After last year’s critically acclaimed miniseries Hatfields & McCoys, History is charting new territory as they venture into the realm of scripted television with Vikings, created and written by Michael Hirst (The Tudors, Camelot). The nine-part series portrays the world of the Dark Age explorers through the eyes of Viking society, and focuses on the ambitious Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) and his family, including his impulsive, carefree brother Rollo (Clive Standen).
During a recent press conference call, we were given the opportunity to speak with Clive about his experience working on the show. Here are some of the highlights.
Thanks for spending a couple of minutes with us today. We really appreciate it.
How much research did you put into the role before you started shooting?
We had a good period of time after we’d met with Michael for the first time, and he set us on the right track. There’s a lot that you think you know about Vikings and everyone thinks that they’ve read a book on Vikings or they’ve seen a film on Vikings, and I had to really kind of completely, you know, wipe the slate clean and sort of start from scratch.
Michael was very good at giving us a shedload of revision and books to read to set us in the right direction. And then obviously as an actor you choose to run with that and do as much research as you want, or do as little research as you want. All through filming, right up until the last day, I’d be annoying people on set and the crew just telling them about more stuff that I’d found out.
I never stopped learning, and I think that’s a good lesson in life is never stop learning and never stop questioning. And yes, I’m still doing research now, and I’m still finding out things. I’m just obsessed with just taking in new facts, new information, reading new books, watching documentaries, and the more you’ve got there, the more of an arsenal you’ve got if you ever need it for a scene.
You know, there’s been some fantastic facts that we’ve learned through this. Vikings, for instance, would never throw their fingernails away because they believed that Ragnarok when Loki would come back, he would come on a boat made of human fingernails. So if you were throwing your fingernails away, you were kind of helping Loki build his boat. So your Vikings would often, if they were to bite their fingernails or cut their fingernails, they would put them in this locket on their neck or they would throw them in the fire and make sure that they weren’t, you know flicked idly on the floor.
There’s this plethora of stuff out there, and it’s just such a massive world. And I think with Series 1 we really are just hitting the, you know, the tip of the iceberg of Michael Hirst’s vision for it. Michael has a massive, massive Bible of the ideas and the storylines and where he wants to take the show over maybe five or six seasons, so we’ll see. All I can say is that if you like Series 1, you know, we’re just getting started.
Can you tell us a little bit about the physical training you had to go through to get in shape for the role?
I’ve been sword fighting since I was 14 years old. When Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves came out at the cinemas, I grew up just up the road from Sherwood Forest, and they were looking to put on a kind of full experience of walking around Sherwood Forest with tour guides and kind of live action. When most of my friends at that age were working in shoe shops and McDonald’s and things my very first paid job, way before I was into acting, was doing stunts and jousting and jumping out of trees as Wolf, Little John’s son at Sherwood Forest.
I did a lot of Thai Boxing as well. That was a very big part of my life when I was younger. I’ve done a lot of horse riding and sword fighting and martial arts and things beforehand, but one thing I hadn’t done before I got the role in Vikings, we did a very big boot camp before we started filming to man the boats.
History were very adamant that we, as actors, would be able to sail these boats ourselves. And so every time you see the actors on the boat we’re really rowing, we’re really manning the boat, we’re sailing. And that was a very long process where we’d go out in the sea and many actors would get seasick and it was a grueling process. But at the end of it we got to the stage where all of the marines that taught us would get off the boat, and there was this one guy hiding under a sheet of tarpaulin with a walkie-talkie just so they could communicate with our actors and the cameramen and dry land. We got to a stage where we could sail our boat, and we became real Vikings. So that was something that I wasn’t prepared for and had to work really hard to achieve.
In terms of physical fitness we did lots of stuff. Johan didn’t want another muscle man. He wanted Vikings to be lithe and sinewy and real because, you know, these were hard guys. They lived in a harsh climate and they weren’t bodybuilders. So everything we did physically was all generated to kind of try and create that kind of physique that a Viking would have.
You describe Rollo as being a sociopath. Did you draw any influence from any other television shows or movies to help you kind of craft that character?
Not so to speak. I mean I had lot of conversations with Johan [Renck], the director at the beginning, about different characters that he’d seen, and there’s certain things that Michael Fassbender does in Shame, which inspired me. But no, I mean I did a lot of research on sociopaths, and psychopaths, and behavioral things. I can’t think of any character that I based it on.
But there was one thing that I put on my mirror so I could see it every morning before I got into costume, which I think sums Rollo up quite well, which is “everybody wants to be loved, and if they can’t be loved then they want to be admired, and if they can’t be admired then they’re willing to be feared, and if they can’t be feared then they’ll be hated.” And I think that’s kind of quite a prominent thing that kind of stuck out to me that I put on my mirror to remind me of each day.
Alright, thank you so much. I’ve really enjoyed the episodes I’ve seen so far, and I’m looking forward to seeing more.
Vikings airs Sundays at 10pm EST, exclusively on History.
The extraordinary tales of the lives and epic adventures of these warriors are told in VIKINGS, a new nine-part scripted series premiering Sunday, March 3 at 10 p.m. (ET) on HISTORY®. The drama portrays the world of these Dark Age raiders, traders, explorers – not from an outsider’s view, but, through the eyes of Viking society.
While VIKINGS is filled with conflict, warfare and bloodshed – for these were extreme times – it is a family saga at heart. It follows the adventures of Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel, The Beast, Baytown Outlaws), a curious, compelling man who is always looking to break through barriers and discover new worlds to conquer. A young farmer and family man, Ragnar is deeply frustrated by the unadventurous policies of his local chieftain, Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne, In Treatment, Usual Suspects, Millers Crossing), who continues to send his Vikings raiders east every summer, to the Baltic states and Russia, whose populations are as materially poor as themselves.
VIKINGS will chart Ragnar’s ambitions to discover civilizations across the great ocean to the west as well as his inevitable conflicts along the way. With the help of his jester friend Floki, (Gustaf Skarsgard, The Way Back), they build a new generation of boats – faster, sleeker and more beautifully crafted than anything else on the sea.
The series will also delve into how the Vikings – the last pagans – worshipped ancient gods like Odin, Thor, Freya and Loki. Ragnar claims to be a direct descendant of the Norse god Odin, who, as well as being the god of warriors slain in battle, is also the god of curiosity.