Last weekend at Comic-Con I was able to sit down for a roundtable interview with Vikings actors Katheryn Winnick (Lagertha) and Alexander Ludwig (Bjorn Ironside) to discuss the events that happened in Season 2 and what is coming up for them in Vikings Season 3. The actors discussed what it is like filming on set on Northern Ireland, love triangles, what it is like for Winnick now that she is a woman in a position of power in a medieval setting, and what is in store for Bjorn’s future. Hit the jump for what they had to say.
KATHERYN WINNICK: It’s funny because when I first started the season, I was talking to the head of the hair department, and I wanted to create a hairstyle for Lagertha that’s very unique, something you haven’t seen, and my mom always said that she liked my hair up, and I was like I don’t like my hair up. But I wanted to create a strong look, with the sides of the two braids, and I think that’s her signature hair than the volume, and it looks great.
So how was Lagertha able to reconcile with Aslaug after all that they’ve been through?
WINNICK: Ooh, that’s a good question. I think Lagertha understands the dynamic and if anything I think she blames Ragnar more than Aslaug. Here’s a woman that shows up without any support, shows up with a swollen belly, needs the help of Ragnar, and it shows her character of being a strong woman and not having her ego be the best of her, and being able to make a decision that she will do what’s right for herself and stick up for herself and decide that this is not the best situation for her and she needs to leave. So if anything, who do you really blame in a situation when someone cheats on someone? Do you blame the mistress or do you blame the husband?
She shot down his dreams of threeway love.
WINNICK: Oh yeah! It depends which version you see, right?
WINNICK: No, I agree with you, I don’t think that they would’ve. I feel like Lagertha, even though she’s definitely advanced in her sexuality in the sense that she’s very liberal and very open sexually, I feel that she has a very strong moral and she will always do the right thing for herself first. And you will definitely see that more in Season 3.
How is it being able to play Lagertha in power? She has her own Arldom It’s a great step up.
WINNICK: I actually had a hard time with understanding how to play it, because when you’re on set with all these lads, it’s funny because if you push it, you don’t get the same respect. Same thing with a confident woman, the more confident you are in yourself and really just state what it is, people respect you more. And I had to draw back, I started martial arts school when I was 16, and I had that challenge all the time dealing with young men or fathers that would come in with their sons and I would teach them, and I had them bow down to me and if I told them 20 pushups, they had to get down on the ground and do 20 pushups.
ALEXANDER LUDWIG: She does that to me all the time. [laughter]
WINNICK: But if you force it, you’re not gonna get it. But if you earn their respect, and if you do it in a way where sometimes you don’t have to necessarily push it, but you understand the whole character fills in where she actually comes into power in her own right, you’ll get a lot further. I’m sure you have that all the time with women, you just get a lot more with sugar and spice than you do with a sledgehammer.
LUDWIG: I think in Season 2 he was a boy, and he was torn, he had that. And it’s amazing how even back then nothing really changes, people go through the same stuff as they did back then, the lifestyle may have been different but at the end of the day it was very similar issues. So he was definitely a little torn, and by Season 3 I think he’s become a man and he realizes to take what he can, when he can, from each individual, and respect that they are both powerful people in their own right and he’s lucky to be their son.
How does it feel coming into Season 3, when last time you were the new kid on the block?
LUDWIG: It’s a totally different experience and it’s a great one at that. I’ve never done a TV show before and I’m so happy, this was the best decision I’ve ever made in my entire life, I’ve learned so much from this. I come back and realize it’s the same crew, the same cast, it’s one big family, it’s incredible. You know, when you first come, the show was such a success right off the bat, which I don’t know if anybody expected it, it was unbelievable, it took everyone by surprise. So it was definitely intimidating, I wanted to bring some of the essence that the original actor who played Bjorn, Nathan O’Toole, he’s fantastic, and I wanted to keep some of that essence but at the same time show that he’s grown up, he’s matured, and he’s learned more. And now at Season 3 he’s a man.
WINNICK: Oh yeah, you have your own journey, Bjorn Ironside in Season 3 has his own journey, and you’ll see that. Definitely.
LUDWIG: And we really start respecting each other’s opinions now, we have this really cool team that we’ve developed, which is awesome. It’s how we’ve been in real life too.
