Violent Night: David Harbour’s killer Santa Claus explained

David Harbour as Santa Claus in Violent Night.Universal Pictures

Violent Night is a new action movie that pits David Harbour’s Santa against a gang of thieves. Here director Tommy Wirkola explains how Viking mythology influenced this killer version of Father Christmas.

Santa Claus in new action movie Violent Night is a badass, being big, muscle-bound, and covered in tattoos.

All of which comes in useful on Christmas Eve, when he’s delivering presents to a family at the same time their home is being invaded by murderous burglars.

He taps into his own violent past to put them to the sword; history that is briefly shown in flashback during the movie, and explained in more detail by director Tommy Wirkola below.

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How Violent Night’s Santa Claus is different

“We wanted to start with the classical Santa,” explains Wirkola. “The Coca-Cola Santa. The perfect red suit, the white beard, the hat, and the tiny glasses. Then start peeling the layers off, slowly, but surely, through the fights, and through his journey.

“This version of Santa is a little different. When we meet him he’s a little depressed. He’s lost faith in himself and in humanity and in Christmas and he’s lost his way a little bit. He feels like Christmas is all about consumerism and gifts and toys and he’s considering retiring actually – just hanging up his boots and making this his last Christmas. So he’s in a weird place when we meet him.

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“Then of course he goes on this journey delivering the presents. Then he gets entangled in this plot where a bunch of terrorists have taken over this compound and taken a family hostage to rob them. In this family there’s a little girl called Trudy that he befriends and decides to help, and Trudy is really the one who starts awakening his sense of Christmas again, and finding his Christmas spirit through her.”

Introducing Viking Santa

We get glimpses at Santa’s bloody past, in which the big guy takes no prisoners as he crushes skulls or chops off heads. Making this something of a departure for the festive icon.

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Wirkola says he was initially skeptical of how this would work: “When they sent me the script, I thought ‘It sounds cool, but how are you going to make it plausible that this Santa can take on all these terrorists and come out on top?’ That’s where I thought the writers done a brilliant job of anchoring it in real life and in Viking mythology and linking his back-story to that.

“When I read it, it made so much sense. ‘Oh yeah, this could really be Santa Claus.’ I thought it was a brilliant way of giving him that dark past. So this is actually a big redemption story for him – becoming Santa Claus – but now he has to go back to who he once was and become Santa 2.0. Combine who he used to be and the Santa that he needs to be in the future. So we pulled on a lot of different stuff to try and find and create a new kind of Santa.

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“Going back to Viking mythology – the sleigh is actually the front part of a Viking ship. The idea is he took that and made that into his sleigh. On the tip of it you can actually see the dragon – it’s a very classic design of a ship. Not to reveal too much but the tattoos and all that stuff is anchored in that and telling the story of who he once was.”

David Harbour is Santa “who could kick your ass”

Stranger Things star David Harbour isn’t an actor who immediately springs to mind when you say “Santa,” but in the context of Violent Night, his casting makes perfect sense.

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As Wirkola explains: “It was one of those cases where we started discussing his name and we felt like ‘My god, he is the perfect man for this role.’ Yes he’s a fantastic actor as we all know, but we knew we needed somebody with a physical presence. Somebody who, when he walks in a room, you feel he could kick your ass. David has that quality, and he’s just big and he’s got power.

“Second we need somebody who could be really funny and play the humor right and understand the tone of what we’re trying to hit, and also someone with a big heart, and have that heart shine through the Santa we meet at the beginning. So we can still see the goodness and kindness in him.

“David has all those things in spades and he’s just a very smart man and smart actor and he had so many great ideas for how to carefully construct the journey of Santa and reveal who he really was. He was a fantastic partner in coming up with our Santa Claus.”

Violent Night is released this Friday (December 2) and you can read how Die Hard and Bad Santa influenced the movie here.

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