With notable Scandinavian and international screen roles under his belt, Rune Temte is ready to take on the world. Scan Magazine spoke to the Norwegian actor about his beard, Nordic authenticity, and bringing what he learnt as a professional football player to the world of acting.

By Linnea Dunne

It is the morning after the UK snap election when Scan Magazine talks to Rune Temte. He talks about “payback time for Theresa May” and is keen to hear what the general feeling is like “over there”. The Norwegian actor himself is just back from LA. “I was stopped ten times a day by people who recognised me as Ubba, others as coach Bjørn from Eddie The Eagle,” he says. “It’s not like I can hide – if they’ve seen me, they’ve seen me.” It is hard to argue with that. His presence is dominant in more ways than one, the blond wisps falling across his high forehead, the ginger beard providing that Viking-like contrast and his gaze deeply kind yet piercing. He is the embodiment of the Nordic stereotype. “If you want a Scandinavian, you’re going to look for someone tall and blond – and I’m obviously tall and blond and very handsome!” Temte chuckles. “I’m not concerned about that, and I’m not concerned about type casting. I can play the bad guy as long as I get to fill the character with life. TV and film are all about type casting; it’s only Daniel Day-Lewis who gets to be a chameleon and change all the time, but then he only does one film every few years so he has the time to prepare!” He laughs again.

As part of the cast of the BBC’s The Last Kingdom, where he played the Danish warlord Ubba, one of the main antagonists, Temte got to add a little bit more reality to a trend of fantasy and fiction. “Look at Vikings – sure, we’re gathering evidence, but who really knows what was going on back then? And Game of Thrones, it’s pure fiction. Maybe with The Last Kingdom we’re a bit closer to mixing facts with fiction – that’s one of its strengths,” he says.

Earlier this year, Temte was also seen as Frank in the second season of the Swedish drama comedy series Torpederna, and as Lars Ulvenaune in Sky Atlantic’s international show Fortitude, the second series of which premiered in January. The psychological sci-fi thriller is set in the fictional Arctic Norwegian small town of Fortitude, where a brutal murder sparks mistrust in an otherwise tightknit community. “It was really interesting to be there with Richard Dormer, Dennis Quaid, Michelle Fairley, Robert Sheehan and all these stars. The cast was fantastic and we were taken away from everything to this place in Iceland where we could really get together as a team,” he says, adding that the setting, while fictional, has very strong references to Svalbard in Norway. “It’s like we’re the exotic part of the world now – people are looking into our history and myths, and the world is opening up to what we have to offer,” he ponders. “So, if the bad guy used to come from, say, the Middle East, now it’s me! It’s refreshing, and in five or six years the bad guy will come from somewhere else. But with Iceland, it’s supposed to be the safest place on earth, so there’s an interesting contrast there. That’s said about Scandinavian actors as well, that we convey a different energy, more restrained, like we have a little secret we always carry around combined with completely open friendliness. It’s an odd combination – something volcanic that could blow up any second.”

Football Player of the Year in 1988

Volcanic, explosive – call it what you like, but for Temte it is likely to have been equally beneficial in his previous career as a professional football player. Having grown up in Solbergelva on the outskirts of Drammen, not far from Oslo, he started playing football at an early age and got his first professional contract aged 18. He played for Strømsgodset Football Club for five seasons and was named player of the year in 1988 – but then he quit. “I was only 25 and at the top of my career, being paid as a pro player in Norway – but storytelling was always a big dream of mine; I wanted to be in front of the camera,” he explains. “When you’re young, you’re bold and think you can do anything, and you make big decisions just like that. My dad didn’t speak to me for a few months, but we all recovered and I went to study at Drama Studio London. Was it a big transition? Sure, but it’s just something that grew, something I had to let out. All the time when I was doing sports I was reading a lot. The others were reading, I don’t know, Donald Duck, and I was there reading Dostoyevsky.”

Sure enough, the world of sports provides a great deal of transferable skills. “It’s about stamina, giving it your best, always trying to be on top of your game,” says Temte, shrugging off the cynicism displayed by some as they insist actors of his ilk only get certain parts due to their looks – in his case specifically the beard. “Yes, yes, it’s just a little bit more than the beard!” he laughs. “There’s a good story about the beard, actually. I was trying to get into Game of Thrones for ages and thought I’d grow a good beard, and then one afternoon, after yet another rejection, I just thought ‘sod it’ and shaved it all off, and the minute I put the razor down I got a call from my agent about The Last Kingdom, and I was like ‘oh my God, the beard is gone!’”

Waiting for that phone call

Prior to his international screen work, Temte was seen across a wide range of theatre stages throughout Scandinavia, most specifically in his home country as well as in Sunne in Sweden as part of Västanå Teater. He has acted in roles including Hamlet, Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Melchior Sinclair in Gjøsta Berling’s Saga and, as recently as in 2014, Håkan in Let the Right One In. Now the strategy is to steer clear of stage work, at least for the most part. “We are raised to say yes to as many things as possible all the time because you never know when you’re going to work again, so we should be grateful that we have work. But it’s an odd way of looking at things,” he says. “What happens when you work around the clock, as can happen here in Scandinavia where actors don’t really choose either or but take on both film and stage work, is that you’re always in rehearsal or performing so once that phone call comes in you’re out touring somewhere in Finnmark where there’s hardly any food,” he laughs, “it’s freezing cold in the middle of nowhere and you can’t get to that casting in London because you have to travel by sleigh, swim and walk on water to get there! So now I’m turning down those jobs and waiting for that phone call.”

He may be contented with type casting for now – and audiences sure love him in those very Nordic roles – but the ultimate goal, he admits, is to get the chance to go against the stereotype. “I want to go in front of the camera and bring all the nuances I can convey as an actor of 25 years, not just come and say ‘I’ll hit you’ and be the bad guy,” he says. “That’s not to say I don’t want to play the bad guy – I’m very happy with that, at least for now. I play bad guys and funny guys and complex guys, and I’ve been told Ubba was very nuanced – maybe that’s one of the reasons why he’s such a success.”

This summer, he is filming in Finland alongside directors Jukka Vidgren and Juuso Laatio, and he is hoping to also get to work with LA-based Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola in the future. With The Last Kingdom and Fortitude having hit American platforms and with hopes for additional seasons of both Fortitude and Torpederna, the door to the rest of the world is slowly but surely opening – something Temte is very excited about. Yet, his love for Norway is still strong. “Did you see SKAM? It’s such a great series, and it has definitely made people look to Norway more,” he says and bursts into yet another hearty laugh. “The women are beautiful and the air is fresh, so why not come to Scandinavia? We’ve got a lot to offer!”