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New ‘Kon-Tiki’ film unveils cast

UPDATED: Work on a new film about legendary Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl is moving into high gear, 60 years after the first Kon-Tiki film won the Oscar for best documentary. Cast members of the new version, which will center on Heyerdahl himself, were introduced on Tuesday in front of the original Kon-Tiki raft, still on display at the museum bearing its name in Oslo, but one leading role has yet to be revealed – that of Heyerdahl’s first wife and expedition partner Liv Coucheron Torp.

The cast of the upcoming film about the Kon-Tiki expedition: (from left) Tobias Santelmann, Gustaf Skarsgård, Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen, Odd-Magnus Williamson, Anders Baasmo Christiansen and Jakob Oftebro (front). The actors are posed in the same positions as the men they'll be playing, in the historic picture below. PHOTO: Carl Christian Raabe

Norwegian actor Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen will play Heyerdahl in the new film that’s billed as being the biggest Norwegian film production ever. Hagen also played in the recent popular film “Max Manus,” about the Norwegian resistance hero during World War II. The new Kon-Tiki film is being directed by the same duo behind “Max Manus,” Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg.

It has a budget of NOK 88 million, large for a Norwegian production, and will be filmed as part of a Scandinavian-British cooperation in seven different countries. The film will be produced by Nordisk Film of Denmark and Oscar-winner Jeremy Thomas from the British Recorded Picture Company, with financial support from various entities including the Norwegian, Swedish and Danish film institutes.

The crew of the Kon-Tiki expedition in 1947, with Thor Heyerdahl in the center. PHOTO: Kon-Tiki Museum/

Thor Heyerdahl Jr, son of the man known as the most famous Norwegian ever, was at the press conference held at Oslo’s Kon-Tiki Museum to introduce the cast. Other actors include Odd-Magnus Williamson, who will play the Kon-Tiki’s navigator Erik Hesselberg; Tobias Santelmann, who will play former war hero and radio operator Knut Magne Haugland; Jakob Oftebro who will play fellow Kon-Tiki crew member Torstein Raaby; and Anders Baasmo Christiansen, who will play Heyerdahl’s next-in-command, Herman Watzinger. The only Swede on board the Kon-Tiki, Bengt Danielsson, will be played by a Swedish actor, Gustaf Skarsgård, son of the internationally known actor Stellan Skarsgård.

All the actors are well-known in Scandinavia and especially in Norway, with both Hagen and Christiansen recently appearing together in the highly acclaimed production of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, which also starred Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann. That production won rave reviews and was completely sold out when it toured the country last fall, ending with triumphant performances at the National Theater in Oslo and at Dramaten in Stockholm.

Heyerdahl Jr, who appeared on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK)’s nightly national news program Tuesday with Hagen, said he’d favoured Hagen as the man to play his father quite a while ago, if only for his uncanny resemblance to Heyerdahl Senior.

At work on building the Kon-Tiki raft. PHOTO: Kon-Tiki Museum/

“In all honesty, I was ambivalent about the film project because it’s going to be about my mother and father, and that’s private for me,” Heyerdahl Jr said. “But I’m looking forward to see the final result.”

The film will feature the romance and working relationship between Thor Heyerdahl Sr and his first wife, Liv Coucheron Torp. Heyerdahl was married four times but his first marriage to Liv Coucheron Torp of Brevik, not far from Heyerahl’s hometown of Larvik, was very important for the later success of the Kon-Tiki project.

Torp and Heyerdahl married on Christmas Eve of 1936 and set off for the South Seas the next day. The couple traveled and worked together on his early pre-war expedition to the islands around Tahiti, with Liv taking active part in the research and living under primitive conditions on Fatuhiva in the Marquesas. Though Heyerdahl biographer Ragnar Kvam Jr has written of how their relationship came under strain during and after the war years, when they were apart for long periods, her work played a major role in the run-up to the Kon-Tiki expedition and Heyerdahl’s legendary book about it afterwards. After their divorce, Liv, the mother of Thor Heyerdahl Jr and his younger brother Bjørn, went on to marry into the famed Rockefeller family in New York.

They both lived adventurous lives but Heyerdahl Jr denied on NRK Tuesday evening that his father was merely an adventurer. The name of the actress who’ll be playing his mother Liv Coucheron Torp Heyerdahl in the new film hasn’t yet been released.

Filming of the new Kon-Tiki film is set to start next month, with the premiere now set for the spring of 2012.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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