Will Ferrell’s new Netflix Eurovision movie filmed in Knebworth
- Credit: Elizabeth Viggiano/NETFLIX
Scenes of Anchorman star Will Ferrell’s new Netflix movie about the Eurovision Song Contest were filmed in Knebworth.
Starring Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, Dan Stevens and Pierce Brosnan, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga can be seen on streaming service Netflix from today (Friday, June 26).
In the homage to the annual song contest, producer and co-screenwriter Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams play Icelandic musicians Lars Erickssong and Sigrit Ericksdottir.
The film’s synopsis says “when aspiring musicians Lars and Sigrit are given the opportunity of a lifetime to represent their country at the world’s biggest song competition, they finally have a chance to prove that any dream worth having is a dream worth fighting for”.
Lars’ father, Erick Erickssong – described in the script as “the most handsome man in Iceland” – is rendered by none other than former James Bond star Pierce Brosnan.
READ MORE: Will Ferrell talks Eurovision and Fire Saga
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Production of Eurovision Song Contest began at Leavesden Studios last August.
Over the course of a 49-day shoot, the bulk of the filming took place on location in England, Edinburgh, Scotland and Iceland.
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Scenes from the spoof comedy written by Elf, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and Blades of Glory actor Will Ferrell and Saturday Night Live scriptwriter Andrew Steele were shot on location at Knebworth House last September.
Knebworth House posted on its social media pages: “We are very excited about the release of Eurovision on Netflix today!
“It was great fun having the cast & crew on site. Give it a watch to see if you can spot us.”
The Hertfordshire stately home doubles as Russian singer Alexander Lemtov’s tasteless and garishly decorated abode.
Stevens, who is best known as Matthew Crawley from TV series Downton Abbey, plays the Russian contestant in the tongue-in-cheek movie.
Production designer Paul Inglis, who joined the project fresh from the set of Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, was tasked with converting the Lytton Cobbold family home into Lemtov’s pad.
It was the most grandiose set Inglis constructed for the movie, with very in-your-face naked statues, flaming torches and gold staircases.
The magnificent Gothic mansion is where Alexander holds a soirée prior to the Eurovision finals.
“We went to town at Knebworth,” says Inglis. “It was an absolute joy! We turned it into a modern party house for a Russian bachelor about town.
“We had four gold-plated supercars parked outside, flambeaus and a red carpet.
“Inside we added ice sculptures, naked statues of Lemtov, gold staircases, marble and disco balls.”
All the interior design excess still supported the narrative.
“The other competitors feel comfortable in this world,” says Inglis.
“But to Lars [Ferrell], it’s a psychedelic, disorienting and overwhelming backdrop where he realises that Sigrit – the most important part of his life – could be slipping away.”
“Whether it’s ice skating or the Indy 500 or Eurovision, Will [Ferrell] is so good at inhabiting characters whose mad little worlds are everything to them,” says Dan Stevens, who portrays Eurovision hopeful Alexander Lemtov.
In the Netflix film, directed by David Dobkin of Wedding Crashers and The Judge fame, returning contest favourite Alexander attempts to claim the top prize with his song Lion of Love.
“He has a very operatic voice and uses it in poppy, big, bombastic songs,” says Stevens of his Russian alter ego.
For Lemtov’s Eurovision entry, Inglis created leaping graphics of jungle animals to project onto an LED screen – Alexander’s cue to swagger in with four shirtless male backup dancers.
“It’s a bit of a Eurovision trope – an incredibly sexual, erotic song that’s vaguely couched in some sort of context,” Stevens says.
“When David Dobkin first played it to me, I couldn’t stop laughing.”
And Lemtov’s costumes were not subtle or restrained either.
The Russian entertainer favours performing in gold, black, tall boots and designer labels.
To celebrate the start of Eurovision, he wears a red Alexander McQueen suit.
At his luxe abode, he accessorises with Gianni Versace shoes and a pile of jewellery.
His wardrobe treasures are also sourced from Philip Lane and Vivienne Westwood.
As well as filming on location at Knebworth House last September, the filmmaking team travelled to Copenhagen in 2014 to watch the Eurovision finals and learn more about the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) competition’s planning and execution.
