World Cup: Meet Iceland's Goalkeeper, Who Moonlights as a Filmmaker

Hannes Halldorsson - Getty - H 2018
Clive Rose/Getty

It sounds like a classic Hollywood underdog story that's to good to be true, except in this case, the story is 100 percent valid.

Iceland, the small island country with a population of just 334,000, qualified to play in the FIFA World Cup for the first time ever this year, and it drew a tie in its debut match against fifth-ranked powerhouse Argentina.

The most talked-about moment of the game — and among the most discussed of the World Cup thus far — came in the second half, when Argentina’s star forward Lionel Messi, who is widely considered among the greatest soccer players of all time, had a chance to put his team ahead with a penalty kick. He was denied the goal by Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson, 34, who, when he’s not on the field, happens to be a filmmaker and director.

Talking with The Hollywood Reporter, the down-to-earth athlete admits that it would be a dream for any goalkeeper to make such a save in the World Cup, "but doing it in our first game of the World Cup and against the best player in the world — it would not be a believable sports movie. If I got that script, I would shake my head and say, ‘Nobody will believe this.'"

Recalling the moment, he describes it as "an emotional roller coaster. It was the first game and we were playing against one of the giants in international football. There was a lot of nerves, even though we are an experienced team. I was nervous. Goalkeeping is a big responsibility."

Like soccer, Halldorsson's interest in film started at an early age. "I got to do short films while I was young, 12, with my friends," he says. "I did it through high school, and when I graduated I started my own production company, mostly doing music videos and commercials." He also helmed a documentary and some TV work in his home nation.

In recent years, though, filmmaking has taken a back seat while he plays professionally for Denmark’s Randers FC. Still, in the time leading up to the World Cup, Halldorsson was dividing his time between practice and helming a Coke World Cup-themed commercial that is airing during the tournament in Iceland — a task for which he was uniquely qualified.

The spot, lensed on location around the breathtaking Nordic nation with a Red camera, features players and other Iceland natives as they pick up and join in the country's World Cup chant, known as the "Viking Clap," as seen in this behind-the-scene video.

"It was about the World Cup, it was an exciting opportunity to step back into the director’s chair," says Halldorsson, who juggled multiple roles including coming up with the concept, directing and editing. "I was editing in my hotel room. … I sent my last notes on the bus on my way to the flight to Russia."

"My dream is to make a feature film and do a scripted TV series," he adds. "But it was impossible while training. My only option was making commercials. I hope to have some opportunities."

If he is looking for a tale for a movie, he needs to look no further than Iceland’s never-give-up World Cup team, famously coached by a dentist. Says Halldorsson, "If I would be offered to make a film about the Iceland National Team, I would say 'yes' because I want to make a feature film. But I’m probably not going to write a film about myself. It would be egotistical."

What sort of movie would he like to make? "I love Hollywood movies, blockbusters," Halldorsson responds, acknowledging that the impression of Iceland-set movies tend to be about a "fishing village" with characters that are "a bit depressed. If I get a chance, I will focus more on making movies like, let’s say, thrillers or maybe comedies."

But today, Halldorsson's focus is on the World Cup, where his team is playing Nigeria: "I'm excited. It's an important game; we dream of qualifiying [for the next stage of the tournament]."