Special to The Times

Knowing THAT Iceland’s Anita Briem is trained in broadsword combat and jeet kune do, one might expect the actress who plays intrepid mountain guide Hannah Asgeirsson in “Journey to the Center of the Earth” to resemble a female freight train -- maybe Hellga from “American Gladiators.”

Instead, strolling in confidently for a cup of coffee at Ammo in Los Angeles, the Reykjavik native is 5 feet 4 with fine, elfin features and an upright, energetic presence that seems to gain her several inches.

“The mystical, magical place of Iceland, which is what it really is, is normal for me,” says Briem, 26, in lightly accented English. “I drive by myself across the country, across the highlands and the fields of lava and go bathing in natural hot pools, and it is spectacular, as is our history and the contrast of elements in the environment.”

The self-described “odd little girl” was “raised in a very musical family. My father [Gunnlaugur Briem] is arguably one of the best drummers in Europe, and my mom [Erna Þorarinsdottir] is an extraordinary singer, so I grew up sleeping behind drum kits and on studio floors.”


She became involved in the National Theatre of Iceland at 9, eventually moving to London, where she was accepted to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. After a couple of British TV appearances, she had her first industry meeting in Los Angeles, which resulted in her casting in “Journey.” But it wasn’t easy.

“I must have auditioned for this movie 25 times,” she says. “I have to check my facts on this, but I believe I beat Cameron Diaz’s record for how many times she auditioned for ‘The Mask.’ ” “Journey” costar Brendan Fraser has said of her, “She’s the real deal. She’s the size and shape of Tinkerbell, but she can take care of herself. That’s perfect for the character.” For her part, Briem wasn’t fazed by working with the major action star, who she concedes has nearly a foot on her, saying, “I have the Viking heritage!”

Her fearless attitude served her well on the film’s set. During one underwater scene for “Journey,” she was thrilled to complete a high dive and long swim, positioning herself perfectly for the camera.

“I was like, ‘And here we go, the dramatic sequence of Hannah drowning!’ And I start dragging myself down by letting air from my lungs gradually so I sink down a little bit. All of a sudden there were like, eight dudes that attacked me from every direction. They were the safety divers; they thought I was drowning! I was so upset that I actually whacked one of them right in the face.”


As delighted as she was to play a take-charge heroine, Briem might be most excited by the live-action 3-D technology pioneered for the film by James Cameron’s company.

“When James Cameron called me his ‘guinea pig,’ then I knew this was something special,” she beams. “Actors are going to really explore and maximize it. It’s something we did during this movie; we were all learning about this new medium. Can you imagine what our gods of cinema -- Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Robert Zemeckis, Tim Burton -- are going to do with this?”




Where you’ve seen her

Following a couple of British television appearances (including one on “Doctor Who”), Anita Briem turned up stateside as Emily Stevens on the short-lived 2006 ABC series “The Evidence” with Orlando Jones and Martin Landau. Apart from her current turn as the indomitable mountain guide Hannah in the 3-D extravaganza “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” the actress can be seen on Showtime’s “The Tudors” as Jane Seymour. She’ll soon begin filming “The Storyteller” with Wes Bentley and Katharine McPhee of “American Idol” fame.