WonderCon: An interview with Vikings’ Travis Fimmel, Katheryn Winnick and George Blagden
I had the honor of attending the Vikings panel at WonderCon which went on without one empty seat. To see such a crowd there to support a new and popular show only made me more excited, since I had seen every episode up until then. After that, I had the even bigger honor of meeting some of my favorite characters from the show and engaging in an intimate roundtable interview with Travis Fimmel aka RAGNAR LOTHBROK, George Blagden aka ATHELSTAN, and Katheryn Winnick aka LAGERTHA.
Katheryn Winnick AKA LAGERTHA was our first interview and might I say was she absolutely stunning.
Were you surprised by the success of Vikings?
Katheryn Winnick: You know it’s overwhelming and so positive to see the amazing reactions from fans. I think a lot of people, when we’re shooting it, we kind of had an idea that it’s on a different level because of the set design, the incredible cast, and obviously the writing. So we had an idea that, oh if people catch on they might really like this show and it’s nice to see such a response, but I think as the weeks go on there is more word of mouth around. I think a lot of people are tuning in now if they haven’t earlier.
What is it like transitioning from something more modern like Bones into a more period piece? And which do you prefer?
Katheryn Winnick: Oh gosh, for me, I absolutely adore period pieces, and it’s something different. And here shooting being a Viking, being a shield maiden; the dirtier the better, the more dirt on your face the better, the more blood in battle. So it was such a treat not necessarily having people coming up going “You are going need more lip gloss” or something like that. It was definitely more my style of shooting of being real and stuff like that. That’s how you get involved, and for me to get really into the character is when you can take on a different persona from the look and the feel of the set design. That was a gift for sure.
In the fourth episode of Vikings Lagertha stood up for the woman who was about to be raped, what do you think it says about your character even though those people were you enemies that you were pillaging from?
Katheryn Winnick: Lagertha is a very strong individual, but she is also a mother and a woman! As much as slaves did get raped in that time period and were considered property, Lagertha would not be the one to let that happen. She just is one for those people and especially for women, she would stick up for them and for what she really truly believes in. I think that scene specifically showed her inner strength, even though it might be a conflict with the other Vikings, or she’s probably stepping outside her legal right in a way. They think they’re allowed to do it but I love that about her, she doesn’t care. She does what’s good for other women and for what she believes in.
So do you think she enjoyed killing Knut?
Katheryn Winnick: Oh yeah! Are you kidding me? That was my favorite scene it. When we were rehearsing it, I was like how are we going to do this rape thing because Lagertha wouldn’t even have him get close to her, so we actually had to coordinate it. Well maybe if he knocks her out for like a split second, she’s dazed, and then have her have the upper hand and eventually have her be the one on top and actually dig in the knife in twice. I loved that scene.
Lagertha went on the raids with the guys. She was the one woman who was like one of the guys. How was it shooting the battle scenes with the guys?
Katheryn Winnick: Oh it was great! I think for my character beings based on a real person, a real Viking, you can’t say that I was the only shield maiden. There were other women there fighting in battle with their husbands and their brothers and other men. It says a lot about who she is. She’s a fighter; she’s a very strong, forward-thinking woman.
Travis Fimmel AKA Ragnar Lothbrok walked over to our table for his Interview as Katheryn left.
As we put the voice recorders in front of him he spoke.
Travis Fimmel: (Pointing at the voice recorder) I use one of these to learn the Norse language. It’s so hard, and I keep repeating it on one of these things. Now what’s cracking, what do you got? Talk to me.
Well you just mentioned it, but how long did it take you to learn the Norse language?
Travis Fimmel: It took me a long time. Certainly not my strong suit, especially for that scene on the beach where I had to speak English, Saxon, and Norse at the same time. I was confused. Yeah, I think we pulled it off, I wasn’t very good, but the other guy was good.
I don’t know if you watch the Walking Dead, but how I see your character and your brother’s relationship is very similar to Merle and Daryl with the tension. You’re brothers and you love each other, but there’s kind of the backstabbing. What do you think about the relationship between them?
Travis Fimmel: I haven’t actually watched it but I hear it’s amazing. I think it’s good; we need that conflict. It really adds to the show and our relationship gets better because we obviously love each other. We are brothers, but have different views on the world and what should be done. It really comes to a head later in the season. It’s one of my favorite shows coming up but I’m so lucky the show’s doing so good.
Was that kind of a surprise to see immediately how the audience latched onto it?
Travis Fimmel: Yeah, you hope for it. I love everyone I worked with and hope that it will be successful so yeah I was really rooting for it and the ratings have been great so I have no complaints.
How did you get to prepare to know about the religion. Did you watch Thor or read up on it?
Travis Fimmel: (Laughing) No, just a lot of reading. Michael Hirst is amazing, and he’s a wealth of knowledge that man. He knows about everything so he gave me a lot of documentation so we had a lot of reading.
Where do you think Ragnar got his ambition?
Travis Fimmel: I guess some people just got that in their mind that they are not happy with where they are and just want more and to see more of the world. I grew up on a farm, I loved it but I am over here trying to make something more of myself and make my future children proud, that sort of stuff. Anybody would want to do well with yourself and some people take more of a risk than others, and I think Ragnar would take any risk or sacrifice anything to acquire more knowledge. I am sure a lot of it is just to be known and respected.
How did you prepare for the weapons training? I know you said you lived on a farm so did you use an axe before to chop wood?
