Return of The Vikings: Brotherhood – In conversation with leading man Travis Fimmel
NOVEMBER 3, 2014
BY GARY COLLINSON
Paul Risker chats with Vikings star Travis Fimmel…
In a special week long feature to coincide with the home entertainment release of Vikings series 2, Flickering Myth sits down in conversation with the cast and creator Michael Hirst to go behind the scenes of the critically acclaimed historical drama. First up leading man Travis Fimmel a.k.a. Ragnar Lothbrok reflects on the journey so far…
Paul Risker: Ragnar’s arc in season one is a fascinating one. He grows from explorer to having something of a swagger or arrogance about him. How does it feel playing a character with that kind of arc?
Travis Fimmel: I don’t know whether its arrogance or he just likes women. In season two he still feels righteous about what he does. He wants to help his people out, and he certainly wants to be a guy that’s known for exploring, and being the first Scandinavian to have been certain places. I think his heart is in the right place, and he’ll do anything for the people around him.
He doesn’t have many people that he can seek advice from, and so sometimes he has to say, “No, we are doing it my way.” Otherwise if he’d listen to some of the other ideas that were thrown in they wouldn’t get anywhere. A lot of the time successful people who achieve their goals sacrifice a lot of human things – family and such. There are a lot of rich people that aren’t very happy because they get rich by sacrificing a load of things, and it’s that old saying that “Money doesn’t make you happy.”
PR: So he’s a noble man, but with a brutal edge?
TF: [Laughs] Yeah I like that!
PR: I have to ask about the Blood Eagle episode which is horrific, absolutely horrific. What was your reaction when Michael told you that’s the way the story line was going to play out?
TF: Oh I loved it, and it was shot so well by Kari Skogland – beautifully shot and beautifully written. Thorbjørn Harr is such a great actor, and it’s stuff like that makes our show a bit different. We can’t show everything that happens, and so they need to be clever how they shoot things. You can’t show cutting lungs out and such, but it’s amazing how they can portray that by being smart about it.
PR: The first season is focused on introducing the characters and the world to the audience. At the end of the first and on into the second season you don’t have to play it safe, and you are able to play around with things a little more. Is there a feeling of liberation when making that transition from the first to the second season?
TF: Well every actor hates exposition, and some actors really like lines. So it’s much easier the more seasons you do because everybody knows the characters, which makes it so much more enjoyable; more relationship driven. You don’t have to explain everything, and the audience are smarter than any of us. There is stuff that the audience pick up in a show that we miss. But exposition comes from way above the people here and production. There are people that think, oh the audience don’t get this, but the audience get it better than anybody – it comes from higher up.
PR: Do you ever think of the audience when you are on set?
TF: We’re entertaining – it’s entertainment. The audience are so clever at both getting the story and remembering the little details. But yeah it’s all about the audience, and so you always want the audience to get something out of a scene. But you certainly don’t plan your work around the audience, although when you then get on set you think, oh, the audience might really like this, and so you set the audience up for the next bit.
PR: Michael Hirst very much takes history seriously and your character for example is based on a mythological Norse character. Do you feel any pressure to live up to that or are you given free reign?
TF: Like you just said, Ragnar is mythological, and some people don’t even know if I’m a real character or not. It’s a drama, and history is great. There is a lot of better stuff in history. But unfortunately even historians disagree with each other about Viking history, and so there is no definite thing. So we want to entertain.
It’s different than with any of the World Wars, because everybody knows exactly what happened. The truth is always better than the stuff you can make up. Nobody knows exactly what happened with the Vikings, and so we have a bit of creative leeway to make it a bit more entertaining. All the wars span over a few years, whereas the Vikings span over a long period of time, and so you have to do time jumps, where you skip to the more interesting stories. Even Rollo, although I forget which one it is, we’re something like one hundred years apart. We didn’t exist together; we weren’t brothers, but he is a great character. Everybody in the show is a great character, and we’ve just tried to put all the great Viking characters in history together.
PR: To strike the right balance of history and entertainment?
TF: Exactly, which Michael is so brilliant at.
PR: Being schooled in Australia, outside of the raping and the pillaging part, did you learn much else about the Vikings?
TF: Yeah, that was my favourite part… [Laughs] That’s all I learned. I’ve actually learnt more on this show, even with the first script.
