For centuries it’s been their territory, but that’s about to change. The Icelandic sheep farmers of the Eyjafjörður area in the north of Iceland have met their match: actor Tom Cruise is back on the volcanic rock, and he’s settled down close to a sheep farm. Security around the star is tight and farmers in the area are complaining to the media that they are under surveillance, clearly unhappy with the way they are being treated in their own backyard.
The actor is in Iceland for the filming of a motion picture tentatively titled ‘Oblivion’ in an area called Hrossaborg in the northeast of the country. The area is located about 25 km from Lake Mývatn and is strictly off-limits to visitors. Three scenes will be filmed in the area and another two will be filmed near Lake Þórisvatn. While filming, Tom Cruise resides in Hrafnabjörg in Eyjafjörður, a luxury country retreat formerly owned by one of Iceland’s pre-crash tycoons, merchant Jóhannes Jónsson (founder of the Bónus empire). The villa is currently owned by Swiss magnate Thomas Martin and comes equipped with all your basic luxuries—including a swimming pool. Tom reportedly even had his own furniture flown in.
Observing the Icelandic media these past two weeks, one couldn’t miss the endless stories about the Hollywood star’s adventures in Iceland. Tom Cruise arrived to Reykjavík on June 15 in a private jet with his wife Katie Holmes and daughter Suri. Every step the family took during their days in the capital was heavily documented by local media, proving that the myth about foreign stars living in peace with the locals in Iceland is indeed a myth.
Tom later flew north via helicopter, settling down in a villa in the quiet and rural Eyjafjörður area. Few days passed until he made the front page of local newspaper DV, with farmers in the area relaying ugly stories about the film star’s security guards. “We were not allowed to be on the road,” one farmer’s wife told me over the phone last week. Her husband and two other men had been rounding up sheep in Vaðlaheiði and were on their way down an old mountain road when they were met by the film star’s security guards.
Until that day farmers in the area had used the mountain road freely. With tightened security in the area, things have changed. The three men saw Tom Cruise’s helicopter flying above their farm and wanted to stop by the open road to see what was going on. They were met by two security guards from Öryggismiðstöðin, a private security firm, who instructed them to evacuate the premises. The farmer told me it was hard to accept being harassed by security guards in an area surrounded by his own fields, literally on his own land.
“He was obviously somewhat irritated by our appearance there,” the farmer said, “but this is just a public road.” Even though the farmer says he doesn’t agree with these methods, he did express some understanding for the Hollywood-star. “Obviously, from our point of view, all this fuss is unnecessary, but it’s probably completely normal in their world out there.”
Öryggismiðstöðin spokesperson Ómar Örn Jónsson tells me that the guards can ask people to evacuate certain areas, but that it is up to each individual to decide whether to follow a security guard’s orders. “If we think that it serves safety procedures to ask people to leave, then we of course do that,” he says. Although the security guards didn’t have legal authority to close the road, the farmers eventually evacuated the premises rather than put up a fight.
The story has left the public pondering some moral questions: Do people want private security teams employed by the wealthy to be able to harass locals doing their daily work? Is the supposed safety of one individual so important that the rights of the public can be slightly altered now and then?
The locals I spoke to did not want to make a big deal of the matter. One person told me they were not upset with Tom Cruise, that they were only angry with his security guards. I did sense the sincere will of everyone to live in peace with the star. However, people seemed to be interested in the activities of Tom Cruise, with some noting that he should be left alone, “like any other human being.”
What irritated them were the effects his visit was having on their own lives. When I asked the farmer’s wife for her name she was quick to answer: “No thanks! I don’t want to be in the spotlight. We just live here, and we want to do our jobs in peace and quiet.” She did say she found it “weird how people need to act just because they are somewhat famous.” Behind her I could hear her husband screaming: “They should be ashamed of themselves, these men!”
Tom Cruise’s clash with the Icelandic sheep farmers touches a nerve in the local community. Many Icelanders are worried about how their once wide and open land with its mountains and lakes, seems to be getting closed in the interest of private owners. Very recently it was customary for anyone to be able to tread anywhere they wanted, say in pursuit of some blueberries or on a hike. Anyone can tell you that it is getting increasingly harder. New private owners, who’ll often live in the city, using the land as summer resort, have closed down roads and put up signs, barring the public from entering. This is new to many raised in the once wide-open countryside of Iceland.
In the last few months, DV has been covering issues where people are barred from entering private areas that were once open to the public. For example, people were prevented from entering Kerið, a famous tourist attraction, whilst the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao was on an official visit in April. One of the owners of Kerið, Morgunblaðið publisher Óskar Magnússon, explained that he wasn’t a big fan of either the Icelandic or Chinese governments and thus did not wish to grant the party access.
Another example is how new landowners of Horn, close to the famous mountain Skessuhorn in Borgarfjörður, closed down a road leading to the mountain. For a long time hikers have used the road to get to the roots of the mountain, but now that has changed. In the aftermath, owner Ingibjörg Davíðsdóttir’s Facebook status about the mountain has become infamous: “Such beauty! It’s mine!”
Closing off land to the public seems to be the next big thing in the so-called post-crash New Iceland.