Harry Potter star Rupert Grint is far, far away from the world created by JK Rowling with his latest, Into the White. The true story of Allied and Nazi fighter pilots who shoot each other down and then must depend on each other in the harsh Norwegian winter is from director Petter Naess.
Movie Fanatic caught up with Naess for an exclusive interview where he talked about the power of the World War II story, as well as the screen-searing turn from the actor formerly known as Ron Weasley.
Movie Fanatic: World War II seems to be a never-ending source of stories. Had you heard the story teased in the Into the White trailer? And if not, when did you become aware of it?
Petter Naess: I had lately heard about it. In Norway, we’ve been completely obsessed with the stories about our own heroes. We have not been too busy talking about what happened to the Germans or Brits or whatever. But I’d heard about it, that something had happened up there in the mountains. But then Zentropa came to me and asked me what I thought about this story because a Norwegian documentarian had heard about this and he was planning to make a documentary about it. He got in touch with Zentropa and they tried to help him finance it and find money for it. But no one seemed too eager to put any money into that documentary. And then they gave the story to a screenwriter and the screenwriter and I started working on the story.
Movie Fanatic: The story is timeless in a way, about the human spirit and that we can find things in common even if we are enemies. What part of the story spoke to you the most?
Petter Naess: I’m very fond of this moment when they get to the cabin and they ask, “What are you doing here?” “Well, our plane was shot down. What are you doing here?” “Well, we were shot down too.” That moment, being out there in the complete wilderness, is dangerous, even more dangerous than being up in the air, and realizing that, “Okay, we have probably shot each other down. What do we do?” That moment, I’m very curious about and also the moment where the Germans decide not to shoot them.
Movie Fanatic: Did you seek to contrast the different roles fighting as a pilot and a ground soldier?
Petter Naess: Yes, I think it’s the moment when they realize, “Okay, we shot each other down. This is war. But, how do we deal with this type of war because we have not been trained in this type of war? We’ve been trained for the airborne one.” So that opening when they meet each other and they see the enemy and they realize, “Okay, we just tried to kill each other. And why don’t we do it now?” And that’s the whole difference. Because when you shoot at a plane, you shoot at a piece of metal. Then you’re standing in front of a human being, you don’t need another dead body.
Movie Fanatic: Your two actors couldn’t have been better cast. Can you talk about what they brought to their roles and how important casting was?
Petter Naess: It’s an ensemble piece. It’s almost like it’s theater play. It’s five men in a cabin trying to maintain their enmity. The antagonist is the growing friendship. And that I find awkward and a little bit funny. In this story, the real antagonist is the growing friendship. They’re not allowed to be friends. They have to suppress that. It did become a little cliché about the Germans being so by the book and the Brits being more laidback, ironic, enjoying life more.
Movie Fanatic: And what about Rupert Grint? He just sizzles…
Petter Naess: Then this fiery, ginger redhead, he’s just brilliant in the pub. He just wants to go home. To me, it’s so simple. He had a date this night and they blew it for him. He had a date back at the air base. He’s the kind of character who really helps to bring this story down to earth. Then we have this Nazi sympathizer in David Kross, building alongside different characters that begin to understand and also begin to like each other and gain respect for each other. The most surprising friendship is the one between Rupert Grint and this German Strunk (Stig Henrik Hoff).