One of the best scripted action/dramas currently on tv, History’s Vikings continues to get better and better. I was lucky enough to end up in their pressroom again this year, and they gave us drinking horns!
My interview with the cast starts with Katheryn Winnick (Lagertha Lothbrook) and Alexander Ludwig (Bjorn Lothbrook):
Katheryn: (to me) Oh, hi! Nice to see you again! I see so many familiar faces here, I know you were here last year, right? And WonderCon? Great to have you guys back, new people, thank you for being here.
Alexander: Oh man, you guys are awesome, thank you for being here.
Q: Alexander, what’s it like coming into the season, coming in as Bjorn, with the jump in the time line?
Alexander: Well Katheryn was great, she really made me feel at home and everyone definitely embraced me with open arms. I had already met Katheryn and Travis when I did the reading in LA so I already had a bit of a relationship with them, and yeah, it was just one big family, it was really fantastic. Definitely intimidating though, because I really wanted to bring in a part of the original Bjorn, I mean we look alike, but that’s not enough, so I really wanted to bring some of that essence.
Katheryn: I really think he did a great job, I have to say, honestly, that Sherry Marsh, one of the producers on set was a huge fan of The Hunger Games and spotted Alexander there. And said basically, well, we have the PERFECT Bjorn. And Travis and I got asked to fly down to LA to screen test him, and we both looked at him and said “Yes, that’s him, that’s our son grown up.” Alex couldn’t have come into an easier transition, and becoming a man, and having his own voice in the series. A lot of people are going to be surprised and amazed with that he does with the character.
Q: Any clues as to what’s in store for season 3?
Katheryn: Oh, LOTS! Lots. I mean we’re half way through filming season 3, and as you know, we’re going to try to invade Paris. Lagertha has her own journey in terms of her own arc, having her own power, dealing with her ex husband, finding her own voice as a woman, and the challenges as a female in a position of power. So we’ll see her struggle a little bit. But truthfuilly it’s just an amazing vibe on set, it really is. If you ever go to Ireland, you MUST visit us, it feels like it’s home, and that we’re all family. It’s season 3, and everyone is easy in terms that we know our roles, and it’s easier to just get down to work.
Q: I just saw photos on your instagram of you riding a horse Kathryn-
Katheryn: Oh yeah, I JUST learned how to do- AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH (she shrieks and jumps because Travis Fimmel is pelting the table we’re at with handfuls of grapes from across the room.) Oh my god, you see?
Alexander: (laughing) We have some of the weirdest people in this cast, I mean we’re just like a family.
Katheryn: Oh my god, I should just like, throw water at him. (she picks up a bottle and takes careful aim, but thinks better of it and puts it gently back on the table while laughing.)
Q: I mean I can only imagine that this show’s training is difficult, having to memorize all those fights and then the lines.
Katheryn: That’s the thing about with Vikings, once your shooting, you don’t stop. You’re learning to ride a horse, or working on your battle sequences, or stunt coordinating, or learning old Norse, working with the accent coach, getting into fittings because everything is hand sewn and formed to your body. Or you’re meeting with the other actors for rehearsing or just chatting, and we have such a tight group of cast members, we love to just have dinners together. I mean I was just over at Alex’s house, with Gustaf and they cooked me a nice dinner! It’s a really warm environment.
Q: Alexander, how has it been for you?
Alexander: It’s definitely been a coming of age story, historically his character does some pretty incredible things. I think we’re really setting it up for him to come into his own. There is going to be a lot more of that, last season he was a boy, and this season he’s so much more a man.
Katheryn: And Lagertha has to deal with that, seeing he isn’t her little son anymore, and having to respect him as a man. And that’s a different challenge to play. Going from him being this tall to now she has to look up at him, you know.
Alexander: And you realize that so many of the problems we have now where the same then, she (meaning Katheryn) has to come to terms with the fact that I’m a man now, but she’ll always be my mom, now we’ve become more companions, looking out for eachother, we have our backs and respect each other’s opinions. It’s a really cool relationship.
