Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir is one of the nation’s most beloved actors. Some of the previous roles she’s known for have been comedic, even clownish (her turn as Barbara the clown was beloved by an entire generation of Icelandic children). Recently, however, it is her role as an environmental terrorist that has gained her some well-deserved attention. The role is another fruitful partnership with frequent collaborator director Benedikt Erlingsson, her partner in Ormstunga, a comedy play based on one of the Icelandic sagas, her director in Of Horses and Men and most recently, Woman at War.
The role of a lifetime
In Woman at War, Halldóra is an environmental terrorist, working on sabotaging electricity lines in the highlands. It involved a lot of running, over mountains, across rivers and through so much moss (and running in moss ain’t easy). “It was very demanding. I was at every day of shooting except for two. When I was done with the last running scene, I was very happy.” Halldóra tells me. “You have to be prepared for things to go wrong. I never had to do it eight times, but I had to be physically fit enough to be able to do it eight times.”
The Icelandic film industry is having a moment these days, with plenty of quality films being produced. “And Breathe Normally was great and I loved The Swan as well, the poetry that Ása [Hjörleifsdóttir, director] uses. It’s such a beautiful film.” Halldóra enthusiastically tells me. While there are great films being made, it’s still difficult for an Icelandic actor who wants to focus on film acting. “I think there are some very exciting opportunities for filmmakers but I as an actor never know when I’ll get the call. I can never say that I am going to be a film actor.” In light of the dearth of film roles in Iceland, Halldóra is pleased with her starring role in Woman at War. “For me, it’s a once in a lifetime role. It’s so much fun to do that at some point in my life. And now it’s here, my big role.” Even though the roles are few, Halldóra isn’t certain it will be her last big film role. “You never know what happens, I might get another call.”
Fighting for the future
Halldóra’s character is very passionate about protecting the environment, so passionate that she turns to sabotage. The idea seems far-fetched, but it actually has some real-life inspiration. “[Benedikt], an old-school enemy of whaling who chained himself to a whaling boat in his youth, he has that activism in his blood. He thought that this was the only thing he could do. He told me years ago, that if he were to disappear, it was because he was in hiding, probably in connection to the power lines to the Straumsvík aluminium smelter being cut.” Halldóra herself is no less passionate about protecting the environment. “We have very little time to reverse the damage we’ve done, the consumption and the lifestyle we’ve gotten used to that is making our carbon footprint so big. Global warming is a very dangerous thing. In Iceland, we must be on guard against big industry, making sure they don’t keep making more power plants, producing cheap electricity to power factories and the consumption-driven society we live in.” While she hasn’t been arrested yet, Halldóra is adamant that activism is necessary for progress. “What will most quickly halt global warming is some sort of activism, peaceful activism, where no physical harm is done. Just like strikes and workers’ unions are what heightened social awareness and created the welfare society we enjoy today. The right to strike, which is a form of sabotage or activism against an authority or the wealthy, it’s almost the only weapon people have.”
How much can you sacrifice?
The external struggle in the movie is between Halldóra’s character and the authorities, but perhaps the most central struggle in the film is the internal one. Halldóra’s character finds out that she is becoming a mother and has to choose between her family and her fight. Benedikt himself never did disappear either. “He became a family man, with three children and a wife. He personally experienced this feeling that you can’t do something like this, this type of activism against other people’s property, that means jail time, when you’ve made the decision to become a parent. So he personally has to fight this internal fight.” Instead, he did what he could do: made a movie.
Halldóra herself has also had to figure out her fight for a better world. “I’ve been working with UNICEF myself, have made visits to places in Africa and Haiti and looked into the most terrible situations I’ve ever seen people in. It’s hard not to wonder what right I have, a person from this welfare society in the north, to come to their town, take photos and make short films about people living in poverty.” For Halldóra, the solution is to work locally. “I’ve figured out that my place, as a privileged person with the education and the chance to change the world, is to make sure Iceland becomes a utopia. We need to become role models. We can’t just be satisfied with having the greenest energy in the world, we have to strive to be better. Because we have the chance.”
For Halldóra, it’s important to think long-term about how we use the nature around us. “Just look at Gullfoss, and Sigríður í Brattholti’s fight to protect it. She walked on sheepskin shoes to Reykjavík to stop people building a power plant over the waterfall. Now it’s our main tourist attraction. We have to think at least 30 years ahead and figure out where we’re being greedy.”
The next power plant set to be built is the controversial Hvalárvirkjun. “You can’t help crying if this is going to happen. You cry over having to have this conversation once again.” Halldóra feels that the argument for building the power plant could also be used against it. “The argument was that nobody went there, there was no tourism there. But that’s the most amazing thing about that place, nobody goes there. It’s completely untouched and there aren’t that many areas like that left in the world. That’s something we need to protect.”
Iceland Review is the longest running English-language magazine presenting Iceland, in continuous print since 1963. Published six times per year, the magazine includes features and photographs on Iceland’s community, culture, and nature. Subscribers will soon enjoy digital access to Iceland Review’s back issues: a treasure chest of photos and articles.