Meet Hannes Thor Halldórsson: Iceland goalkeeper, movie director
(Editor's note: Halldorsson and Iceland went on to fall to Croatia 2-0 and were eliminated from World Cup contention)
ZAGREB, Croatia -- Hannes Thor Halldórsson is a goalkeeper. He is also a film-director. It is one of the beauties of this stage of World Cup qualification that it pits bona fide footballing stars against those for whom football is almost a part-time profession.
Tuesday night, Halldórsson will stand in the Maksimir -- on its day one of the most intimidating stadiums in Europe, although such is the disgust of the Croatian public with its team that it is unlikely to be full -- and try to deny the likes of Real Madrid's Luka Modric and Bayern Munich's Mario Mandzukic. If he can do so, if Iceland can force a win or a scoring draw, or win on penalties, Iceland will become the smallest nation (by a factor of four) ever to qualify for the World Cup.
Halldórsson won an Icelandic league title this season with KR of Rekjavik, but the 29-year-old admits he doesn't even see football as his main profession.
"I would say my full-time job is as a film-maker and that's where I get most of my money, but I try to balance both things perfectly," he said. "It's a demanding job being a film maker, then I train at 5 every evening."
But what about when he was growing up? Which was his ambition?
"It was kind of both of them that developed," he said. "When you train in football in Iceland it doesn't consume you and I grew up in a lower league that isn't full-time. But film? I was 12 years old when I started making my first short film. It was a small action comedy [I made] with a group of friends - I wasn't the action hero.
"I made the film in 1996. It was very a simple technique. I managed to make it with a VCR and a video camera. It was like Superman but we called called it Swimming Man. He was wearing a stupid outfit."
This isn't Halldórsson's first performance on a major European stage.
He also directed Iceland's entry at the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest (a festival of camp in which each member nation of the European Broadcasting Union enters a song, the winner being determined by a public vote; it is regarded with hilarity in the UK and, broadly speaking, with increasing seriousness the farther east you go).
"I'm one of those names that was mentioned as things had been going well in directing commercials," Halldórsson explained. "My name pops up when those things are mentioned. It was on my to-do list to do a Eurovision video. I was a Eurovision fan as a kid. I was a little irritated I hadn't been asked before."
His entry, "Never Forget", featured Gréta Salóme and Jónsi, and reached the final, finishing 20th, although the public in both Denmark and Finland had it second, and Cyprus placed it third.
"She's an elf, a mysterious figure," Halldórsson said. "We have this elf belief in Iceland that goes back many centuries. It's about a haunting woman this guy can't forget. A mystic woman trying to entice him to the other side. It when he's young, and he doesn't go. When he's older he goes all the way."
More recently, Halldórsson shot a commercial for Icelandair, featuring his teammates.
"It was an odd shoot and a bit uncomfortable," he said. "I get the phone calls when they make a sports commercial but never for the Icelandic football team and not when I'm in it. It was weird. It feels personal when you keep them out in the cold. With actors you keep your distance. The players were saying, 'Hey, it's cold. Can we stop?' But you can't. I had to act in the commercial as well, so I was directing the commercial in the national kit and boots, jumping in and out of a warm kit. I was wearing my shorts and boots when I directed it."
Halldórsson is now working on his first feature film. "It's been going on a while," he said. "The script is in development. It's my dream. I want to make one feature film before I quit football. I can only be a footballer and a commercial director because you can shoot for two days and then train for one. A film is 40 days in a row. My aim is to make one big film while I'm a player. That's the horror film. It's not a zombie film, more a supernatural low key ghost thriller that takes place somewhere in an isolated part of Iceland."
The obvious next step, if Iceland make it through, would seem to be the video for a World Cup song, although the idea seems to bewilder him, as though the prospect of reaching a finals has always been so remote that the whole notion of the World Cup song is alien to him.
"I'd have to see some videos to see what you are talking about, because I have no idea what that is," Halldórsson said. "If I did? I would make some mix of maybe training videos and showing the nation taking part in it. Children running around in national outfits. Maybe a guy in a small store wearing an Iceland shirt. I don't think it would be a horror video."
If Iceland does prevail against Croatia, he'll have time to come up with something rather more convincing.