Q: How are your love lives this season?
Alexander: Well, we (grabs Katheryn in a hug) just came out with our relationship together. (everyone at the table laughs heartily because we know it’s meant as a joke.) You’d think it’s a little awkward, but I think people will understand. I mean hey, if Game Of Thrones can do it.
Katheryn: ….I’m going to tease you guys, you will see…..well, Lagertha- She’s free and can do whatever she wants, she doesn’t have a husband now. She understands her sexuality, and knows who she is, and is a free woman and we see her explore that.
Alexander: Without giving too much away, Bjorn is a man now, grown up, and there are a lot of crazy crazy twists with his relationship with Porunn, it changes, and you expect to see some crazy experiences with his family.
Katheryn: If you guys liked season 2, you’re gonna love season 3.
Alexander: Yeah, it’s insane. I’ve never read anything like this, and yeah, after that teaser? In the panel, that was the first time I’ve seen it, and I was blown away, and I’m so happy to be on the show.
(My turn): The scene where Lagertha and Bjorn come back to Ragnar in season 2 is….fucking amazing, and you played it so so beautifully.
Katheryn: Oh thank you so much. I actually had a hard time with that scene because Lagertha doesn’t say anything other than a “hi”, and she’s stuck there with the reunion of her boys, and it’s like ‘what am I supposed to do here?’ watching this dynamic.
Alexander: But there WAS so much going on there that you weren’t saying but were showing, which I loved.
Katheryn: That’s what was great about the show, it was all subtext. It’s not so much what you say, a lot of the times it’s what you DON’T say, sometimes it’s within a look, or sometimes it’s just being in that awkward moment that tells you so much more about what’s really going on than having dialog.
Me: Hey, my entire household teared up, so, GOOD JOB. (and I threw the rock horns)
Katheryn: I don’t think another network could do as good a job as History Channel does. It is as historically accurate as possible, we work with historians on the show, I play a real character, Bjron is a real character that existed. We also have a lot of freedom in the sense that they spent a lot of time in the casting process, hiring the right people with the show runners like Michael Hirst, and with the department heads, they truly spent the time picking the right people and allowing us to do our jobs. The freedom of that is so rare, I’ve been on network shows where there’s a lot of cooks in the kitchen, where they’re worried about everything. But here, they have trust and faith in who they hire. Maybe it also helps that we’re 8 hours ahead and they can never get a hold of us (everyone laughs). But we’re pretty much out there on our own, and it’s nice that they’ve trusted us to represent the show.
(It’s at this point they notice that all the interviewers at the table are wearing drinking horns around their necks, and mentions of a Vikings Drinking Game happen.)
Interviewer: So yeah, best advertising ever with these things. You take them to these six bars and you get half off beers to fill the cup.
Katheryn: Are you serious? That’s awesome!! Free beer!
Q: I mean the fan base of this show keeps getting bigger and bigger, but there is this certain subset, and it’s #TeamLagertha.
Alexander: I’m totally on Team Lagertha.
Q: I mean you have this group of people, who are going out there and getting YOUR FACE tattooed on them.
Alexander: You saw that? Isn’t that insane? I mean, I’ve got mine!
Katheryn: Oh man, I don’t know who’d want to be stuck with me forever. That being said, it’s a real honor, and I’m so happy that people think that. You never expect it, I mean when I was hired, I was told they were expecting it to be a male demographic for the show, that the audience for History is all male, that I was just gonna be the little wifey. And then POW, we’re now up to I think 50/50 in terms of our viewers. We’ve created trends with the hair, and the Lagertha shield nailpolish and Team Lagertha tattoos. It’s amazing to see, and I just hope I do her right and as honest as possible. If you were happy when she came into her power, oh, man, just wait til season 3.
Q: Will we see a struggle for power like with Ragnar and Jarl Borg?
