Iceland is a magical place. Between majestic hot springs and the belief that elves roam the countryside, it’s a destination you’ll likely want to return to again and again in your dreams if you’re lucky enough to visit. And with its idyllic landscapes, it’s understandable why the small country in the North Atlantic has become a popular location for film and television.
Much of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (in theaters now) was filmed in Iceland, with locations ranging from Snaefellsnes Pensinsula in the west to Hofn in the southeast. In Ben Stiller’s fifth directorial effort, the titular Walter Mitty is an office drone who works deep in the photography archives at Life magazine. It’s a quiet and largely solitary life, but one that suits him. As the world of print media suffers, Walter’s skill is validated through the praise of elusive photojournalist Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) who trusts him exclusively, yet has never met him face to face. But things at work threaten to sour when Walter can’t find a specific O’Connell negative promised to be the magazine’s final cover, thus forcing him to trade in his overactive imagination for a tangible plane ticket to the unknown.
I had the opportunity to travel to filming locations in Iceland, and learn more about the culture and surroundings that make this beautiful film truly sing. If you’re debating which new release to see this holiday week, or are simply itching to get a new stamp in your passport, read below for everything you need to know about Mitty.
Iceland plays three different countries in the film.
On his quest to find Sean, Walter travels to Greenland, Iceland and the mountains of Afghanistan–a lengthy and adrenaline-filled journey that outdoes anything he could have ever imagined while working at Papa John’s as a teenager.
Stiller and his family lived at the local dentist’s house.Travel to Höfn, a fishing town of roughly 2,000 in the southeast within driving distance of Vatnajökull glacier, asking about Mitty and chances are someone will have a story about meeting Stiller during his stay. He rented a home from the town dentist, so his family could live comfortably while on location. Stiller’s meals were catered by Humarhofnin, known for its distinct take on local langoustine. During lunch earlier this month, the owners–a team of husband and wife–regaled journalists with stories of Stiller and friends sitting at the same table night after night, and expressed their anxiety upon learning the actor is a vegetarian. (They’re a lobster restaurant, after all.)
Mitty largely employs local Icelandic actors.
Including Ólafur Darri Ólafsson who plays the sad pilot Walter comes in contact with upon landing in Nook, Greenland.
Online dating freaks Ben Stiller out.
As a modern remake of the 1939 James Thurber story, Walter is a single man attempting online dating. In many ways he should be considered a catch: he’s attractive and has a steady job at a high-profile magazine. But Walter’s incoming winks are nonexistent, as he can’t seem get past a few basic fields of his eHarmony profile. He’s also longing for a woman he knows/stalks (Wiig) in real life, instead of opening himself up to the many potential mates on the site. As for the actors, the world of online dating is a mystery–yet not one they’re necessarily eager to learn more about.
Kristen Wiig can sing.
Saturday Night Live and Bridesmaids only hinted at Wiig’s vocal ability, and here she gets an entire musical number to herself. In keeping with theme of exploration and conquering one’s fear, Wiig delivers an inspirational performance of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” that helps Walter continue his impromptu overseas expedition and venture further into unexplored territory.
Adam Scott is a jerk (again), with a really bad beard.After years of playing sweet, nerdy Ben Wyatt on Parks and Recreation, it’s hard to believe that Scott could ever possibly be unlikable. But Scott got his start playing douche bags (see: Step Brothers) and again channels that brand of arrogant douche bag as Walter’s boss. He’s a man who doesn’t care about the well being of the magazine’s longtime employees so much as he cares about making a buck. And growing out his horrendous facial hair, apparently.
Some of Walter’s fantasies came at a price.
While Walter’s travels and the film’s gorgeous cinematography steal the show, the first act is filled with daydreams–fantasy sequences that occur when Walter “zones out.” He remains grounded, but in his mind becomes a suave, menacing hero who has no problem beating the bad guy and getting the girl. What makes the final cut was likely no cakewalk–as filming in the middle of Manhattan never seems to be–yet a more ambitious fantasy that echoes Lawrence of Arabia was scrapped for budgetary reasons. Save it for the sequel?
Mitty is not the first high-profile project to film in Iceland, nor will it be the last.
Don’t let the name fool you–Iceland’s terrain is beautiful and vast. With rolling hills, spectacular coastlines and snowcapped mountains, it is diverse enough to serve as the backdrop for a variety of films set in different locations and time periods. Over the last few years, Batman Begins, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Prometheus and HBO’s Game of Thrones have all shot there, as well as Christopher Nolan’s upcoming Interstellar. Might as well start call Reykjavik “Hollywood East.”
Scarlett Johansson isn’t the only actor whose voice is making an impact this season…In trying to beef up his eHarmony profile, Walter develops a relationship with one of the site’s customer service reps (played by Patton Oswalt). While they only communicate over the phone, the latter comes in handy when Walter needs him most.
Walter’s incredible journey is attainable.
And you don’t even have to be chasing after your own version of Sean Penn! Beginning April 1, 2014, Icelandair is offering The Walter Mitty Experience, a trip to various filming locations throughout Iceland, with guided hiking and sightseeing tours.
Did you see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty this week? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.