The History original drama series Vikings follows the adventures of Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel), an actual historical figure who was the greatest hero of his age. Telling the gripping sagas of Ragnar’s band of Viking brothers and his family, he rose to become a fearless warrior and King of the Viking tribes, and legend has it that he was a direct descendent of Odin, the god of war and warriors.
During this recent interview to promote the March 3rd premiere, actor Travis Fimmel talked about what drew him to this project, how he got an understanding of what Viking men were truly like back then, the most surprising things he learned about the Vikings, how the look for the character was developed, doing the fight scenes, his favorite moments while shooting, and what it was like to get to play such a legendary character. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
TRAVIS FIMMEL: Well, like anybody, I’d heard about the Vikings and the legends about them. I’d never actually seen a show that was about them, so I thought it would be a great experience to do something that hasn’t been done. And Michael Hirst is such an amazing writer and show creator. I’d just never seen this sort of thing, so I wanted to be a part of bringing that to the entertainment world.
How did you come to an understanding of what Viking men were truly like back then, beyond just their violent nature?
FIMMEL: Well, creator/writer Michael Hirst gave us a lot of background on everything. It’s just our job, as actors, to humanize it and make it relevant to people today, and give them something that they can grab a hold of. Everybody has got families and brothers, and every family has their own conflicts. My character, Ragnar, is very ambitious, like a lot of people, and he’s just trying to make a better life for himself.
What were the most surprising things that you learned about the Vikings?
FIMMEL: They were very courageous. It’s amazing that they had the guts to sail across the ocean when they didn’t know if something was at the other end. It was a suicide mission, in a way. They were just very courageous, very ambitious and curious people.
How was the look for the character developed?
FIMMEL: It was so collaborative. The hair and make-up were amazing, and everybody had input. Not one thing was one person’s idea. It was a real team effort, which is why it was so enjoyable to work with the crew and with Michael Hirst. I actually had short hair and they put extensions in and did the sides. We just wanted to be different. We wanted everybody to feel like they were in a different world, so we didn’t want contemporary stuff in there. But it is contemporary, as far as the feelings or the family issues that the Vikings experienced. They had so much adventure and violence, but the basic human nature is the same.
Being a period drama, did Vikings offer any particular challenges, as an actor, compared to being on a contemporary show like The Beast?
FIMMEL: No, it made it more exciting. We’re placed in a different world, and the sets were amazing. It was beautiful locations, and that made it fun. We were not stuck in a studio or on the same set, every day. It was really fun. Every day, we were at a different location and it was absolutely gorgeous country. We were getting rained on, all the time, which was a bit annoying, but it was great. I’m a farm boy, so it was so great to be outdoors.
FIMMEL: We had an amazing stunt coordinator and stunt team. I’m actually not that fit, which is why I have my shirt on, all the time. The stunt guys are amazing. They choreograph stuff, so they made it really easy for the actors to do all of the action stuff. We just learned it on set. There are a lot of fighting scenes in the series, and we had a great swordsman that showed us a lot of different styles of fighting. We all took in our own style. It was very fun, and it’s great when you don’t have to remember lines, so I really enjoyed the action stuff. I got the job a week before we went to Ireland, so I didn’t have time to do all of the training that the others did.
Since you only had a week before you went to Ireland to shoot this, what did Michael Hirst tell you about how to approach Ragnar?
FIMMEL: He just said to humanize it, so that people can relate. He knew a bit of my history with my family, and I told him about my brother, so he said, “Just bring all of that to the character and really make the audience relate to the Vikings because they’re human beings, like everybody else.” There’s such a myth about them raping and pillaging, and that they’re very simple people, but they were actually very knowledgeable and very curious, and they did amazing things with the resources that they had.
What are some of your favorite moments from shooting this?
FIMMEL: My favorite moments have to be the boat stuff. They actually built three boats for the show, and we were just rowing up the rivers, in the middle of the morning when it was very misty. It just felt very authentic. And then, I liked the fight scenes because you don’t have to remember lines.
What was it like to work with this cast?
FIMMEL: The cast was amazing. Gabriel Byrne is just an amazing fellow and an amazing actor. I’m so glad that he’s on the show. Everybody is fantastic. I’m the only one that sucks on the show. The other cast was great to work with.
What can you say about Ragnar’s conflicting relationship with the Earl (Gabriel Byrne)?
FIMMEL: I think Ragnar really looks up to the Earl, but the Earl is set in his ways. He’s happy with how his life is going, but Ragnar wants to have more. By being the Earl, he gets to choose where their boat’s going and where the whole village goes, and Earl Haraldson doesn’t want to go where Ragnar does, so Ragnar has to do it behind his back. He is one of the first people ever to sail west, to the East of England.
What was it like to get to play such a legendary character?
FIMMEL: I was just happy that I had a job. No, it was great. It was a privilege, and everybody made it very easy. It’s such a great script. I would have been very dumb not to have done it. It was great to investigate that guy, who is such a courageous fellow. It’s just amazing what the Vikings did back then. And it was thought that Ragnar was a direct descendant from a God named Odin, who was Lord of the Slain Warriors and Curiosity. Legend has it that he actually killed hanged himself, just to see how death felt, and I think Ragnar’s got that same curiosity. He never settled for anything. He was just a very, very ambitious person. He’d do anything to learn more about the world, and sacrifice anything to discover new civilizations. Ragnar always wanted more. He didn’t want to just be a farmer, and he knew there was more out there to see in the world. That created a lot of conflicts with the older order of the village because they were happy with where they were, but he wanted to discover new worlds.
After growing up on a farm in Australia, did that make this experience more relatable for you, at all?
FIMMEL: It’s a lot greener than where I grew up, that’s for sure. It’s a beautiful countryside, and they obviously get a lot more rain than we do. It made our jobs a lot more enjoyable for me because I like the outdoors. And it’s a little bit better paycheck than what you get on a farm. I have the best of both worlds.
Vikings premieres on History on March 3rd.