Emily Theytaz ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Last year The History Channel introduced us to Vikings, a gripping show portraying the life of a clan of Norse warriors, during the Dark Ages. The hit show centers around legendary Norse hero Ragnar Lodbrok (Travis Fimmel) his brother Rollo (Clive Standen) and wife Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) as Ragnar pioneers the first raids of England and France.
The second season, starting February 27th brings concerns over power, distresses over faith and anxieties over relationships. The brother’s bond is again put to the test. Allegiances change, and questionable alliances are created in the name of rule.
Emertainment Monthly had the opportunity to take part in a phone conference with Clive Standen where he answered questions regarding Rollo, the new season of Vikings and his opinion on his hair extensions.
Rollo is based on a real historical figure so how much research and investigation did you do into the actual Rollo?
I’ve done loads. Part of the fun for me as an actor with playing a historical role is to immerse myself into the history of the character. I spent many days in a library in London researching him and what’s great about Rollo is that he is one of the foremost Vikings in history. For Ragnar, a lot of the research that Travis [Fimmel] and everyone involved has to do comes from Vikings sagas, which are very much like fairy tales, they’re imagined. With Rollo thought it’s very much documented in actual history. So there’s so much to lose yourself in, especially when he gets up to Normandy, so yeah as an actor I love to immerse myself in the history of it. It’s really rewarding the more you indulge in it all. The biggest spoiler in historical dramas is looking up in history books what these characters actually did and how they met their ends and what they achieved.
How does the show balance historical accuracy and entertainment value?
We’ve got Michael Hirst who is the show runner and writer and, for anyone who’s seen Michael’s other work like The Tudors or Elizabeth knows he’s not just a scriptwriter he’s a historian to boot as well. Justin Pollard, our historical advisor was also incredibly helpful. He’s got an amazing renowned reputation in Britain, he works on a show that Stephan Fry presents called QI, and so they’re on set all the time. Michael took great lengths to read Scandinavian history books from the inside out. No one really knows much about Vikings, the Vikings didn’t really write a lot down so a lot of the stuff that we know in our western world was documented by Christian monks and through scriptures. A lot of it is really just religious propaganda and very one sided. So Michael was good enough to go ahead and start researching from the Vikings sagas and looking at it from the inside out so it is very historically accurate as much as a drama show can be. We have to go over a great range of history so some characters might be molded into one person to make a more rounded character but the plot points and the big historical events are all there. It is really nice to work with someone like Michael Hirst who can do something like this justice.
* Ever since season one we’ve progressively seen more and more inner conflict between the brothers culminating in Rollo’s betrayal of Ragnar in the season finale. What’s next for the two of them and their relationship?
There’s a Viking saying which is “bare is the back that has no brother” and I think anyone who’s got brothers or sisters can relate to that. You love your siblings, you’re always going to be rivals. You know in season one Rollo did quite a lot for his brother behind the scenes as much as people may judge him. He sticks up for his brother and lies in front of the Earl to defend his brother and even gets his face mutilated by Earl Haraldson to protect his brother’s whereabouts. He really does go to great lengths to protect Ragnar. He feels hard done by, he feels like he’s living in his brother’s shadow and sees his brother rising up throughout Viking society and Rollo’s not getting any of that recognition or attention and he is an ambitious man. It means a lot in Viking society for a man and how far his name travels. We end season one with Rollo feeling like he’s got no other option than to go face down in battle against his brother to get what he wants. So the question now is whether the brothers can reconcile or whether it’s gone too far and that their relationship has become too strained to fix.
What made you want to be a part of the show?
I mean the question is why wouldn’t I want to be part of the show. I’ve done a couple of period dramas before this, I did Robin Hood, I did Camelot on Starz and as much as I enjoy doing those shows, I feel like they were just a warm up for this show – you know the main event. Vikings is something I was really looking for in a period drama, I’ve always been mad about History and as a dramatic actor I wanted to do all different types of characters but I’ve always wanted to nail this one part. When Vikings came along with Michael as show runner it seemed to be the package I was waiting for. Michael is such an incredible writer and there’s just so much conflict and intrigue, and with the show itself Michael took a massive risk and it just really paid off. It’s got action its got adventure, and we’ve got the money behind it to make an epic show. I’m having a blast on it and I want it to go on for season after season because we’re still only just hitting the tip of the iceberg.
As someone from 2014 how do you sympathize with Rollo’s power struggle?
A Vikings name in society was everything to them so I can relate to Rollo on that respect. I’ve got brother myself and I know that, that brotherly rivalry is always barren and always prominent throughout life so Travis and I connected our own situations with our families and our siblings.
How do you get into the mood of being a Viking before every shoot?
Lots of different ways, when we come to the battles you end up listening to all sorts of music. I use music quite a lot to get into character. Sometimes I’ll recite the Haka. Before a big fight scene that we were doing in season one I got a lot of the cast to do the Haka with me, which really got everyone riled up.
What qualities do you share with Rollo and how does that help you portray him?
