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My Coffee with Amundsen

One Polargeek's interview with a legend

Recently, I had a chance to sit with Sverre Anker Ousdal and chat (in English) over coffee. I found him to be warm, intelligent, and quite up on polar history. Since I was unable to record our interview, I will instead paraphrase some of his more enlightening stories from our hour-long conversation. These short notes do not adequately capture how utterly charming he really is. My thanks to Herr Ousdal for graciously agreeing to meet with me.

We had arranged to meet in the lounge of the Continental Hotel at 5pm. He arrived right on time and ordered a coke with lemon. Our conversation meandered through topics as diverse as Norwegian geography, World War II planes, genealogy, cars with manual transmissions and his work as an actor. I had prepared a few questions regarding Last Place on Earth, but our conversation thread answered them before I could even pose the questions.

Their own stuntmen

This website's suspicions were confirmed-- all the actors in LPOE did their own skiing, dog driving and, poor English, man hauling. Sverre told about learning how to drive dogs from the native Inuit on Baffin Island, where LPOE was shot. Apparently, one should never use the voice to command a dog, as very soon your voice will be completely shot. Instead, he was taught, one should use breathy exhalation (that's the only way I can describe it. I know it sounds weird but honestly, I can't think of any other way to say it)-- like lamaze breaths.

Shooting on Baffin Island

The blizzard scenes were, at first, shot using small plastic snowflakes but the English, who had to shoot in more of the snowy scenes, soon complained that they were getting plastic in their eyes. So, they flew in tons of potato flakes. Bags were piled on top of bags, Sverre told me, and the shoot went on as planned.

Until they stopped for the night. The next morning, they returned to the shoot and the potato flakes were gone. The Inuit had recognised the bags as the food they were and absconded with them!

Strangely like real life

When asked about how the Norwegian and English fared together during the shoot, he said that it in some ways mirrored the experiences of the explorers in the South. Upon arrival at Baffin Island for the shoot, the Norwegian actors were right at home in the snow and ice. Meanwhile, the English were always cold and not quite comfortable enough to enjoy themselves. In addition, since the Norwegian contingency had worked together before --being as they were all from the Nationaltheater -- the shoot was a lot fun, like an extended winter camp with friends. The comaraderie apparent between the crew of the Fram in LPOE was really true in the Norwegian cast. I would like to say that I pointed out that the Norwegians did have an easier shoot, since they did not have to manhaul all their stuff, but I didn't think of it at the time.

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