EXCLUSIVE: Everest helmer Baltasar Kormákur has stepped back in front of the camera for the first time in eight years to star in The Oath. He also directs, produces and co-scripted the Icelandic psychological thriller that’s premiering on Saturday at the Toronto Film Festival as a Special Presentation (check out the subtitled trailer above). Kormákur plays Finnur, a doctor who sets off on a mission to pull his daughter away from the world of drugs and petty crime, only to discover that danger can be found in unexpected places.
Buzz has been building in Iceland ahead of the local release tomorrow, and offers already are in to international sales agent XYZ Films. Olafur Egilsson co-wrote the project with Kormákur. Ottar Gudnason (Hitman: Agent 47) is DP; he worked with the director on A Little Trip to Heaven and Inhale.
Kormákur, a father of five, sparked to the role of heart surgeon Finnur because he appreciates thrillers “that play in the real world.” Finnur is no “super daddy” who can save everything. “He is a father, a normal person, a successful heart surgeon who is suddenly faced with a terrible dilemma. There is something in the character that cannot let go” as he desperately tries to pull his daughter (Hera Hilmar) out of drug abuse and a dangerous relationship with an older boyfriend (Gisli Orn Gardarsson). In his own life in Iceland, Kormakur says there are stories all around him of people dealing with similar issues.
The multihyphenate continues to segue between Hollywood and Iceland, where he originally trained as an actor and most recently appeared onscreen in Óskar Jónasson’s Reykjavik-Rotterdam in 2008. He then remade that movie as Contraband in 2012, with Mark Wahlberg stepping into the role he originated.
Getting back in front of the camera for The Oath was about reconnecting, he tells me. “The vulnerability of standing in front of the camera is a good thing. I started as an actor and then directing kind of became my path and I had a shorthand with actors. Then time passes and I haven’t been in a movie since 2008.”
But, he allows, “It’s a risky thing to direct yourself.” He’d done it once before on 2000’s 101 Reykjavik — “to please the financiers” — but, “I hated myself in the movie and said I’d never do it again,” he laughs.
I asked him about the challenges of going from the epic Hollywood scope of Everest to shooting The Oath at home via his own company. He laughed, “There are less people you have to deal with. But it’s the opposite problem: If you don’t have anyone to tell you what to do, then you have to make the decision yourself.”
Kormákur’s next film likely will be a return to a bigger-budget English-language project, but he says, “This is a part of me, this country, and I just don’t want to totally cut it off and not come back.”
The Oath is produced under Kormákur’s RVK Studios in partnership with Film4 and ZDFE. David Kosse, Agnes Johansen, Margrit Stärk and Doris Schrenner are exec producers.
Kormákur and RVK recently produced Icelandic crime series Trapped whose U.S. rights are with The Weinstein Company. In 2015, his mountaineering action drama Everest opened the Venice Film Festival and went on to more than $200M in worldwide box office. His feature projects in development include Vikingr, also co-scripted with Egilsson, and the oil-spill sci-fi drama Cascade. He’s also producing his first comedy series for television The Mayor.