From Iceland — A Metallic Maiden

A Metallic Maiden

A Metallic Maiden

Published March 26, 2014

Þorbjörg Helga Dýrfjörð wins Best Actress at the Eddas

Photo by
Nanna Dís

Þorbjörg Helga Dýrfjörð wins Best Actress at the Eddas

‘Málmhaus’ (“Metalhead”), written and directed by Ragnar Bragason, is both a coming of age story and a love letter to heavy metal music.

The story follows protagonist Hera (Þorbjörg Helga Dýrfjörð), a raven-haired maiden in her early twenties who lives with her parents on a remote countryside farm. In her early adolescence, Hera lost her older brother in a tragic accident and she subsequently copes by escaping into the loudest and heaviest rock music available. Meanwhile, the silence between bitter Hera and her grieving parents is as deafening as the music.

At the recent Edda Awards (the Icelandic Film and Television awards) Þorbjörg took home the Best Actress award for her first leading role in a film. Her onscreen parents, Ingvar E. Sigurðsson and Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, both won as well in the Best Supporting Actor and Actress category (and to top it all off, Ingvar won Best Actor as well, for his role in ‘Hross í oss’ (“Of Horses and Men”).

We spoke with Þorbjörg Helga about working on ‘Metalhead,’ anger and angst and chasing snow in the foothills of Eyjafjallajökull.

Who were your role models (actors) growing up?

When I was little they were [Astrid Lingred] characters like Ronia the Robber’s Daughter and Pippi Longstockings. In my teenage years I looked up to actresses like Natalie Portman and Cate Blanchett. On the Icelandic front I’m inspired by artists like actress Ilmur Kristjánsdóttir, singer Björk, and my aunt Sigríður Eyþórsdóttir–the only actress I know of in my family, and former president Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, of course.

Do you feel more at home on a film set than you do working on stage in the theatre?

These days I feel more at home on a film set; I think it’s more interesting. However, both have the potential to be interesting if the project is a good one.


What attracted you to the role of Hera?

There were a few things that I found myself really relating to: she’s a strong female character, yet she’s an introvert and she’s not really into discussing her feelings with other people. She just wants to listen to music. I play a bit of guitar myself and I also have an older brother who is a real metal head (i.e., a heavy-metal fanatic).

What is Ragnar’s style of directing?

He has an approach that is similar to Mike Leigh [writer/director of ‘Naked’ and ‘Happy-Go-Lucky’]. He often works on a character in lockstep with the actor who will play that character BEFORE writing the script. This wasn’t the case with ‘Metalhead,’ however. There was already a script in place when we started meeting, but everybody put in their two-cents about what they thought should be different about their own characters. I think collaborating is a strong approach for a director to take. That way, he opens the film up to all kinds of new ideas.

It was difficult to find snow during production, is that correct?

You would think that finding a location with snow in Iceland would be easy…

Ragnar found a perfect place near Eyjafjallajökull for the family farm. They went there to scout it and it was just beautiful, everything covered in snow. When it came time to film in October of 2012, however, there was no snow. In November, December and January, there was still no snow. February, same story: no snow. We eventually found out from the locals that the snow was an anomaly. Ragnar had visited on the one day that there was any snow there.


So you guys took home ALL the acting awards. Did that surprise you?

It was a pleasant surprise. We all managed to connect well on set and our work together was a good experience. Winning was the cherry on top. I can’t speak to my win, but I think theirs were well deserved.

Have you had a chance to celebrate in real-life with your on-screen-parents?

No. My on-screen-mom is travelling the world [actress Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir is travelling with her family] and my on-screen-dad is currently “making it” in Hollywood [Ingvar E. Sigurðsson is on location in the Italian Alps, filming Baltasar Kormákur’s latest film, ‘Everest’].

Did working with them force you to step up your game?

Yes. I mean they have a lot more experience than me. ‘Metalhead’ was only my second movie. It felt good to have them there. I could ask them anything, and if I was stressed out, I felt comforted by the fact that they weren’t stressed at all.

That whole experience being the lead and spending every day on set, working with all these great actors–I don’t know what I would have done without them.


I read that you started feeling bitter about acting after graduating from the Iceland Academy of the Arts acting programme. Where did that bitterness come from?

I was in the acting programme for four years. It was a lot of fun, but very intense as well. In our last year we put on three theatrical productions and I thought that would be a reward for all the hard work that I’d put in, but as the last year unfolded that feeling escaped me. In retrospect I may have set my expectations too high. The process had become very difficult for me, physically and emotionally.

Right after graduating from acting school in 2009 I started working for the City Theatre and was in a play there until January 2010 when the show had run its course. At the time it felt like a negative experience, but looking back this was really a lesson I had to learn. Even with your dream job it’s not just fun and games. If you lose the joy at some point you have to find a way to get it back, by any means necessary.

What did you do after acting in ‘The Deep,’ before you started on ‘Metalhead’?

After filming ‘The Deep’ in the summer of 2010, I worked as a receptionist at a law firm. It was a relief to not feel so defeated all the time. I was enjoying a regular nine-to-five workday, living the “normal life” if there is such a thing. Acting is very demanding. You ARE, in effect, your work. It was hard for me to separate myself from my work, and the solution isn’t necessarily to just work harder or read more, if you aren’t nailing your part.

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