Movies

Iceland’s Real-Life Eurovision Contestant on What It’s Like to Watch Will Ferrell (Sort of) Play Him in a Netflix Movie

Photo of Dadi Freyr Petursson holding a mic beside a movie still of Will Ferrell as Lars Erickssong, costumed in Icelandic armor
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Hanna Andrésardóttir and Netflix.

In Netflix’s Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, Will Ferrell plays Lars Erickssong, an Icelandic fisherman’s son who’s dreamed his entire life of winning Eurovision. Now middle-aged, he’s stuck playing the local bar with Sigrit Ericksdottir (Rachel McAdams), who’s “probably not” his sister. There, angry locals who refuse to listen to Fire Saga’s original compositions instead demand endless renditions of a local novelty hit, “Jaja Ding Dong.” When a bureaucratic snafu (and maybe some help from elves) sends Fire Saga to Eurovision, Lars gets the chance to show his disapproving father (Pierce Brosnan) back in Husavik that he really does have what it takes.

As it happens, before Eurovision 2020 was canceled due to COVID-19, one of the favorites to win the competition was this year’s actual Icelandic entry, led by 27-year-old Daði Freyr Pétursson. Last winter a video of Daði and his group Gagnamagnið (made up of his wife, his sister, and some friends) performing their entry “Think About Things” went viral. The song is wildly catchy, and the performance—with its choreographed dance moves, its coordinated jumpsuits, and the charismatic 6’9” Daði’s knowing attitude—was the overwhelming winner at Söngvakeppnin, the Icelandic contest to determine the country’s Eurovision entry. I spoke to Daði about Will Ferrell’s version of Iceland, how his weird little group became a betting favorite, and why he doesn’t feel too bad about Eurovision getting canceled.

Slate: Was it a little surreal to see your exact life story reflected in every way in a movie?

Daði: Ha ha, yes, it was exactly like my life!

In Eurovision Song Contest, Lars, Will Ferrell’s character, has been dreaming his whole life of winning Eurovision. Were you a Eurovision fan growing up? Did you always dream of competing?

I was never, like, a superfan growing up. I always watched it. Most people in Iceland watch it. So I’m as much of a fan as a normal Icelander, pretty much.

Your group is made up of you and your friends and family. How did you end up bringing this group to the Icelandic competition?

It was very odd how it happened. I sent in a song in 2017—not as a joke, but I thought it was something interesting to try. And it was accepted. First I was going to get a friend of mine to sing the song, but he bailed on me after two or three weeks. So I just decided to do it myself. Because you can have six people onstage, I decided of course I’m going to bring as many people as I can, because it’s gonna be more fun.

In 2017 you were runner-up. And then you entered again for 2020, and you won Söngvakeppnin.

Oh, yes.

Watching your video, your performance style seems very different than what I think of as the Eurovision performance style—subdued, the staging is a little ironic, not over the top. In a way the fictional Fire Saga, whose performance at one point includes a giant metal hamster wheel, seems more like the stereotypical Eurovision competitor than you do. When you were creating this performance, were you trying to create something a little different from what’s usually on Eurovision, or do I have the wrong idea about what a Eurovision performance is?

Eurovision is very diverse. There’s a lot of different acts in the competition. I wanted to use as many of the clichés as I could, like with the wind machine and the dance and the instruments. And crazy costumes and confetti. That’s just the way that I make music and the way that I am, which is maybe not the typical Eurovision contestant. Also, we made it all ourselves, pretty much. A friend of mine made the costumes, and the members of the band did pretty much everything.

Where did you grow up?

I moved to Denmark from Reykjavik when I was 1 year old and then returned when I was 9 years old. When I moved back, I went to a country school about an hour away from Reykjavik.

Have you ever been to Husavik?

I’m … pretty sure I have.

I thought it was interesting how Lars and Sigrit are seen as such oddballs in Husavik. But I’ve found Iceland very welcoming to oddballs.