WINNICK: Sure, I mean the dynamic has changed in Season 2 with Lagertha and Bjorn, and even in season 3 there has to be a certain level of neutral respect that he is now someone that has his own voice, that has his own opinions, that has his own choices. And as anybody, being a mother, and I haven’t been a mother yet, I can only imagine a bit of a loss but also admiration that he will do the right thing. And that’s something that I’m struggling with and learning and discovering, but it’s also great just to be able to play that.
LUDWIG: He’s still very aware that his mother can kick his ass [laughs].
WINNICK: It’s a very intense show; when you’re not on set shooting you’re either learning your different fight coordination or your sequences with the stunt coordinators or you’re learning how to ride a horse or you’re working on your dialect. There’s so many different levels of the show, and we’re shooting in Ireland, it’s a very intense shoot. Some of my friends are on TV shows with studios and networks, and they go in and they leave, and they’re in the studio and it’s all pretty nice. This is full on, hands on, brutal raw amazing show, and I think because of that, it takes a certain actor to do it, and I think that’s a reason why people have responded to it, because everybody on the show, we have no divas on set, everybody is there because they really truly wanna be there.
LUDWIG: You wouldn’t survive if you did, it’s not glamorous at all, it’s hard when you get there. This is the glamorous part, right now, this is awesome. When you’re on set, if you’re a diva, you just won’t make it.
WINNICK: I’m wearing heels for the first time in months! I can’t even walk!
Does that disconnect, that isolation help you dig further into the characters, because you’re not distracted by all the other things that’re going on.
LUDWIG: Absolutely, it brings you more into the character.
WINNICK: Definitely, on the one hand it’s a blessing in disguise where, when you’re shooting up in the mountains and you don’t have cell reception and you’re there and you have to tell stories in a heated tent or just entertain yourselves by god knows what, by just chatting. It helps to keep it all a family unit and it also helps with authenticity, and I said this on the panel, it’s not just us. The background actors on the show are so fantastic, if you see them, if you meet them in person, they’ve grown their own beards, and shield maidens have trained on their off season and learned how to fight with a sword and a shield. These characters help fill in a lifestyle and fill in a culture that we couldn’t do it without them. And even though they may not get the same amount of screen time, they create a world that allows us to step into whenever you come on set. It really is a special space in Ireland and on the Vikings set, because everybody from the set to the crew to the background actors really make this all an amazing show.
How do you feel about the relationship between the women on the show, because when they were advertising the season it very much looked like this crazy love triangle, and I was like no, don’t do that!
LUDWIG: Oh, I didn’t play that, did I? I went against that.
LUDWIG: We’re not making it some corny bullshit, it’s like, this is so real and gritty and this is like real life stuff. All the props go to Michael for that too, he really is an incredible writer, he really tries to make it as gritty and real as he possibly can.
WINNICK: And to answer your question, I think every woman character, every female character, has her own arc. Yes, I’m a shield maiden and I may get the power and the glory, fighting in the battle sequences and also as a mother, but Princess Auslaug has her own battles, and being a mother and dealing now with Ira the Boneless and dealing with Snake-in-the Eye, dealing with different challenges as a mother, and Siggy goes through her own challenge, and Porunn goes through her own different arc, so you have different sides of the female personality and the different sides of being a female in that time period that gets explored, definitely.
What is the future of Bjorn? He has a mother who’s an Arl and his father is now a king, is he thinking he’ll stay within this royal area? Or is he going to branch out on his own?
WINNICK: That’s a good question.
LUDWIG: I think he should become a dancer [laughs].
WINNICK: So what’re you gonna do?
LUDWIG: I think, yeah, he’s got, he wants power and he wants to lead, and he wants to, you know, Vikings, their whole thing was fame, they wanted to be known, they wanted to leave a legacy, and I think in some way all of us want to do something like that, whether it’s on a small scale or a large scale, that’s why we have families. He wants to surpass, that’s always a thing, you want to surpass your father, but at the same time he respects the relationship he has with him and he loves him, just like he does his mother. And he learns from him, he’s smart like that, he sits back and tries to take in as much as he can. Definitely in this season you’ll see him start thinking that way, he wants to go and do more things, and he wants to do what his dad did on a bigger scale. Historically that’s what he did too; Michael’s definitely setting that up.
WINNICK: Bjorn Ironside in history is even more famous than Ragnar is, if anybody knows that, so he actually has big shoes to fill and he does a great job.