If you’ve seen Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, there’s one character that stands out above all others: Olaf Yohansson, better known as the Jaja Ding Dong Guy. Played by Icelandic actor Hannes Óli Ágústsson, this surly resident of a small fishing village has but one goal in life: to hear the song “Jaja Ding Dong,” over and over again. Sadly the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences determined that they’d rather hear Eurovision’s “Húsavík,” which was nominated for a Best Original Song Oscar, while “Jaja Ding Dong” was cruelly stricken from the short list. We thought it might be a tender moment for the actor now known far and wide as the Jaja Ding Dong Guy, so we got in touch to see how he’s doing on this momentous but bittersweet day.
Slate: How do you feel about “Húsavík” being nominated for an Oscar?
Hannes Óli Ágústsson: It’s just delightful. Some sort of surreal, in a way? But also just really much fun. I remember when I heard it for the first time on the set, I felt like they really nailed the Eurovision Song Contest epic drama feel. So it’s really nice that’s getting the appreciation that it deserves.
How did you feel when “Jaja Ding Dong” was left off the Academy’s short list?
Well, of course, that is the big scandal in this entire situation. But you can’t win them all. Me, Hannes the actor, is much more fond of the other one, but Olaf is probably still pretty pissed off about it.
Do you think Rachel McAdams and Will Ferrell’s Sigrit and Lars would have won Eurovision if they’d played “Jaja Ding Dong” in the competition, instead of “Húsavík”?
Personally, I would say no. I think they would have been disqualified before the final. The other song, it really was a better bet. I don’t know how big Eurovision is in America, but Iceland is one of those countries that is actually crazy for it, and I feel like the song really nails the spirit of Eurovision, especially the kind of music that exists there, which is a weird bubble of its own, a kind of epic, power ballad Eurodisco mishmash thing. The “Double Trouble” song really nails that as well. But the “Jaja Ding Dong” song is not Eurovision material, I think. It’s a bar at 3 o’clock in the morning type of thing.
There’s that moment in “Húsavík” where they switch to singing in Icelandic, and I had forgotten, but I actually started crying during the movie.
Yeah, good. It’s a funny thing, not a lot of people know this, but the singer who is co-singing it with Rachel is from Sweden, and so her pronunciation of the Icelandic language is actually … not so good. So Icelanders are like, “Yeah, she’s singing in Icelandic, but she has a very heavy accent.”
Who played a better Icelander in Eurovision Song Contest: Will Ferrell or Rachel McAdams?
Rachel’s accent is much closer to the Icelandic accent, definitely. But both of them are better than Pierce Brosnan. All respect to Pierce Brosnan, who’s really amazing and super nice, but Rachel really nailed it, in my opinion.
Do people care about the Oscars in Iceland? How big a deal was it when Hildur Guðnadóttir won for the score of Joker last year?
Of course, it was a big deal worldwide for a female composer to win for score, but here in Iceland, it was a big, big deal. She won the Grammy yesterday, too. We have an Icelandic film also nominated now, for Best Animated Short. So Iceland’s very present now. We can’t complain. People are really excited about the Eurovision thing.
The town of Húsavík actually launched a website called An Óskar for Húsavík to campaign for the song, and you’ve got your own tab on the site, under the heading “The Jaja Ding Dong Guy.” Are you resigned to being called that now?
That’s my fate. It sort of had died down for a while, and it’s kind of a local thing, this website. But they asked me to do a small cameo and I said yes, even though it meant I will probably be referred to as “The Jaja Ding Dong Guy” some more. But I’m getting kind of used to it.
Have you been to Húsavík since this started?
I drove through it once. I was vacationing. We stopped in the café for lunch, it was not long after the premiere, and I saw plenty of turning heads and secret photos being taken of the Jaja Ding Dong guy back in Húsavík. And I actually took some photos there for myself and my family.
But they haven’t put up a statue of you in Húsavík or anything.
Not yet. There was an idea to put up paper cutouts of the characters or something, but I really hope that died down.
I’ve spent some time with both “Jaja Ding Dong” and “Húsavík” today, and I have to admit that it’s not really “Jaja Ding Dong” I’m attached to. It’s you yelling out for it.
It really sounds like a bad ’80s hit here in Iceland from a middle-aged group. They really nailed that Scandinavian style—how catchy yet annoying it is. I remember while we were shooting it, we did so many takes, it really became apparent to us how accurate it is, and also how completely annoying it is after a while. The annoying aspect of it is definitely there.
It’s like in the U.S. when people yell out for “Free Bird” at concerts—if they actually played the song, it would ruin the joke.
I’ve heard stories about people shouting at bands in Reykjavik, “Play ‘Jaja Ding Dong’!” And I instantly became so terribly sorry for those people. I’m sorry for drunken idiots ruining their concerts.
So is Netflix flying you to the Oscars?
Hopefully. I haven’t heard anything. I would love to.
What can we do to make sure that Netflix flies you to the Oscars?
Just spread the word. I’m willing and able if the call comes.