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March 20, 2006
Kristanna Loken and Benno Furmann lord it over an ancient myth in the epic Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King

By Ian Spelling

The German Nibelungen saga inspired Wagner as he composed his legendary Ring operas and author J.R.R. Tolkien as he set about writing The Lord of the Rings. And now it's inspired Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King, a four-hour SCI FI Channel miniseries that will premiere March 27 at 9 p.m. ET/PT and conclude on the 28th at 9 p.m. ET/PT. Directed by Uli Edel (The Mists of Avalon), who spent nearly 20 years trying to realize his dream project, the story tracks the adventures of Eric (Benno Furmann), a youthful blacksmith who learns that he's really Siegfried, heir to a long-conquered kingdom. As he faces his destiny, Siegfried falls instantly for the queen of Iceland, Brunhild (Kristanna Loken of Terminator 3), must defeat the dragon Fafnir, wins the cursed treasure of the Nibelungs and finds himself in the arms of another woman, Kriemhild (Alicia Witt of Dune and Urban Legend), the princess of Burgund.

Edel, Loken and Furmann recently took time to talk to Science Fiction Weekly about Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King.
Uli Edel, Dark Kingdom was a project you spent 18 years trying to make happen. What was it about the material that made you so persistent, and how did it finally come together?

Edel: After The Mists of Avalon was so successful on TV and DVD, I finally got the green light for Dark Kingdom. And, of course, the popularity of the Lord of the Rings movies didn't hurt either. German kids read this saga already in school. Every child knows the story. It became the most successful show of the year 2004 on German TV. The popular myth was already the subject for Richard Wagner's opera circle, The Ring, and Fritz Lang's two-part silent classic film, Nibelungen. And most recently it was the major source for Tolkien's Lord of the Rings circle.

Siegfried and Brunhild are the first heroes we know about in the Norse mythology. They go back at least 1,500 years, further than the Celtic King Arthur. Some people here in the States might be familiar with the heroine Brunhild as the Teutonic caricature with the horned helmet and armor-plated, voluptuous body, because that's how she was presented on the opera stage in the 19th century. Most opera singers happened to be quite ... well ... big. But the Brunhild of the saga is actually not only the most beautiful woman alive, but also the strongest. That's how our ancestors imagined a great heroine already 1,500 years ago. For a man to win her he had first to defeat her in single combat. If she won, she would kill the challenger. But when she finally falls in love, she will give everything for that man, even her life. What a girl. How can you not fall for her?
You shot Dark Kingdom in South Africa. Give us a sense of the production's scope.

Edel: The almost impossible challenge was to shoot the mini for a very moderate TV budget. We shot on high-def, not on film. We had over 600 CGI FX shots. Whole sequences were done in front of a blue screen in South Africa, although the story plays in Germany and Iceland. Since each of the two parts had to be finished in 27 days, you would better keep shooting.
What can you say about your cast?

Edel: To find an actress who makes you believe she is not only the most beautiful woman around but also the strongest wasn't an easy thing. Until I met Kristanna! Her looks accomplish easily the first requirement, but regarding to be the strongest woman, wait until she gets her hands on that double-bladed ax. Benno Furmann is a star in Germany. He brings an innocent boyish quality to his role as Siegfried the Dragonslayer. He is also the star in this year's French foreign Oscar nominee Joyeux Noel. I also was lucky to get such great actors like Alicia Witt, Sam West and Julian Sands to play in the movie. Max von Sydow was my very first and only choice for Siegfried's father. It doesn't get more Nordic than him.
The DVD will be out pretty soon after Dark Kingdom airs in the States. What involvement did you have with that? With any of the extras?

Edel: For the DVD I would have liked to make a commentary, but nobody asked me. Unfortunately, I have no influence about the extras on the DVD and can only hope the distributors will do a good job.
Benno Furmann, how tough was this role physically, given all the stunts, running around and effects you had to deal with?

Furmann: There was a lot of sword fighting, of course, first of all, which required a lot of practice for me. After I said I would do [Dark Kingdom], from then I had basically 10 days to go before the first day of shooting. So it was flying into Cape Town and jumping off the airplane and grabbing a sword [from] some stunt guy and getting down to business. The dragon fight was like eight days in front of a blue screen, where there was no dragon, where you basically fight with yourself and with your imagination, based on the storyboards. So for me that was something quite new, since most of the stuff I did [earlier] was of different genres.
How was your experience working with Kristanna Loken and Alicia Witt?

Furmann: Who can say anything bad about Kristanna? You've got to love her. First of all, she brings in this Nordic kind of fighting spirit. She hits you like a guy, which was so right for Brunhild, which is the essence of Brunhild, which Kristanna portrayed in a manner that was stunning. She's very physical, very beautiful and a very good actress. Alicia Witt, her counterpart as Kriemhild, was, on the other hand, fragile, very sensitive and very beautiful and very, what's the word, pristine.
Dark Kingdom aired a while ago in Germany, so we're guessing you've seen it by now. How satisfied were you with the finished product?

Furmann: I loved it! I loved it. I think it's a great, modern adaptation that suits the modern world. It's not heavy-handed. It's light. Our film tells the story in a very witty and modern way. So this is what I appreciated about it.
How do you think Americans will enjoy Dark Kingdom?

Furmann: It has all of the ingredients to make it interesting and appealing to a lot of people.
Kristanna Loken, how much did you know about the German mythology behind Dark Kingdom before signing on to play Brunhild?

Loken: I was slightly familiar with it. On a scale of one to 10 it was probably a three or a four. I do have Norwegian blood, with a little bit of German in there, not that that alone would make me privy to the saga. But my parents were into a certain amount of nostalgia and folklore. So when I was young I was exposed to it.
How physically demanding was your role?

Loken: In a similar way to T3, though they were obviously very different characters, it required very precise movements with big, huge weapons that took a lot of getting used to. And we had various types of weapons as well. I used three or four, the shield and the ax, the spear and the sword. So, for me, it was a lot of physical, physical training.
What did you make of your co-stars, Benno Furmann and Samuel West, as well as Alicia Witt?

Loken: They were both great, both very different. I have to say I think we got very lucky with the cast. It's always interesting with different personalities and spending an unusual amount of compressed time together. Sam was really just such a professional to work with. I really liked working with him. I thought he was great in the fight scene and also in his emotional life. He just played that character so well. And I also really enjoyed working with Alicia. She was so emotionally available and so open and so professional. She was a real treat.
And how about your director, Uli Edel?

Loken: I've worked with a couple of German directors. Germany itself has been very supportive of me and my work. I'd never met Uli before I showed up in South Africa. We'd had maybe one phone conversation. He was great. He's a very, very particular director. He'll see every little detail of everything, the minutiae of every moment. So, really, when it came down to detail, he's the guy for it. He got some great performances out of everyone. He was all business. He was all about getting the job done, and we did.
How pleased are you with the finished product?

Loken: I really enjoyed it. I thought they did a great job with the effects. I think the story is just heartbreaking. I was really quite pleased with the way it turned out.