To play Rollo I have to go into some really dark places, and every time I have to put myself into that what if scenario, what if this happened to me, things like that. It becomes a lot easier to play Rollo when you have the hair and the beard and the costume on and for me it is one of the biggest acting challenges I’ve ever had to do. I go home and I have to shake him off quite quickly because I’m married with three kids and it’s not the kind of character you want lurking around underneath your skin when you’re home from work.
What kind of mental and physical preparations do you have to go through in order to play Rollo?
Before we start we have a nice pre-production schedule. For season one a lot of it had to do with boat boot camp. We all had to learn how to row these Viking long boats, we got to the point where we were rowing and manning and rigging the boats and eventually we were manning these boats on the open sea with 10 rowers on each side of the boat and I was first mate and barking orders at people and didn’t have to do so much rowing which was nice (laughs). In season two I did quite a lot of fitness work to get into shape and then the stunt coordinators Mark (Franklin) Henson and Richard Ryan taught us different routines. I’m personally bored with fight scenes that are choreographed like dances where the actors are kind of twirling around and look like warrior princesses and we don’t want that on our show, so once we’ve learnt all the choreography, Richard Ryan – our sword master – works with us to try and almost forget the moves and just trust the muscle memory that will be there and hope you won’t get your head cut off at the last minute. It helps put the audience in the scene with us, they see the fear and danger in our eyes because when you’re in the middle of a take sometimes what you rehearsed in the comfort of the studio on your feet you’ll suddenly end up crawling in the mud on your knees even though it’s the same choreography. One day you’re pulling the guy next to you to the floor and sometimes it is quite organic but we keep rolling. I can think of many moments when I’ve been suddenly tackled to the ground even though you’re not expecting it but you just get on with it.
The battle scenes are so intense have you ever had any accidents where cast members get taken away in stretchers?
All the time. Sometimes the choreography goes array, the idea is you put extra thought into it. For example I know that someone is going to come for me from behind with an ax, but I’m taking out some guy in front of me, and I see him in the corner of my eye, and just at the last minute I turn my back and I deflect his moves. Sometimes that goes wrong and I’ve ended up with a metal spear pierced my shoulder, but we carried on filming and then the medic came over and saw that my costume was seeping with blood and had to get a couple of stitches done. In episode one of this second season we have a battle scene where Rollo hasn’t got any armor on, he’s bare skinned, and all the stunt men have loads of padding and things hidden underneath their costumes so I ended up with cuts and bruises all over me. You just don’t feel it when you’re filming, it’s usually the day after. I used to do a lot of Muay Thai boxing where you’d do a fight and end up the next morning feeling like you couldn’t walk because you have bruises all over your shins but the adrenaline just keeps you going. It’s not different on set. We all are very good at just getting on with it and then picking each other up afterwards but, it is always nice to go for a pint after a fight scene and discuss war wounds.
What was one of the most challenging moments acting wise on the show?
For season two specifically, in episode one Rollo has to be this formidable force on the battlefield, Ragnar’s the whirlwind and Rollo’s the volcano and you have the scene where you see them erupt on the battlefield and having to embody that was quite hard. The biggest acting challenge though was what came after in episode two, because we go four years into the future, and the result of that battle have been devastating on Rollo. He’s a shell of his former self, he’s put on weight, he’s an alcoholic, he’s red eyed and weary and that was very hard on a TV schedule having just a couple of weeks to go from being in peak condition to then suddenly turn it completely around was definitely my biggest challenge.
Ragnar does forgive Rollo in the second episode of the second season but with this caveat that he can no longer participate in raids. Will this further fuel Rollo’s resentment of his brother?
I think it will definitely fuel resentment. I think Ragnar knows it will and that’s why he does it. It’s almost like a punishment to a child because Ragnar knows that Rollo wants to raid, that he wants to fight. In season one it comes out of his own mouth when he says, “it’s what I was born to do.” Ragnar knows this is going to hurt him and is the best punishment to give him basically. It is a challenge for Rollo to try and prove to Ragnar that he has changed. It’s an opportunity for Rollo to take account of his actions or lash out against it. That’s really the question for the season is what will Rollo do next?
Do you feel lucky that you have a relatively normal hairstyle compared to what Travis Fimmel has to go through to get his hair styled that way?
(Laughs) Travis Fimmel does not have to go through anything, he deliberately came with his head shaved so he didn’t have the hassle of getting extensions. I have to wear the hair extensions which you may think is quite a normal hairstyle but I’ve never had hair extensions like that in my life. I’ve gained a lot more respect for my wife when she’s getting ready in the evenings because, putting these extensions in takes what feels like nine hours, and they tell you you’re not allowed to do this, you’re not allowed to do that, you’re not allowed to wash it with this bloody thing and then they put blood and mud in it and it’s not the easiest thing. I’m used to getting up in the morning, shoving a little bit of wax in my hair and spiking it up and I’m ready to go in five minutes and suddenly I’m walking around with plaits and braids in my hair and it’s definitely not as easy as it looks.
Season 2 of Vikings premieres Sunday February 27th at 10pm on The History Channel
* denotes a question asked by Emertainment Monthly