I’m not into the whole research thing unless you are playing a character that’s modern and who you know a lot about – whether you can see a video of him or I am able to just inform myself. But Michael’s scripts are so informative so that’s where I get all my affects.
PR: Is one of the most enjoyable things about being on a show such as Vikings the opportunity to get in touch with the past – to even touch the past in some ways?
TF: It’s very enjoyable, and the set decoration, the costumes and everything else really helps us as actors to become involved in that world. When we do it, we really do row the boats, and they are real horses.
PR: The physical preparation must be quite taxing?
TF: No, it’s ok actually, although I’m on my hands and knees after an action scene – I’m certainly not the fittest person. There is a fantastic stunt team, led by Franklin Henson who’s very good, and who’s British along with a lot of great Irish boys as well.
PR: So is it fun playing a Viking?
TF: It’s so much fun playing a Viking! I just want to laugh all the time and the guys are just mob to be involved with. We’re like little kids when it comes to the weapons and stuff.
PR: Ragnar’s a dad, he’s a husband, he’s a leader, and he’s a warrior…
TF: A lover, a saint, and a sinner.
PR: All of those, but what part of his personality do you enjoy playing the most or is it just him as a whole?
TF: I like stuff that he has going on, the little corruption underneath.
PR: The seedy underbelly?
TF: Yeah, and a lot of it’s bullshitting in a way if you know what I mean. A lot of things he says is just to keep people happy. It’s stuff he doesn’t mean, although that’s more in season three that that comes to light. But there is a lot of secret stuff that you can have and play that’s not necessarily on the page.
TF: Well he goes away or was taken away from me, and I think he was a little bit girly when he came back. So I’ve got issues with that, but any father who has his son taken away from him ends up being pretty angry, and wants to lash out and blame other people. But his son is still by far the most important thing to him – the kids are a lot more important to Ragnar than the women. He likes women; loves his children… He really likes women.
PR: In the last episode The Lord’s Prayer, Ragnar doesn’t speak through the whole episode except to say that prayer. I read that Michael Hirst has said that you wanted to play it like that, why?
TF: I just felt that whatever I was saying in the episodes leading up were getting me into trouble, and so I thought you could say more without actually saying anything. If you don’t say anything then you don’t give anything away. There is a whole planned conspiracy thing going on, and so Ragnar doesn’t trust anybody. If he tells somebody then he gets hurt, and there is nobody he trusts to say anything to – secrets are better if nobody knows them.
PR: When you knew you were going to be a part of this project certain expectations must have come to mind. How has the experience compared to the expectations?
TF: Well I first put myself on tape to get the job, and then I had a Skype meeting with Michael and Johan Renckwho directed the first episode. I was really excited after that Skype meeting, because I really got on with those two, and loved what they said was going to happen as well as what they were trying to do with the show. So I wasn’t disappointed at all, and what surprised me the most was how efficient the crews are here. We don’t have the budget of other big shows, and everyone runs around set working hard, but at the same time has a good time.
PR: Is there an advantage to having a smaller budget? Can it force a higher level of creativity?
TF: Umm [pauses] yes and no. Sometimes you only get one take on scenes despite knowing you can improve it. The worst thing with the budget is just location, because you can’t get the locations you want, and so you can’t have as many horses on set, because they are expensive. I’d love horses in every scene, but you don’t have the time. Whatever takes too long to shoot you just can’t do it. But anywhere else with this budget I couldn’t imagine them doing half of what we do here. The awkwardness of locations is one thing, and for a lot of locations we need a four wheel drive to get to, which seats four people at a time, and there might be 200 people to get there. So getting equipment and people to the set ends up taking up half of the time.
PR: Have you noticed an increase in budget as the season has gone on? Have any more horses appeared for example?
TF: No not really. Only the other day I was carrying somebody on a horse, and they didn’t have the budget for it, and so I had to carry him on my shoulder [laughs]. That wouldn’t happen in Game of Thrones.
Many thanks to Travis Fimmel for taking the time for this interview.
Vikings series 2 is out now on Blu-Ray and DVD from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.
Paul Risker is a critic and writer for a number of on-line and print publications, including Little White Lies, Film International, Starburst Magazine, and VideoScope. He is currently based in the United Kingdom.
Source: Flickering Myth