“The EBU’s a unique organisation,” says co-writer Will Ferrell.
“They know some people are a bit tongue-in-cheek about the whole thing, and they have a sense of humour.
“But the organisers also know that this event is a big deal musically.
“I didn’t realise what a production it is until I actually went and saw the huge show they put on.
“They build the whole set from scratch only to tear it down when it’s over. It was really important for us to capture the scope.”
Four years after their initial visit, the filmmakers flew to Portugal to watch another tournament up close.
By then, Ferrell and Andrew Steele had crafted the Eurovision film’s storyline around misfits Lars Erickssong, an innocent but driven man-child, and Sigrit Ericksdottir.
To capture the enormity of the production, the filmmakers were also granted permission to record plate shots of the stage and crowd at Eurovision 2019 in Tel Aviv.
“I saw that the competition doesn’t take place in a TV studio – it’s an arena,” says director David Dobkin.
“I’ve never been to a concert with 25,000 lights in a single space, and I’ve shot a lot of huge rock concerts!
“The audience is lit from the front to the way back. It’s a 360-degree experience. I wanted to convey the experience authentically.”
“I didn’t know much about Eurovision at first,” says Mean Girls and Wedding Crashers star Rachel McAdams, who is Canadian.
“When we went to Tel Aviv to watch the rehearsals and finals, I understood why Will had been such a fan.”
Another famous Ferrell fan, two-time Grammy nominee Demi Lovato, rounds out the main cast.
The American Heart Attack pop star plays Katiana, who is described as “one of the best and most angelic singers in all of Iceland”.
As the heavenly-voiced Katiana, she enters the film as Iceland’s best-ever Eurovision candidate with her song In The Mirror.
With the ensemble in place, and Tel Aviv footage banked from spring 2019, production switched to Leavesden Studios in Hertfordshire last August.
The final movie locations visited were the Scottish cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, which stood in as the site of Eurovision match-ups.
In the middle, the cast and crew reconvened for a week of shooting in Fire Saga’s hometurf.
“Going to Iceland was important to all of us,” Steele says. “Lars and Sigrit are rooted there.
“You can replace New York City with Toronto, but Iceland doesn’t look like anywhere else.”
Dobkin, a first-time visitor, scouted locations all across the country before finding Lars and Sigrit’s birthplace in the Northern fishing village Húsavík.
“It was a production nightmare to get everybody there,” says the director.
The movie’s writers felt that having Icelandic protagonists was a playful, endearing choice. Iceland’s small size supported a major plot point as well.
“Whatever country wins Eurovision has to host the next year’s contest,” Ferrell says.
“Often, the Eurovision organisers get a little nervous when smaller countries start receiving a lot of votes, because of concerns over cost, space and lodging.”
Iceland has thus far not had to fulfil these duties in real life.
“We wove that idea into the narrative: Victor Karlsson, who oversees the Central Bank of Iceland, worries that a Eurovision win might result in a bankrupt country.”
Thankfully, real Icelanders were laid-back, even with a film crew in their midst.
“They couldn’t have been nicer,” Ferrell adds. “We had a fantastic cast of Icelandic actors who were really funny and who got the jokes.”
Shooting atop Iceland’s Skjálfandi bay was a huge adventure for the case.
“There were really rough seas and the boat was literally being pitched five feet one way and the other,” Ferrell says.
“Everyone was falling. Dead fish were falling all over the deck of the boat!”
On filming in Iceland, production designer Paul Inglis says: “We needed to convey Húsavík as a place that you believed Lars would want to look beyond, until he understands there is no place like home.
“That world was about simple richness: finding honesty in the landscapes and homes that we show.
“The harbour is the focal point of the town and it creates the sense of Húsavík being an enclosed hamlet relying on the sea.
“Húsavík is the only place I could imagine shooting this part of the story now; it’s extraordinary.”
Húsavík and even Reykjavík, where Fire Saga earn their ticket to Eurovision, are more monochromatic than any international surroundings the Icelandic duo encounters.
In Edinburgh, “there’s more light, colour, materials, shininess and costumes,” Inglis says.
“Then inside the arena, we’re creating this bright world of artificiality and spectacle.”
The Netflix movie also features Graham Norton as himself.
You can watch Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga now on Netflix.