History’s Vikings continues to be not only a fan favorite, but a powerhouse of acting and storytelling talents. Michael Hirst writes EVERY SINGLE EPISODE of the series that chronicles the fantastical life of real life Norse king Ragnar Lothbrok and his family. The show has something for everyone, fans of fantasy get treated to glimpses of Odin and other spirits, history buffs get name drops and battle re enactments, stunt and weaponry fans get fantastic sequences, costuming and actors get spectacular visions and performances from one of the best casts currently on TV.
We were lucky enough to be in on a call with Lagertha herself, Katheryn Winnick. She’s been with the series since it first aired, playing the wife of then warrior Ragnar and mother of his two children. Lagertha was a famous shield maiden, who during the course of the show has become an explorer, a colonist, an Earl, and maybe even a Queen.
Katheryn herself is no stranger to stunts and battles, having been a card carrying body guard for several years (along with her brother), as well as holding a third-degree black belt in Taekwondo and a second-degree black belt in Karate. By twenty-one she had founded and owned three martial arts schools, and advocates that girls kick ass.
HISTORY’s Vikings 4th season was split into two parts, the first ending earlier in 2016 with the final episode containing a 10 year time jump. The second half, 4b, premieres on November 30th, 2016 on the HISTORY channel.
Q: Thanks so much for being with us, Katheryn! Can you talk a bit about where we’ll see Lagertha in the beginning of season 4b, maybe a bit about how she views Kattegat and how it’s being run?
Katheryn Winnick: Lagertha has always had a lot of challenges for her at this stage seeing how Kattegat is run and being disappointed that its not ruled properly. With Ragnar not being there and Aslaug being there and not doing it the strongest way as a ruler. Lagertha’s dream was to expand, and to make Kattegat one of the larger trading centers. She wants to do good by her viking people.
Q: We meet the new character Astrid, and you talk to Ragnar about your regrets/no regrets. Lagertha shows weakness, one of the few times, can you talk about that at all?
KW: It was a very intense scene. I as Katheryn haven’t worked with Travis (Fimmel) in a long time, so it’s great to be reunited again, face to face. And you don’t full know how its going to be until you shoot it, and when you’re up against someone like Travis, when you’re there in the moment emotions rise and it is what it is. I don’t see it as a weakness, it’s vulnerability. Here is someone she shared her childhood with, they’ve made children together, to see him now after so many years, and still have love for him, but she’s in a different place. They’ll always be together, if not in this world, then together in Valhalla. It’s a passionate scene, there is so much more outside than the words, everything is between the lines. They share a kiss, a beautiful kiss, that we added into the scene. When she sees ragnar, she realizes this may be the last time she sees him.
Q: Can you talk a bit about Lagertha vs Queen Aslaug? Do we see more of that conflict?
KW: Yes, there is an epic scene between Lagertha and Aslaug, where they come face to face. And it’s PRETTY epic. It’s juicy and memorable. It was a great scene to shoot, Lagertha thinks she needs to take control of Kattegat, it’s been run poorly, so many people dying, and she needs to do the right thing by reclaiming it. No one would rule it as well as she does because she truly cares. It’s just a great scene with Alyssa Sutherland, and its’ great to get the two face to face finally.
Q: The Seer. Your perspective on the character. He’s always been as cool as a cucumber, but now he’s screaming. Is something truly horrible coming?
KW: Well, the Seer is the Seer, he’s like the modern day psychic, but he’s there to see the future and for therapy. It’s interesting to see him in a different state. Lagertha goes to him, and he gives her some news, some devastating news, and it changes her forever. It’s a really big scene, a big moment, and he answers a certain question for her. I think the audience wouldn’t necessarily expect what he answers for her. You’ll see.
Q: Astrid. How did that relationship come about? Lagertha isn’t *suddenly* a lesbian, not like “POOF” oh hey.
KW: There is a big time jump, Lagertha is in a different place. She developed this relationship with Astrid. She’s been betrayed by every man in her life. Ragnar cheated on her and then wanted her to be a second in their house, her second husband abused her, and then kalf who tried to usurp her so she killed him on their wedding day. Her relationship with men has changed, she’ll never trust one as fully again. It makes sense she would find her comfort in another human, and it happens to be a woman. I didn’t play Lagertha as a lesbian, but there is a love there that men have never been able to give her. Their relationship has been over 6-7 years, and she brings a different breath of air to Lagertha’s life. Josephine’s sense of humor and style is unique, and so is the way she deals with Lagertha. I think Lagertha grooms josephine into the warrior she is. And it’s not just “here’s two women in bed together”, it’s more than just sex, it’s an emotional bond that’s really beautiful to see.
Q: Is there some other endgame involved with Astrid do you think?
KW: I don’t think there is. I think she’s perceived her as someone comforting. Lagertha truly feels alone, even though she has Astrid. With Astrid there is no other motive other than loving Lagertha. Lagertha needs to find her own purpose, and that’s why she goes back to Kattegat. But no, I don’t think Astrid is there for anything other than loving Lagertha.
Q: How does Lagertha feel about Bjorn abandoning his responsibilities with his daughter?
