An Icelandic dreamer gets his Viking on

Director Baltasar Kormakur, left, and Mark Wahlberg, who worked together in "2 Guns" and "Contraband."
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Directors get passion projects made all the time, but it’s rare that one from countries the size of Kentucky can make one in Hollywood, let alone at studio prices.

A few years ago, I interviewed Baltasar Kormakur, an Icelandic director whose stock was on the climb in Hollywood after the Mark Wahlberg action thriller he directed called “Contraband” (a remake of an Icelandic-language picture Kormakur himself starred in) became a surprise hit.

I instantly liked Kormakur, in part because he started his career making oddball indies such as “101 Reykjavik” that perfectly captured the spirit of the Icelandic capital, in part because he once bought a boat just to sink it. And you don’t question people who buy boats just to sink them.


Kormakur told me about a Viking project he had begun writing a long time before, a kind of origin story that fit with the larger-than-life mythic aura of its creator. As he explained at the time:

“I wrote it 10 years ago but I decided to wait because I couldn’t create it on an Icelandic budget. I need a studio budget to create a Viking world, the ships and the house. It’s like ‘Apocalypto,’ but different.”

To make the movie at a studio budget, he also couldn’t make it in a foreign tongue. But then, as he noted, “no one knows what the language was anyway in 900 or 1000. Maybe it’s English.”

I was a little skeptical that this could ever make it through the narrow Hollywood pipeline, but Kormakur looks a little like Viggo Mortensen if Viggo Mortensen was a sea captain, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned covering this business, it’s that you don’t doubt seafaring Viggo Mortensens.

I’ve interviewed Kormakur since, most recently on the eve of the release of last summer’s “2 Guns,” a western action-comedy also starring Wahlberg. The film came in with modest expectations but became a surprise hit too. Don’t ever doubt a man willing to swim through crashing waves to rescue an actor.

And sure enough, on Tuesday Universal Pictures announced that itwould finance and release the movie. Universal-affiliated producers Marc Platt and Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner of Working Title have also come aboard.

The studio had been climbing glaciers with Kormakur on the recently completed “Everest,” a film starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Josh Brolin about rival expeditionary teams. And now they’ve decided to team up again on the film, the auto-correct nightmare “Vikingr.”

According to the studio:

“The project is based on the classic tales deriving from the legendary Icelandic Sagas, which document larger than life heroes, adventures and battles of early Nordic settlers, as well as daily life in the Viking age. Vikingr offers a fresh look at Viking culture that is both intimate and epic.”

When I first talked to him about it, Kormakur said he was so invested in the Viking project that “I’ll take this with me to the grave.” Now he won’t have to.

Don’t doubt men who enjoy heading off on solitary trips to the Icelandic wilderness.

Twitter: @ZeitchikLAT