Stuck for something to do this Wednesday, but also want to avoid the holiday crowds? You could always stay home and watch some TV! On April 29 the History Channel will be showing the entire first season of popular Canadian-Irish show, “The Vikings.” The critically acclaimed story, inspired by the sagas of legendary Norseman Ragnar Lothbrok, is definitely worth checking out even if you only have a passing interest in Vikings.
By Matthew Hernon
Before watching you may also want to have a look at a recent interview that creator Michael Hirst (“Elizabeth,” “The Tudors”) and leading actor, Travis Fimmel (“The Beast”) did with Japanese reporters from TV Groove and Drama Navi.
Firstly, Michael: why the Vikings?
MH: Well, to start with MGM asked me. I’d been working on “The Tudors” for quite a few years so I was looking for a new world to write about and the Vikings project just seemed so different. That was really attractive to me.
What made them so different?
MH: The Vikings have always been given a bad press; [they were] regarded as people who just came to rape and pillage, but as I was doing my research I discovered many things about them that I didn’t know before. They were much more democratic than the Anglo-Saxons or the Franks, deciding most things at public meetings. They were also much more enlightened and progressive, particularly with regards to women, who could own property, divorce their husbands, fight in the shield wars and even rule.
Why did you choose Travis for the role of Ragnar?
MH: I wanted to challenge the stereotypes and cliches about the Vikings. I needed a hero that was quite deep, thoughtful and introverted—not like the kind of Viking you usually see in movies. For a long time we couldn’t find anyone; then just before shooting was due to start Travis sent a tape of himself in his kitchen and we realized we’d found our man.
Travis, how did you feel when you got the role of Ragnar?
TF: Well I thought my audition hadn’t been successful so I was so absolutely delighted to get it. I feel really fortunate—it’s such a fun and intriguing role.
How did you prepare for it? Did you do any special training for the action scenes?
TF: No, a stuntman helped me out with those scenes. I just prepared the same as any other actor would: with a lot of hard work and research. You have to be aware of your audience and make sure they can relate to your character. Ragnar is a father, husband and leader of the Vikings. I just wanted to make him as realistic as possible.
Aside from Ragnar, which character did you think was the most interesting?
TF: From Season One I would say Earl Haraldson, played by Gabriel Byrne. He often clashed with Ragnar because they had such different leadership styles. He was more of a traditional leader, whereas Ragnar was more modern in his outlook, trying to spread his ideas globally. It was an interesting contrast. Working with Gabriel was also a real honor. I think he is a genius.
Were there any props or costumes you were particularly interested in?
TF: I think rather than props or costumes I was more interested in the scenery. Filming took place in Ireland and it is just such a beautiful country. I’ve really fallen in love with the place. The sight of the ships sailing in the background towards the United Kingdom in the very first episode was particularly special. I think that left the biggest impression on me.
MH: The first time we put the three Viking ships on the river in Ireland it was a delightful summer’s morning. It was beautiful and frightening at the same time. We stopped working and watched them coming around the river. It was amazing because that is how many people would have first seen the Vikings. The second memorable event to happen on set was when we were building a pagan temple on the edge of a forest for Episode Eight of Season One. There was a lot of noise and then suddenly out of the forest came a stag with huge antlers that just walked into the temple. It looked around, not afraid of anyone, then disappeared again. The Vikings believed their Gods could change shape and become animals, so we all thought we’d been visited by a Viking God.
What else did you learn about the Vikings from your research, Michael?
MH: They had a very big influence in Europe, from France to England and on to Russia. For example the French territory Normandy was given to them by the French King to stop the Norsemen attacking. They occupied England for a long time and Russia was given its name because of the Rus Vikings. They also colonized Iceland and Greenland and reached Northern America hundreds of years before Columbus. On top of all that, they gave us a lot of our language and laws.
Finally, any message for your fans in Japan?
MH: I would like people to know I was heavily influenced by (Akira) Kurosawa. He was just so clever in the way he set up his action scenes and I have tried to do something similar. Our intention is to entertain as well as inform. This is a drama, not a documentary.
TF: I hope audiences here enjoy watching it as much as we enjoyed making it. Everyone worked so hard, from the screenwriters to the people in charge of the costumes and the set; it has really been an amazing, collective effort with a talented group of people.
All nine episodes of the first season of “The Vikings” will be shown between 1 pm and 10 pm on Wednesday, April 29, on the History Channel.
All images: (c) 2014 TM PRODUCTIONS LIMITED / T5 VIKINGS PRODUCTIONS INC. ALL