Return of The Vikings: New Faces – In conversation with Alexander Ludwig
NOVEMBER 5, 2014
As part of 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.
From the reflections of two onscreen brothers [Travis Fimmel and Clive Standen], Alexander Ludwig a.k.a. Bjorn reflects on joining the cast in series 2 and playing Ragnar’s son…
Paul Risker: Going into season two you are taking over a role that has been played by a younger actor (Nathan O’Toole). Did that present any challenges?
Alexander Ludwig: It has its challenges. I thought that Nathan did such a great job and I was obviously very happy to be a part of the show. But I also loved his character as a child and so it was bittersweet.
I definitely wanted to keep elements of the way he had played it, which I think was important especially in the transition stage, and especially in the third season. I have kind of veered away from that because when you grow up and you become a man there are elements that you always keep with you, but I’m not the same guy as I was yesterday, and I wanted to make sure I could show that he’s grown up.
Season two is definitely a coming of age season for Bjorn, and in season three he’s his own man. He’s a team with his father and he’s basically learning to lead, because historically that’s what will happen – Bjorn will have to step up and take over.
PR: What do you think Bjorn wants most of Ragnar – to be a good father or to be his equal?
AL: His respect – definitely. I don’t think he needs a father figure. Ragnar has always been a great father to him, and so what he really wants is his respect.
It’s so funny when you do historical shows because you realise that people in terms of being a human being, relationships with one another doesn’t really change over time at all. We still have the same problems nowadays that we did back then. I want my Dads respect in real life, and I want to prove to my father that I can make him proud and I can do better than him. I think that is also what Bjorn wants.
He’s intelligent and so he wants to learn everything he can from his father because he sees that he is a visionary. But at the same time he does want to do better, and he wants to go further. He wants to become even more legendary, and historically that is what happened. It is so cool to be on a show and to be able to start showing that.
One of the most powerful themes in narrative fiction is the idea that every generation wants to despite their respect for the previous generation to propel themselves further. This is a common conflict in narrative fiction.
It’s an interesting thing to dive into and explore, because when you’re living it rarely do you see it from the outside perspective. But when you’re playing a character that is going through that then you really sit back and think about it. You realise how hilarious it is that what everybody wants to do is to make sure they do a better job than the generation before them.
AL: Absolutely, because you need to reflect and study emotions. I kid you not, there are times when I’m just sitting having a conversation with somebody and they’ll do something, and I’ll take a note of it. I’m like, wow that was so interesting. Even the conversation that we’re having right now – in playing this scene I would play it as naturally doing it right now, and how natural you guys are being. If you then watched this on TV you would say what an incredible scene, look how natural they were, although we’re just having a conversation. But it’s cool to be able to reflect on that, and so I really do think it offers a great perspective on life.
PR: A little lighter question now. In the classic my dad could have your dad playground argument who would win – your dad or Ragnar?
AL: [Laughs] My father would kill Travis!
PR: When you came into season two all the other guys were much further ahead in their preparation for the battle, fight and action scenes. How have you found those scenes? There is a scene where Rollo’s teaching Bjorn how to fight and he is not doing so well.
AL: No, and to give a little teaser in this season (three), you are definitely going to see that the tables have turned greatly, and he has learnt, he has picked it up, and he’s smart. He is very intelligent and an old sort for how young he is. He understands that he is not ready to lead, but he is going to do everything he can right now to learn so that when he does he have to step up in the near future he’ll be ready to do so.
In terms of the fight sequences, that is just so much fun. It’s also super strenuous because we don’t have any crazy special effects. Everything we do is real and gritty, and I think what people really respect about the show is that we do stay really true. I love that it’s so raw, and when we are filming it you are basically in a fight. There are times where you’ll just pull somebody left to you, throw them to the ground and get in a fight that wasn’t planned at all, and it’s kind of fun to be able to do that.
PR: Do tempers ever get stretched in the fight scenes?
AL: Of course. I mean you are in that intense mode, and then you’ll get hit on the hand or something and “s***, s***, s***” – you’ll freak out. But it’s all good fun, and it’s so nice to be on an excellently written show that has a lot of potential for longevity. So for me it’s just a dream come true.
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. You have an interesting perspective here because you first encountered the show as a spectator. Do you see every season being a bit of liberation in a sense that you can push things further?
As there are a few years between now and when he was a child, I had room to play with that. It was a nice challenge to bring in what Nathan had bought to the character and to keep certain elements. I wanted to, and it was really important to me because I wanted it to be any easy transition for the audience, and I hope it translated well.
It is totally liberating, and in terms of Michael Hirst, just as a writer, business man and as a friend, he is one of the most open and giving show runners I think anybody could work with. I am so lucky to be working with him, and I am learning so much from him. We will sit down and talk, and if I think there is a different note then we’ll talk about it. He’s so open to change and to working with the characters. He’s got such a big job – he writes it all by himself, and so I hope he gets recognised for that because what he does is pretty spectacular.
AL: Absolutely! Going to Ireland for the first time was terrifying. But everybody welcomed me with open arms, and you just want to do a good job, and that can sometimes actually be your crutch. So it’s important to just remember that you are here for a reason, and that you need to play what you’re here to do. It’s been amazing, and we are like a family – we are so blessed to have each other.
PR: How do you cope with that haircut?
AL: It isn’t that bad. We call it the mini-Ragnar [laughs]. I wanted to change his look up a little bit. I thought it was important to show that he is different now, and the next season we’ll show that he has grown up a little bit more. A lot changes though this season and there is no question that he is definitely his own man, which is great.
Many thanks to Alexander Ludwig 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