Travis Fimmel: I always chopped wood; always with axes. It was more for Native Americans back then though. You know Native American tomahawks. Boy I loved cowboy movies; we were always running around with tomahawks, me and my two brothers. But we had great stunt coordinators and choreographers there and they made it really easy. You get used to it just like anything you work with like a muscle. By the end of it you just go right there and it comes a lot more naturally.
So what did you do last night to prepare for today? Did you have a few drinks?
Travis Fimmel: I actually hadn’t seen George and Kathryn for a while, so we went out with everyone on the panel actually and a couple other people because they all flew in and all that stuff and I’ve been in Australia. So we just had a dinner and a few beers?
So any recognition by people?
Travis Fimmel: No, nobody recognized me [laughing]. Look at me, I look like a bloody bum.
Can you talk about the relationship between Ragnar and Athelstan and how that’s going to develop over the season?
Travis Fimmel: That’s one of my favorite relationships too. He’s such a good actor. George, he is fantastic. I am going to throw something at him (picks up the card on the table). Do you need this? (Throws it at George Blagden who is interviewing with other people). But some of my favorite scenes are with him; we really develop into a big relationship…(Something is thrown at Travis by George and Travis picks it up). Grow up George!
Alright! It’s a cork. I threw this at him last night. It’s from last night’s dinner! But I absolutely love their relationship and it really develops. We get into a great friendship and I finally have someone I can really confide in, you know.
(George then walked over to our table for his interview.)
George Blagden: These corks were from wine we had last night, and pulling away from the restaurant in a taxi, Travis threw them both at me. So I decided to keep them to get back at him today. He’s a prankster as well. On set he loved doing pranks.
Can you give any sort of specifics?
George Blagden: Well you know in like episode 3 or 4 where I am tied on a rope. That’s just like candy to a baby for this guy. He would tie me to things on set without me realizing it. I’d find myself being strangled. Everyone liked watching him get the best of me. They really did.
How did you get the part?
George Blagden: I had an audition in London with the casting director Frank Moiselle. Yeah, it was very easy. He actually auditioned me in a chapel underneath a very fancy hotel in London in the basement. So I actually had my audition in a chapel which was very kind of weird and spooky, but it was really easy with such a great casting director. It’s great as an actor when auditioning for films when you audition with people who really help you out so I was very lucky.
When Ragnar lets you go but you stay, he trusts you to watch his family. Do you think he’s messing with you or does he actually trust you? How is your character responding to this?
George Blagden: Well this is a dangerous, enigmatic, and mysterious character. Ragnar and everyone around him, not just Athelstan. I think his wife and his friends are always on their toes and so it kind of gets to the stage where he asks Athelstan to look after his children. It’s not that surprising because he has had so many of these sort of interesting and exciting decisions to have made with people. Yeah, he’s really kind of is thrown into the deep end by Ragnar. I think it’s not just the way he treats Athelstan as well as everyone. He’s the guy who sailed west for the first time. He has to be a pretty brave and daring person to achieve what Ragnar achieves. So you know he.. [laughing at Travis Fimmel’s table and Travis yells “GEORGE!”]
Travis Fimmel: I don’t know the answer to this question; I need you to answer a question about interesting Viking traditions.
George Blagden: Interesting Viking traditions? Oh God, I don’t know. They slaughtered animals. I don’t know, I’m still learning. You’re the one who is supposed to be the Viking.
Why do you think Ragnar saved Athelstan and treats him more like a friend than a slave?
George Blagden: Well the reason he doesn’t cut my head off immediately is because I speak his language to him, and I think in that moment Ragnar is met with this person who he realizes could really help him. And I think he makes a real quick snap judgment call that this man could be helpful to him. That’s why Athelstan is kept alive and why he takes him as a slave when he could have taken all the other gold when asked what piece of treasure he would take. He takes the slave because he knows he is going to be useful to him. Athelstan is useful; he tells him a lot about England and subsequent raids. It’s a really interesting relationship and Athelstan needs Ragnar, as much as Ragnar needs Athelstan, really.
Do you think it’s more a relationship of fate? I know how Athelstan says something along the lines of “Why did you spare my life?” and Ragnar says “I don’t know yet.” Is it something of fate or an immediate bond?
George Blagden: I don’t think it’s an immediate bond. I think it’s a very tricky relationship that they’re both trying to manage and don’t really know quite how to so I think, yeah, I have not thought of it that way actually. I am going to tell Michael Hirst [laughing], but yeah it’s an interesting way of putting it, the relationship of fate. I think it is, you know I think it’s what makes their relationship interesting that they come from two complete opposite worlds but somehow they seem like similar men. Maybe, one is a lot more physically impressive than the other and very good at sword fighting, and the other one good at crying.
Will we see your singing at all?
George Blagden: Well you saw a little bit in episode 2 in the monastery but I.. Yeah I am not sure the Viking culture is a big one for people breaking out into song. So yeah I don’t know. Hey I did say to Michael Hirst Vikings the musical on Broadway; I think it could really work so we should try it. He would hate it, he would not do it.
Can you give us a little hint of what’s ahead for your character Athelstan and Ragnar?
George Blagden: I can, it’s amazing for an actor to be able to play a character that has such an amazing act that Athelstan does and he changes so much. You’ll see as the series progresses that every episode brings something new about the Viking culture Athelstan is faced with or has to deal with and learn how to deal with. I think that eople will want to come back to and watch every week and find out what is going to happen to Athelstan this week? Is he going to be asked to have a foursome? How is he going to really integrate himself into the society and he really does. So yeah keep watching!