Yeah, definitely. The way Icelanders are portrayed in the movie is very inaccurate. We come out as super intolerant, closed-minded, angry people, but I found that to be pretty funny. I don’t think people are going to think that’s how Icelandic people are.

They become so celebratory and welcoming of Lars once they see how hard he tries. And there are touching scenes with Lars and his father.

Yeah, but … still a little anger there. The most accurate part of the movie is that audiences always want to hear “Jaja Ding Dong.”

Wait, is that a real song?!

No.

Fire Saga is an underdog going into Eurovision. As the real competition approached, you became something of a favorite with oddsmakers. Tell me how that happened.

Before we won in Iceland, Jan Böhmermann, who is a German TV host, he tweeted it, and from there it started growing on Reddit, and Russell Crowe tweeted about it. It started getting a lot more views. That’s a big part of why it got so high in the polls, because a lot of people were watching it.

Wasn’t there even a conspiracy theory that Netflix was secretly promoting you?

That was super funny to me. There were a lot of people who were rooting for other contestants in the Icelandic competition and somehow couldn’t believe that the song was good and the performance was good and people just enjoyed it. They became convinced Netflix was pulling the strings.

Because of COVID-19, this year’s Eurovision was canceled. Fire Saga sort of gets to have the experience you don’t get to have. Does the movie reflect your expectations as to what it would have been like in Rotterdam? Did you expect big parties and song-a-longs filled with stars and everything? To have a charismatic Russian singer try to seduce your band?

Charismatic Russian singer probably, the song-a-longs probably not. That was one of my favorite scenes, the song-a-long, seeing all of these Eurovision contestants in one scene. I think that was a nice thing to do, because all of the Eurovision fans are gonna watch that movie. They’re really gonna love that scene.

But it’s way more professional, the actual competition, than it is in the movie. It’s kind of portrayed as more chaotic and coincidental and—everything super rushed and last-minute. That’s not how it works at all. It’s a huge production and super professional.

Was there any part of you that watched the movie and thought, I’m so sad I’m missing this, or Oh, thank God I’m missing this?

Watching the movie didn’t change how I feel about not competing in Eurovision.

Which is how?

Which is not too bad. I wanted to experience it with all my friends. Because we’re not an actual band. We don’t play concerts in real life. It was going to be a really nice thing to do with those guys, but the song has gone way further than I ever thought it was going to go, even if we had competed.

I have a few more questions about how the movie portrayed Iceland. Set American viewers straight: Could someone really jump out of a fishing boat and swim to Husavik, as Will Ferrell does?

I mean, depends on how far out the fishing boat is. I’m pretty sure that he would not have survived.

When Icelanders are sad, do they listen to Sigur Ros?

That is a fact. That’s the law. You need to listen to Sigur Ros if you’re sad. Or else you’re jailed.

Oh, good.

To me Sigur Ros is not even sad music. It’s feel-good music.

Every Icelander I’ve ever talked to rolls their eyes when Americans start asking them about the elves. How do you feel about the elves?

It’s not really part of my life. But I thought it was funny to include that in the movie. That was an aspect that I didn’t expect.

How Icelandic people are portrayed in the movie is very inaccurate, but I still found it entertaining—seeing an American comedy that happens in Iceland, with a lot of Icelandic actors, some of them I know personally, and they’re all speaking with a super Icelandic accent.

What did you think of Pierce Brosnan’s Icelandic? How did he do?

Not so good! It was so funny too, the first scene in the movie, all of these Icelandic actors speaking perfect Icelandic, and then you see him. I had to turn on the subtitles to understand him.

He tried! It’s a difficult language!

Ha ha, it doesn’t really change anything if he has good pronunciation.

You’ve recorded a cover of “Volcano Man.” Can we expect covers of “Double Trouble” and Sigrit’s love song?

No, probably not. Although the last song, Sigrit’s song, I really enjoyed that, it’s a good pop song. The final performance, I got goose bumps.

What about “Jaja Ding Dong”? Will you record “Jaja Ding Dong”?

Oh, that’s an amazing song, but I don’t think I can add anything to that. It’s just perfect as it is.