History’s epic drama series Vikings has had a very strong but often tragic third season, with former farmer Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) as King, always leading his people to an uncertain fate. As Ragnar and his band of Norsemen came together to break down the walls of the mythical city of Paris, the family saga that also includes Rollo (Clive Standen), Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) and Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) continued to play out, while relationships were often pushed to a breaking point.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Katheryn Winnick talked about the unexpected journey she’s taken on the show, feeling blessed to have to overcome so many obstacles, being such a strong role model for girls, how closely intertwined she feels with her character, how important the collaborative process with show creator Michael Hirst is to her, how surreal this set is to be on, and just how little CGI they actually use. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: When you look back to where this character was, at the start of this journey, could you ever have imagined the path that she’s taken?
KATHERYN WINNICK: No, not at all. That’s what’s great about Michael Hirst. The way he writes, he doesn’t ever keep you comfortable and you always get thrown a curve ball, but I love that. I love not being in a comfortable state, anyway. That makes for much more interesting storylines and an interesting story. I feel blessed that she has so many obstacles to overcome.
What has most surprised you about the path that Lagertha has taken?
WINNICK: At the beginning of Season 1, she was very much tied to Ragnar, as his wife and a young mother, and her identity was Ragnar’s wife. I feel like she came into her own in Season 2. And now, in Season 3, she’s her own woman. She doesn’t necessarily need a man anymore. She chooses one, when she wants to be with one. I think that’s a very strong place to be in, as a woman. And I think that she’s turned into a role model for a lot of young girls.
What’s it been like for you to live in Lagertha’s shoes for three seasons? Are there things that you most enjoy about embodying her?
WINNICK: It’s so funny because you say “her,” but after three seasons, and then a fourth seasons, Lagertha is a part of me. You’re just so intertwined. Yes, you may have a different look and a different accent. I don’t know what’s going to come. I know that I’m in a different place, this year, personally, as everybody is, every year. It will be interesting to bring my life experiences into what the storyline shapes up to be. What’s great about playing Lagertha is that she’s a strong woman, but she’s also a feminine woman. She can be strong and sexy, at the same time. I feel that she’s very much a modern woman, or modern for her time. She’s able to incorporate both. You don’t have to be just the sex kitten. You can be a sexy, feminine woman, but also have a strong voice and be a warrior, at the same time.
Lagertha is a strong woman who also happens to be a mother and kick some ass, alongside the men, which has made her a feminist icon, around the world. How do you feel about the way people have responded to her, and the way people seem to absolutely just love this character?
WINNICK: It’s overwhelming and amazing, at the same time. I’m so happy that people have responded to her as they have, just as I have. I fell in love with her, at the very beginning. It’s interesting because people are shocked when they read about Lagertha or they watch the character. They think there is no other character like her on TV, and I think that’s true. Women characters on TV are not as well-rounded as her, but these women exist, even today. I feel very close to Lagertha. The young mother who also has to take her kid to hockey or soccer practice, and also go to work to make sure there’s food on the table, and run a committee for her kid’s school is also challenging, in its own right. I grew up in martial arts, and I feel that I could do both. She’s not like any other character on TV, but I feel that women like her and enjoy her because they see a parallel to their own lives, being strong and feminine, at the same time.
What’s it been like for you, as an actress, to work and collaborate with Michael Hirst?
WINNICK: I love it. We’ve been exchanging emails, just about what’s going to happen in Season 4. It’s amazing to have that open dialogue. He’s been so great about bringing us into the characters and making it work for us. He talks it through with us. There are times where I’ve questioned him, but after talking to him, I can understand his point of view. That open dialogue is so rare to have. I feel like creating Lagertha has bene a collaborative process with Michael Hirst, and it’s an evolving, ongoing process, too. I don’t feel like I’ve figured Lagertha out yet, just like I’m learning a lot about myself, on a day to day basis, and I grow, each year. That process and the journey of discovering yourself is an ongoing thing. I’m grateful that Michael Hirst is open with his actors, and with me. You want to bring as much of yourself into the character as possible. If you understand your character and feel like it’s a collaborative process, you’re more inclined to dive into the deep end and fight for your character and feel passionate about your character, and that passion comes across on screen. I feel like he’s done it right by making it such a collaborative effort to find your character that it actually makes me feel so personally invested to do the best job possible in making this character come to life.
Now matter how epic each season feels, it somehow manages to become bigger and more epic, the next season. Is it just surreal and mind-blowing?
WINNICK: There’s so much research that goes into making it as authentic as possible that you get a chance to see that world and how it was, at that time period. When you walk on set, it will blow your mind. I pinch myself that I get paid for it. I’ve always approached acting from a passion point of view. It’s what I love to do. The fact that we get paid is just a bonus. I feel like I was meant to play Lagertha. She’s my favorite role, to date. I feel very close to her, and I feel very blessed that the world has taken notice and that people love her character, as much as I do.
How do you view Lagertha’s journey, so far?
WINNICK: Lagertha has her own path. In the first season, she was Ragnar’s wife, a shield maiden, and a young mother. She had to deal with a lot of home issues, with her husband’s infidelity. In Season 2, she had to deal with an abusive second husband and had to go through a divorce, and she became an Earl, in her own right. In Season 3, she was a free woman. She doesn’t need a man, but she can choose to be with a man. She’s also trying to figure out what is next for her. We ask ourselves, many times in life, what’s our next chapter and purpose? She has her own struggle, being a woman in a position of power that has authority. She has to deal with gaining their respect and instilling the respect that she deserves, as an Earl, to her people. There are different challenges every year, and there are different challenges in every episode, in my opinion. Michael Hirst is always great and throwing you a curve ball. Just when you think you have it figured out, you get another ball at your head and you have to figure out another route.
How do you think Lagertha feels about who her son, Bjorn, is now?
WINNICK: Lagertha is a warrior. She feels very comfortable on the battlefield, and she’s raised Bjorn to be a warrior. He’s her son, and she’s a very famous shield maiden. She feels very comfortable with Bjorn fighting. In history, he actually even surpasses Ragnar, in terms of his legacy. And Alexander Ludwig plays him brilliantly. He’s one of my favorite people. I absolutely adore him. He’s really come into his own, as a character. Bjorn has become a man.
This show uses CGI, but only very minimally. What would probably most surprise audiences, as far as just how real everything is, on this show?
WINNICK: We don’t work with green screen. Maybe sometimes, if it’s for certain things. The location is what it is. What’s great about shooting in Ireland is that the landscape is so rich and so beautiful. In the far background, they would have to make it look like Norway, or different parts of Scandinavia, but we just shoot in the open landscape in Ireland. When you walk on set, you really feel like you’re in a different time period.
Vikings airs on Thursday nights on the History Channel, with the Season 3 finale airing on Thursday, April 23rd.