KW: Lagertha is a warrior, and she understands Bjorn’s ambitions beyond being a father. It’s not uncommon for the warriors to raid and pillage. Is it comfortable for her to leave her granddaughter to Aslaug? No, it’s not the ideal situation. But she knows Bjorn is Bjorn Ironside, and she wants the best for him. He’s a powerful warrior, and needs to do what he needs to do. It’s not like our modern society, it’s teaching our children to be good warriors and powerful in their own rights.
Q: Your fight sequences! Is there anything coming up that was particularly fun or interesting to shoot?
KW: We’re shooting right now! We’re so far beyond what you guys are seeing. Yes, there is a very big battle coming! It’s going to be in the course of several episodes. It’s in the history books, and it’s not something you’ll expect. It’s epic, it’s powerful. You’ll see death, unexpected death, challenges, personal issues. As an actor, you can know your choreography, but then you’re shooting with mud, with horses, with blood with axes, you find the real magic. You slip and fall, and pick up someone else’s axe because your sword is gone. The action sequences are a way to tell the story in a different way. Sharing the battles through someone else’s eye. Our crew is absolutely amazing and going into it, those moments that fill in the reality of us being viking warriors. You can’t walk away from our set without being banged up, without being black and blue. It’s not for divas, this is brutal and guerilla style shooting, it’s what makes it so special. I wouldn’t trade it. It’s like being a real viking, it’s raw and brutal, and most of the time it’s our real blood in the scenes.
Q: The show almost feels almost like a cautionary tale of ambition. Every character has been changed in the face of what’s happened. Lagertha is the soul of the show, says Michael Hirst. How has she kept her moral center when so many others haven’t?
KW: The fact that she is constantly getting challenged with her morals and her ethics. It’s what keeps her honest. And it keeps her who she is, as Lagertha. Shes’ formidable, she’s strong, but she’s a woman, she’s allowed to be sad and loving and to not have her shit together at times. Its why she’s so real, it’s not about her strength as a warrior all the time, but her sense of will and her personality. She’s really an everyday woman. I launched a shirt, a fundraising campaign, and I’m bringing it back actually. It’s really empowering. It sums up my life. “Wake up, kick ass, repeat.” If kicking ass means being a mother, or going to work and trying to put your kids to bed with 3 kids, or being a CEO of a company, theres’ so many ways women can kick ass everyday. A lot of women identify with her as a strong person, not just as a viking in that time period.
Q: There is a scene with Ragnar wistfully looking back at when they were all family, can he detach whereas Lagertha can’t?
KW: Michael Hirst has Ragnar as the hero, but he’s more of the anti hero. He’s not necessarily put together, like him taking mushrooms with his slave, and not really wanting to be king, or a full father. Putting on the clothes from season one, and bringing back in our daughter from season one and having to recast her, that scene was really beautiful. But he can’t really go back and be that husband, that Ragnar that he really wants to be, but he cherishes that moment. Lagertha knows he was her true love, and will forever be that true love.
Q: The Dark Tower. We don’t know who you’re going to be, but what was it like, have you read the books? How was the set?
KW: Horror movies started my career, it’s a wonderful way to start and get your experience as a young actor, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. A lot of young actors should always keep their eyes and ears open, the genre is strong enough that people will see it. We shot it (The Dark Tower) in Cape Town, I only had two months of a break from the end of 4a, so it worked out for me to film. I went straight from the end of season 4, to Cape Town to film. They’ve been trying to get this made for 8 years, and we have an incredible young cast. I play a character in the novels who’s REALLY different from Lagertha, I can’t talk about it, I almost just said it. I have some wonderful scenes with Matthew McConaughey, who I worked with a long time ago on Failure to Launch. He plays a very interesting character whose very different. We have a great director, he has his own vision and his voice, how he wants the film to be really authentic and real even though it’s more mystical element. But I think fans are absolutely going to love it. And I know there’s talks of there being a tv show and possibly more movies, and it’s going to be amazing. I believe the release date is in July of 17. I’m excited to see it in theaters.
Q: How much do you immerse yourself in the history books for the character? Have you and Michael worked together on Lagertha?
KW: I’m very much involved with Lagertha, in terms in making her who she is. She started off as not as strong as a role, and she wasn’t as prominent. It’s a blessing I’m still here, I’m still pinching myself that I get to go to work every day. Michael and I have dinner every few weeks, and we talk about where I see her, and how we can challenge her. It’s a relationship I treasure. When you’re’ an actor who’s invested in your character, you feel a part of the process. We have the luxury of Michael writing ALL the episodes, it’s rare to have one sole person writing them, it’s usually a room of writers, not just one. The biggest challenge is always trying to keep up with the shooting schedule, and finding the stamina. Its interesting, and great, because it peels away the onion layers of your character, different ways of expressing that character. Where is she coming from, where can she go? It’s incredible to see what Michael comes up with. Michael is involved, and i’m very involved in making Lagertha who she is.
Thank you guys for all being here. It’s great to have you all take your time, I’m so excited for you to see this season, you’ll be blown away. We have some shocking things coming up.
HISTORY’S VIKINGS returns for the second half of season 4 on November 30th, 2016. SKAL!