SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN – SEPTEMBER 18: Actrees Hera Hilmar attends ‘Eidurinn’ photocall during 64th San Sebastian Film Festival at Kursaal on September 18, 2016 in San Sebastian, Spain. (Photo by Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images)
  • Interviews

Hera Hilmar is Breaking Out

Hera Hilmar, 29 (her birth name is Hilmarsdóttir) is an Icelandic actress on the rise. She will soon be seen leading the Peter Jackson-produced Mortal Engines as well as in Matthew Weiner’sThe Romanoffs on Amazon. 

You are in the adaptation of Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines, which is a new genre for you. How is it for you to be appearing in an adventure sci-fi film?

It´s exciting. I sometimes wonder if it is a sci-fi because when people say sci-fi, my head goes straight into space, and it is not that. When I read the script and then the books, I connected straight away to the premise and the characters. It may seem like such a different world at first look than the one we live in, with roaming cities and such, but when you look closer it´s uncomfortably similar to the reality we´re experiencing at the moment.

What drew you to Mortal Engines?

The story and its characters. It is set 1700 years from now where people have had to find another way of living after a devastating war broke out many years before. The war happened around our time, probably was nuclear and ruined the earth and most of its resources. So cities now roam on wheels and hunt other cities and towns for their goods, like their metals, food and of course people. I guess it is like the world of commercialism on wheels. So even though it´s set so many years from now it feels really tangible, since it looks at patterns set deep in human behavior, and therefore at something that is happening right now: How are we treating the planet, what is important to us and where is the line between need and greed? both for us as individuals and as a whole. And what are we willing to do to get what we want? is that something that serves all of us or maybe only ourselves?

You play the lead, Hester Shaw. Who is she?

She is this flawed, messy, beautiful being, who happens to be our female heroine and in the world of commercial cinema is allowed to be dangerous, horrible, uncomfortable and odd, but also beautiful, funny, loving, says and does what she thinks and feels, and is allowed to make mistakes and learn from them. She also happens to not be in a tight clothing from head to toe throughout the film with a face full of make up, which I personally enjoy seeing in a film like this, not that there isn´t a time and place for the other type. But the fact that it still feels like something to be noticed when we see a female heroine like that is something I hope is changing in the world. I was very excited about playing Hester because to me she is the whole scale and not only is it fun to see those characters, they´re also great fun to play.

 At the Mortal Engines panel during New York Comic Con 2018: Hilmar is the fourth from left, flanked by producer Peter Jackson, writer Philippa Boyens, director Christian Rivers, and cast members Robert Sheehan and Leila George D’Onofrio.

Craig Barritt/Getty Images for New York Comic Con


Peter Jackson is producing Mortal Engines and you shot the film in New Zealand. What is it like to work for him?

He is lovely. He is such a normal guy if that exists. Such a character but down to earth. All of the filmmakers were – his wife Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens who both co-write and produce the film with him and our director Christian Rivers– they were all very accommodating and made us feel like we were part of the family. Peter keeps life relatively simple I guess by getting more into creative complications regarding what he´s working on or finds exciting rather then what to wear or drink for example, which he seems to keep simple but specific; a white cotton shirt, khaki trousers and a green cup of tea. And, with, of course, a dash of not giving a f…. I think it´s great. Put the energy where you want to put it. I think that mentality it is important for his work and I think what is really great about the creative teams out there in New Zealand is that they have people who are insanely talented and are able to create films of that caliber but still live a life that is family friendly, “normal” and healthy. There is no bullshit. So Peter is just himself. You could also imagine him as one of the characters in Lord of the Rings, there is that side to him too. He definitely fits into that world. And then I think he could live in the Mortal Engines world too.

You are also in the series The Romanoffs. You play Ondine. Can you talk about that show and your role in it?

I have to be careful what I say because she is a bit of a wild card. I don’t want to give away too much. She was definitely a challenge to play for many reasons, which got me very interested in her. Working with Matthew Weiner was something I was very excited about as well and seeing what world he would create after Mad Men. It is tricky to go into more details because I literally think I will give away too much of the story if I say more.

What was it like to leave the small country Iceland and start a career in the big world?

I did not really have a plan. I was just open to what would happen and the plan was not to go to London to “make it” in the big world. I just wanted to work in a more international environment with more diversity and with people from different places. I wanted to open my mind and challenge myself in a new environment. I had no fixed plan so when I got an agent and then shortly after a job in a TV limited series called World Without End, suddenly I was on my way to Budapest before school had even finished and I was like: ‘okay, I have a job’ and then I got a role in Anna Karenina that Joe Wright was doing and even if it wasn´t a big role it was an important role for me at the time. It was surreal in a way, suddenly to be doing films with people I´d seen on movie screens back home, but at the same time also weirdly not that different to the world I came from. I guess you always imagine it to be this whole other world but when you get there it is not that different from the world you came from.