Return of The Vikings: New Faces – In conversation with Linus Roache
NOVEMBER 6, 2014 BY GARY COLLINSON
Paul Risker chats with Vikings star Linus Roache…
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, Linus Roache a.k.a. King Ecbert reflects on joining the cast in series 2 and playing the antagonist to Ragnar’s protagonist…
Paul Risker: Was there a sense of intimidation did you feel walking into an established cast?
Linus Roache: I wouldn’t say it was intimidating, but it was nice to get on a moving train – onto something that is successful. I don’t know how Ronnie Wood felt when he joined the Rolling Stones [laughs].
Watching season one for the first time was what made me decide to do the job, because it is great television – it is great drama. Michael is a genius at bringing people inside of history and making you feel like you are actually there. The performances are amazing and it is shot in this very big and epic way.
I was excited because all I had to go on for my character was one or two episodes, which were not even fully written. But from what Michael was roughly telling me about where it would go, I was actually basing my decision on how good season one was.
PR: You fulfill an antagonist role to Ragnar’s protagonist. What makes that part different to the other villains perhaps, and do you think he’s a match for Ragnar?
LR: Definitely, and villain is a strange word. But I think Ragnar has definitely met his match in Ecbert who’s kind of similar to Ragnar in that he’s not tied to tradition – he’s a progressive and free thinker who can think outside of the box.
As soon as he meets Ragnar I think he kind of admires him, and it is a rivalry of two great men finding and pitting themselves against one another. Ragnar is a warrior but Ecbert is more of a strategist, manipulator, politician and he’s extremely ambitious which Ragnar is also. But it’s like two great chess players finding each other, and who have met their match.
PR: Why do you think Ecbert has such a fascination for cultures other than his own?
LR: Why – that’s a really good question. Why are any of us interested in things outside of what we know? That’s what sort of creates the future isn’t it – when somebody is willing to step outside the known and question the dogma of the time. What I like about him is that he’s not even necessarily a spiritual man. At the end of the day he’d probably say yes I believe in Christ, and I’m a Christian, but he’s an opportunist who will use whatever the most salient way is to move things forward. He’s fascinated by how things work and he has a very free mind, which is what makes him both a dangerous as well as a very exciting character. He’s a free thinker; he’s not stuck, and therefore you can move more quickly. He’s probably a little lonely in that there are not many people around him he can relate to, because he is willing to think outside of the norm. That’s why when Athelstan comes along it is a beautiful relationship. He meets someone else who has experienced this other culture, is intellectually smart and so there is a little love happening between him and Athelstan.
PR: When you star in something set in the past does that change the dynamic to playing a part in a contemporary set drama?
LR: Definitely because you can’t walk in there with a cup of coffee and just throw your lines away. But the thing is that on this show Michael is such a great writer that the way he writes the lines and the dialogue he kind of puts you in the mind-set of that time, and yet he also makes it accessible to the viewer.
So it is not alienating, and when you get on the set and put on the costumes which feel authentic, and you are also playing with these dynamics that feel authentic, you suddenly forget and you don’t try to play a period. I don’t know how to put it, but Michael creates the world, and then you step into it. So therefore you are not trying to play history, whilst at the same time it is history that is coming alive.
PR: With any drama that is set in the past you are trying to create a sense of authenticity, and yet you can only create a representation of the past. Working on a show like Vikings is there that balancing act in of understanding that the drama can benefit and be hindered by fact? It is a fine line to walk.
LR: Yeah and I think probably in the 9th century there were certain sensibilities that people didn’t have that we have now, and maybe we are incorporating some of those. But the modern day audience want to feel emotionally connected, and so we give those characters an emotional reality that I think people can relate to. Otherwise you wouldn’t watch a show – you’d be watching history and it would be boring. It would be like a tablet and you’d be divorced from it.
This is part of the evolution of television in terms of how we do historical drama now, and Michael is one of the greatest at it, because you don’t question the fact that you are looking at something from over a thousand years ago. But at the same time it feels incredibly pertinent, relevant and alive. Michael is the one who walks that line, and I think Travis is extraordinary to have made Ragnar a believable warrior, killer and ruthless hero. Yet he’s a sensitive man on one side and you feel for him. But yes, it is a fine line.
PR: How did you approach playing Ecbert? Did you read everything you could about him or did you rely on the scripts and what information was provided?
LR: I started off reading everything I could, but to be honest there isn’t that much. In fact, in the beginning one of the things Michael pointed me in the direction of was Charlemagne, because Ecbert lived in Charlemagne ‘s court. So I read everything I could about Charlemagne and then he started writing me stuff about being infatuated with Julius Caesar.
All we know about Ecbert is that he was one of the first Saxon kings to hand over his crown peacefully, and he pretty much became the overlord of all the kingdoms of England by the end of his reign. Now he could have done that by very nice means, but we are making that a little bit more interesting. The fact he was in Charlemagne’s court means he came back from there with another perspective on how to rule. He was not just the warrior king – he was the politician and he would do deals. So he is the ultimate manipulator.
So I started with the research but then I gave up and went into Michael’s mind. I just gave in to Michael because he writes so well that if you start getting into the layers that are in the script, it is all there. Now we are inventing as we go and I’m not using any reference points.
LR: It has been built, but very quickly – almost immediate. Over the course of the first season we just started talking and he responds to you as an actor. He’s very much the creator, but he’s very receptive and it’s wonderful because you do feel like you are collaborating. I have rarely said “Can I change a line” – maybe a word once or twice. But he writes so well and in tune that I just go where he leads me, and we meet up every now and again and it seems to go in another direction.
PR: Do you think that’s the same experience throughout the cast?
LR: I know quite a number of people have a lot of dialogue with him, and that must be quite overwhelming for him because there are a lot of mouths to feed – it’s a big show. But I also think that is what keeps it alive because everyone is invested in their roles. No one is just turning up and playing a part; rather there is a real life sense. When you are doing long form television it is fascinating to feel the development, and this is only my second season but it has come a long way from season two to season three. It has gone far deeper and so much further. But this is the exciting time we are living in with long form TV.
PR: Speaking with Travis he said, “We don’t have the budget of other big shows.” Is there an advantage to having a smaller budget? Can it force a higher level of creativity?
LR: It totally depends on who your creative team are. You can have really creative people that have a lot of money and it doesn’t make any difference to their creativity. When you are on set with Christopher Nolan for example it doesn’t make any difference how big the budget is because he’s so focused on what he’s doing – he’s a creator. I’ve been on one big budget film where there was so much money nobody knew what they were doing – every single day. This is quite lean for what it is, and I’d say it does create a momentum, but if you’ve got a good team I think it wouldn’t really matter.
PR: The attention to detail on the set is phenomenal.
LR: I just took a friends son on a little tour around the other day, and even I get blown away by the detail. I’ve done scenes where you are standing in there, and for a moment you think, wow this is what it would have been like. There are candles burning, people dressed up; you are on stone floors and the costumes are authentic. It starts to smell bad as well – the rotting meat. The creative team on this are quite phenomenal, and so it is one of those great marriages where you get everybody doing their best. There is something about being in Ireland – the people are great and the crews are incredible. There is a wonderful comradely and atmosphere on set where everybody feels like they are giving to something that they are a part of, which is something special.
Many thanks to Linus Roache 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