Katheryn: Ooooh, that’s a good question. We’ll definitely see her….being an Earl, I’ll tell you that. You will see her in a different light with that power being the driving force of the conflict.
(At this point Katheryn and Alexander get taken away to go to the next table, but because I was sitting right next to Alex and laughing throughout, he gave me a huge hug as he got up, and did Katheryn.)
And I do have to tell you guys, in the middle of the changing of the tables, Alexander walked over to Travis and upended an entire bottle of water over his head. It was hilarious. Then a slightly damp Travis Fimmel (Ragnar Lothbrook) and Clive Standen (Rollo) came to our table and sat right next to me. Again.
Travis: (playing with my recorder laying on the table) Nice big one there, eh?
Me: Yeah, it’s pretty awesome, right?
Travis: Get good sound with it? Yeah, I bet you do. It’s always interesting.
Me: You guys need horns. Why don’t you have any of the drinking horns?
Clive: The problem with the horns though is you can’t put them down til you’re finished. (Now, Clive is a large man. The regular sized bottle of beer in his hands looks like an airline sized bottle. But when this Viking cheerses you, YOU CHEERS BACK). SKOL! (everyone at the table drinking takes a long swig along with Clive) Ah, table 5, I can already tell this’ll be my favorite table.
Me: ….you say that everytime.
(Clive reaches across Travis to bap me in the arm and smiles.)
Q: You guys started out the season at war with eachother as brothers, and I wanted to know how that relationship is building back up after all that.
Travis: Oh well, I’m trying to think back, it’s been a long time since we filmed those episodes.
Clive: I think we see in season 2 that Ragnar punishes him, the brothers know eacother better than any of the other characters, and Ragnar KNOWS that Rollo wants to go raid and fight. And I mean this is one thing I (meaning Rollo) was born for, and what Ragnar is doing, it’s like punishing a child. Doing the ‘Well I’m gonna go raid, and you’re not gonna come with me’. We see that progress of Ragnar punishing him because that relationship is so scarred. And I mean scars do heal, but their relationship will never be the same. But we are getting to a point in season 3 where the brothers are back together. There are things they’re going to be forced to compromise, to work for the greater good of the city.
Q: Was it difficult to get into the writer’s descision for Rollo to betray Ragnar?
Clive: We knew it was going ot happen, Michael had kind of talked to me about it before hand with the lead up to the end of season 1. But that’s part of what I found facinating, is that Rollo would trade everything to be king for a day. And of course it doesn’t work out how he thought it’d feel, and the best time for me in season 2 is when he turns into the shadow, and there’s no sunlight at all. And I don’t think he knew how much he really loved his brother until he wasn’t there anymore. I mean that’s what our show is about, family. We’ve all got mothers, we’ve all got fathers and siblings, and nothing else really comparies to family.
Travis: We’re Band of Brothers.
Clive: As much as I can say he’s on Ragnar’s side now, there is still that one thing needling away at him, and it’s that ambition. And that ambition is never going to go away, because in VIking society, your name means everything to you. So, he’s to’ing and fro’ing between ‘is this all my life is now?’ and ‘my life is being second fiddle to my brother’. And he’s very much yes, let’s do this as brothers, as Lothbrooks, but there’s that thing inside him asking ‘is there more’.
Q: What is going on with Rollo and Siggy in season 3?
Travis: Weddddddding bells.
Clive: Well, I mean, Siggy has always been there, and I don’t think Rollo realized how much she’d done for him behind the scenes, but the crux of that is she sleeps with King Horrick, Donal Logue, and cheats on him. And says “BUT I DID IT FOR YOU, ROLLO!” which any woman would say. Can you ever really deal with that information? Can you ever really have a proper relationship with someone who’s sleeping around but doing it for you? So it is very much a marriage of convenience, it’s just so tempestuous, it’s my new favorite word.
Travis: We just saw Donal down in the lobby, he’s here for Gotham. I have no regrets in killing him. (everyone laughs) No really, he’s a great bloke, I miss having him on the show.
