netflix. “I want to watch Jessica Jones! Everyone’s talking about it.” MM
A War opens in theaters on February 12, 2016, courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. This article appears in MovieMaker‘s Winter 2016 issue.