An Everything Action first look at History Channel’s Vikings.
With seemingly every channel having its own period action show (Game of Thrones, Spartacus, Hell On Wheels), History Channel has joined the party with its own entry, Vikings. Based on the Norse Legend of Viking King Ragnar Lothbrok, Vikings begins with the rise of Lothbork and his passion to journey beyond the then Norsemen territories, a journey to the unknown West.
While the the stereotypical notion of Vikings often stems from their barbaric acts and infamous raiding parties, Vikings will explain the complex and powerful men that made up the bloody conquerors. Vikings is rich in historical detail that will both enlighten and entertain viewers. There’s enough historical facts and context in the mixing for this show to appear on the History Channel, but there’s also a good amount of fantasy elements to keep the average action seeker glued to the screen. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with the actors bringing Vikings to life, learning more about both the story and the people that helped tell this tale in the process.
Jessalyn Gilsig plays the beautiful “Siggy“, the wife of the Viking chieftain and the representation of high society within the Viking community. I asked Gilsig about the challenges in portraying the struggle of being a mother and a figure of authority to conquerors, as well as her experience with the other actors.
EA: Were there any particular difficulties or challenges that you faced in bringing to life the character of a Viking Chieftain’s wife — something that obviously doesn’t exist today?
Gilsig: There were great challenges, you know. I felt really lucky that there’s so much that I got to do in this that I’ve never done before. It has a lot of the elements that you hope for as an actress. I mean, anything from the period, including the accent. As you say, you’re playing a role that doesn’t even exist in modern society. And so to kind of find a way into the character but then to also make sure that these were human beings that had all the complexities of any mother, wife, woman, and to kind of marry those two things. I felt was the greatest challenge. I feel like Michael Hirst gave so many great markers for me to hit because I feel like the relationship with the Earl was so specific and wasn’t just sort of man on a throne and the woman who sits beside him, but more that there was a deliberateness and a specificity to what their relationship was made of. And then they had a lot of touchstones, such as the mother having lost her son and the vulnerability of her daughter, and how the daughter will becomes a wife… , – To marry her would be significant to how our position would evolve but then also, you know, the love of your child, you want to put your child in a healthy, respectful marriage. And so I love finding the balance of this – of the culture, which was born from ours, but then the humanity, which is universal.
EA: So I heard that you were excited to work on this project because also actor Gabriel Byrne was part of it. but Was there anyone else that you would prefer were looking forward to working with?
Gilsig: Well I didn’t know, you know, I didn’t know anybody else! I will say that it was really amazing to watch Travis Fimmel work. He was so committed in a way like you rarely see and he was completely integrated into the story and the character, as well as and the life. and I think for those of us who were there in support of him, that was so inspirational, we were inspired. you know, he just – He went into was almost like somebody like an athlete entering a marathon. And I feel like he kind of went underground into the story and didn’t surface until we finished, and we needed that because we couldn’t have any goals, you know, we all have to commit. So to see him commit so deeply I think really gave everybody else the strength to immerse themselves. And I think he should be given a lot of credit for setting that bar.
EA: Great. I can’t wait to see this.
Clive Standen plays the unbalanced “Rollo,” Ragnar Lothbrok’s sociopathic brother who represents the truly barbaric nature of the Vikings. I asked Clive about his previous experience with period pieces, as well as his training regiment to prepare to be a Viking.
Standen: Yes, I think so. I mean you learn on every job and every time you approach any character, regardless if he’s a lawyer, or a geography teacher, or a knight, or a pirate of the sea, you always have to kind of start with a clean slate. You have to work the canvas clean and build your character from scratch, so every character’s different. But it’s been quite handy to kind of, you know, just to keep immersing yourself in that kind of time period and the research you do becomes a little bit easier. You have to try and keep that kind of passion of being as accurate as possible and fighting anyone who, you know, doesn’t necessarily have the same regard. I think as an actor, and in a period piece, you have a responsibility – especially if the character you’re playing and the society that you’re portraying is based on fact – to those people to do the best job you possibly can. It’s given me more of a passion for doing justice to things. And what I always like to think is that when you’re playing a historical person or figure, you have to imagine them either in the back row of the theater or, you know, in the studio with you or maybe on the battlefield with you. You imagine that you’re playing him and you have a responsibility for doing your best job of getting it right and doing him justice. It’s bit like having that angel and devil that you see in the little cartoons. You just have to imagine that, you know, the real Rollo is on, you know, your shoulder whispering into your ear and you have to kind of do him justice.
EA: So you said that during your training regiment you did a lot of rowing and a lot of Spartan workouts. What was your diet like?
Standen: No we didn’t do the Spartan workouts. That was the point. You know, we didn’t sit there kind of throwing tires around trying to be alpha males. What’s so great about our cast is we’re very eclectic. You know, I think that when you’re approaching a drama based on Vikings, if you’re kind of taking that train of thought where you think Vikings are all just kind of raping, pillaging, and mass murdering, then it would be very easy to cast. You’d get alpha male type actors that, you know, are more concerned about pumping iron than acting. And that would be a very unhappy place on set and I think what’s so great about our cast and the way we all gelled as a family is we are so eclectic and I think that shows in the characters, you know, ranging from Floki, and Rollo, and (Dragna) and Torstein, and, you know, Leif and Arne. They’re all so different and it’s exciting to be a part of that. To have living, breathing, three-dimensional characters, rather than, you know, just murdering barbarians that don’t seem to have any back story or any layers.
EA: I just heard that you did some condition training, because Vikings weren’t exactly bodybuilders.
Standen: Yes exactly. So I mean, I haven’t been to a gym myself in two years. Anyway I strongly believe that you should – everything that comes from physicality should be something that’s enjoyed. If it’s cardio, for instance, you know, you don’t go running on a treadmill, you get out there and you run. You play sports and you rock climb, or whatever it is you do. But I do have kettle bells, and I have resistance bands, and I have a Power Plate, which I use now and again. But with Vikings, it was very much that. We’ve had resistance bands and things. We would row, we would do – I mean most of us – we’d do handstands, or I would do handstand pushups, because it’s obviously about your shoulders and the strength in your shoulders for the rowing and things. But we didn’t really have any kind of, you know, massive chaos training regime that some shows adopt because it was, you know, it was about creating real people rather than, you know, bodybuilders.
EA: Okay so did you happen to eat like a Viking then?
Standen: Yes I did eat like a Viking. It was very funny when we first arrived and Ashford Studios, it’s a brand new studio, it’s all solar powered and wind powered and it’s all state-of-the-art and we were the first people to film there. But the canteen, you know, they kind of – they did fill it up with lots of chips and all sorts of food that was the kind of food that was great for the crew out in the cold, but the kind of thing that would send you to sleep. So yes we very quickly got the menu changed a lot sooner, lots of protein and lots of chicken and things like that. So we ate a lot, but we ate very healthy because it was all about just keeping that kind of, you know, sinewy kind of hard, weathered body.
After watching some early access material, I find this show entertaining enough to get some interest behind more Norsemen lore and even some actual history of Scandinavia (besides stuff from Ikea). While it is not the over the top blood sport that is Game of Thrones ( nor the circus of aggressive nudity), I see how Vikings can compete with enough PG-13 violence to keep most action fans entertained. I recommend any medieval period piece fan to at least check out the first two episode to see if you don’t want to become a Viking yourself!