Q: What’s ahead for Ragnar?
Travis: Well, it starts with all the trouble the power causes for Ragnar. He realizes how hard it is to be a leader, and all the sacrifices you have to make. Which I’m excited about. And this year we go to Paris, the last year we were caught up with so much family drama in Cattigac, just so much drama. Ragnar and the boys, we didn’t get to explore like we wanted to. We set the farms up in England, and then we’re like, ‘what do we want to do next?’, and Ragnar is a curious character, he wants to see what else is out there. He sort of gets back to season 1, where he just wanted to sail somewhere. I haven’t read the scripts yet, but we go to Par’ee.
Q: It seems like he struggles a bit at home during season 2.
Travis: Yeah, he struggles. He’s not the best with women, Ragnar.
Q: Is it more demanding when you have less creative license for a show like this?
Travis: We take a lot of license though, yeah.
Clive: It’s MORE freeing, because everyone knows there’s a beginning, middle, and end of history, but it’s how it plays out, that’s where it gives Michael a lot to play with.
Travis: No one knows the real truth.
Clive: Yeah, and you can know how some of these characters end up, you just have to pick up a history book. You can read about Ragnar, Rollo, and Lagertha. But it’s the bits in between, it’s getting from A to Z, and that’s what Michael’s job is, to create the B, C, E- all of it, to make it exciting and fresh because no one really wants to be bogged down by stuff everyone’s read before. History gives us TREMENDOUS license, but our budget is not a film budget-
Travis: The Irish crew is brilliant, entirely efficient.
Clive: I mean we have the important emmy nominaiton for us, Visual Effects with Julian Parry who is our visual effects supervisor. He’s incredible, and why I think that is because you don’t actually realize he’s done anything. It’s all about supporting the visual effects, creating backdrops, matte paintings, mountains that aren’t there, deer runing across a scene, and it’s so visceral and-
Travis: GEESSE you’re coming up with some big words today. (everyone laughs)
Clive: Well the reason I’m talking about it is Julian is the last person to accept credit for it, and here he is nominated, and I hope he wins it. It shouldn’t be about “oh hey, it’s a dragon”, you shouldn’t even know it’s there.
Travis: Actually one of the actors did not know. I’m not pointing out who, but someone was like “Oh, I didn’t know there were visual effects!”.
Clive: But that’s one of the greatest compliments you can give someone!
Travis: Yeah, Julian Perry is brilliant. He’s English, but he’s brilliant.
Q: Any new characters coming up you can tell us about?
Travis: You know, I haven’t worked with any of the new ones yet, actually. Because we’re in England, and they’re all back in Scandinavia. We haven’t worked with Ben (I’m looking madly to find out who they’re meaning here) and some of the others coming in during the next episode we’re filming.
Clive: Oh. Yeah. I don’t know how many…..we kind of kill some of them.
Me: Like you do.
Travis: What, why do you keep looking at me like that?
Clive: Oh, I’m not. (He’s looking at himself here because the SDCC exclusive comics are on the table, along with other promo photos.) I just didn’t like this photographer.
Me: Where are George and Gustav? We miss them.
Clive: Oh, well, George is shooting scenes right now, and Gustav because of personal reasons-
Travis: He’s at a wedding. His brother, innit?
Clive: Yeah, he’s at a wedding. But he did want everyone to know he wished he could be here.
Travis: No he didn’t. He didn’t want you to know we killed him.
Clive: Yeah, we killed him and he cried and cried.
Travis: I’ve only just worked it out, we should have these horns on the show. (He’s reached over and grabbed mine from around my neck). You just hang it around your neck, so it doesn’t spill-
Clive: But the Vikings didn’t get that far.
Travis: I dunno man, I’m talking to props. Where’s Michael? Michael! Ragnar’s invented something! Look! (He motions for one of the other reporters wearing a horn to stand and demonstrate) We don’t have to hold them! Right on, yeah, write that in for me.