Interview with Vikings’ Jessalyn Gilsig

Vikings__Siggy- Jessalyn Gilsig

Jessalyn Gilsig can be seen on shows like Heroes, Glee and Nip/Tuck. Starting this Sunday night, March 3rd, on History, you can see her as Siggy in the channel’s first scripted drama, Vikings. The show follows Ragnar Lothbrok, a Viking who dreams of sailing West across the sea for new places to discover…and conquer.

John “Spartan” Nguyen: Can you give us a little summary about your character, Siggy, in Vikings?

Jessalyn Gilsig: I play Siggy Haraldson, who’s the wife of Earl Haraldson, played by Gabriel Byrne. When the series begins, we are the ruling family. Siggy’s a pretty interesting character with a complex backstory. We lost both of our sons through battle. We have a daughter, but we haven’t been able to produce another heir. We’re an incredibly vulnerable family. The Earl is losing confidence, and Ragnar is coming up as a potential threat.

Vikings Jessalyn Gilsig Siggy
Photo by Jonathan Hession/HISTORY

Do you consider your characters classic villains?

I’d like to think that our characters have dimensions. We definitely didn’t want to apologize about how ruthless they are. Gabriel and I talked about how these dictators really believe that they’re the father and mother to these people. That’s obviously a distortion, but it becomes a reality for them.

The Vikings were seen as scary people who did a lot bad things, like killing, raping and pillaging. Was the subject matter something you were interested in tackling?

I think that what Michael Hirst [creator] really wanted to do was explore the time more and actually try to understand what happened instead of trying to see them as barbarians. I wanted to see where the Viking attitude came from. One of the things Hirst was adamant about was that there were a lot of evidence that the Vikings had very specific roles of behavior in society. In fact rape wasn’t taken lightly at all, and it wasn’t acceptable at all. There’s this amazing scene with Katheryn Winnick [Lagertha] and Travis Fimme [Ragnor] where rape was definitely addressed. Murder in society was also not acceptable. I liked that Michael wanted to move away from all those stereotypes.


When you’re watching the show, do you root for your character or for Ragnar’s?

That’s a really hard one to answer. I suppose I would root for Ragnar, but I’m also partial to the villains. So eventually I will root for the bad guys.

Do you prefer villain roles?

I definitely like to play characters who have an agenda, a sense of direction and ambition. You need those characters to be the foil to the main characters.

You’ve done a lot of different types of TV shows. Are you usually open to different genres?

A part of why you become an actor is that you have to be open to the unexpected. My favorite thing as an actor is to be in a place where you’re a little bit scared. You have that moment of fear of, “Wow, what am I stepping into?”

Let’s talk about your role in Heroes.

I loved my role in Heroes. I loved that she’s a mother and can be kind of selfish. She has the power to create fire, and she uses it to light a cigarette. I loved the idea of the supernatural and how it plays through a small scale. Wouldn’t you do that? On one level, you’d be using fire to save lives, and another way it would be like, “Hey, I’m going to light the BBQ. Watch this.”

Out of all the characters you have played, which of those characters best match your personality?

That’s a really hard question. I was going to say Lauren Davis (Boston Public), but that was a long time ago, and I was a lot younger. I don’t know. You’re going to have to ask somebody who knows me more. [laughs]

But it’s definitely not Siggy, right?

I’d like to think so. I don’t think I’m that kind of person who can just walk into a room and say, “I’m the most important, powerful, and relevant person here.” And that’s absolutely what Siggy believes in. That would be a great feeling, and I rarely have that.

Check out Vikings on March 3rd at 10 PM (9 PM Central) on History.

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