March 01, 2013 12:00pm PT by Philiana Ng
History's 'Vikings': Travis Fimmel on Unveiling Another Side to the Legendary Figures (Q&A)
On the heels of Hatfields & McCoys, History Channel is hoping its first nine-part scripted series Vikings will duplicate that success.
From creator Michael Hirst, Vikings follows the adventures of warrior Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel), a curious, compelling man always looking to break through barriers and discover new worlds to conquer, who is deeply frustrated by the policies of local chieftain Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne).
The History series, launching at 10 p.m. March 3, won't play like a multi-episode history lesson. As the synopsis suggests, Vikings will be in the vein of a family drama. It just so happens that it's about the legendary Norse explorers. In fact, The Hollywood Reporter's chief TV critic Tim Goodman said "it’s a series that increases its entertainment value and interest level as it goes along."
For Australian actor Fimmel, it wasn't the Vikings' barbaric nature that caught his interest. "Like in any society, they wanted to provide for their families," Fimmel tells THR. "They would do anything for them and society." In a chat, Fimmel discusses why he wanted to dive into the history books.
The Hollywood Reporter: You've done scripted TV before (A&E's The Beast), so why did you want to jump back in with this project in particular?
Travis Fimmel: I was very intrigued about the Vikings, like everybody who heard of them. I knew there had to be a reason they were like that. Michael Hirst, the creator and writer, created an amazing script, and it really depicted Vikings like human beings and explained why they did what they did. They're all about providing for their family, their religion and belief in God. Very intriguing people.
THR: Did you do any research to prepare for your role as Ragnar?
Fimmel: We all did a lot of research, but there aren't a lot of historical facts about the Vikings. We were always informed through the people that they invaded, which is why I think this show is special: It's the Vikings' point of view. No one really knew who they were, and they have such a bad reputation; the show really gives a reason why they needed to do what they did.
THR: Was there an aspect to their worldview or how they operated that you found interesting?
Fimmel: It's sort of surprising -- but it shouldn't be: They had families. Like in any society, they wanted to provide for their families. They would do anything for them and society. Even when they didn't have resources, they needed to expand and needed to invade people just to survive.
THR: The tension between Ragnar and Earl (Byrne) is quite palpable.
Fimmel: Yeah, Gabriel Byrne is absolutely amazing on this show. He plays an older, esteemed person in our society, and I'm sort of the the younger, curious one. I want to expand our society and discover new places and worlds and riches and fame. He's content where he is, in charge of the society. There is a lot of conflict between them.
THR: How does that conflict manifest itself?
Fimmel: The conflict just builds into the later episodes, and it's very climactic in the end. I have a very interesting relationship with Gabriel's character.
THR: You play a very powerful character in Ragnar. How would you describe him and his journey over the course of the series?
Fimmel: Ragnar Lothbrok was one of the first to discover the east coast of England. He found a new way of navigating the ocean. Until then, no one really knew of anybody who had done that. He commissioned a boat and he set sail not knowing what they were going to find and if they were going to die. He was very courageous, and the history books show that.
THR: What was filming like in Ireland?
Fimmel: It was very cold! It was beautiful, though, with the scenery, the locations and the sets. It was very authentic. The Irish landscape is amazing; it's such a beautiful country. It really puts you in that world. But, yeah, the weather was pretty cold and wet.
THR: Can you recall your toughest day shooting?
Fimmel: There are so many challenging days, because of the weather and the short shooting schedule, that we just had to shoot no matter what the weather was. There were a lot of battle scenes where we were in a foot of mud, and we're fighting. It's kind of like how it used to be. You didn't get to pick a day to fight, you just did. We were slipping, sliding ... It was actually good fun.
THR: How long did you shoot for?
Fimmel: We shot from July to November [of 2012]. I actually don't think Ireland has a summer. I never experienced a summer there. It was just so wet.
THR: Is there an episode or scene that stands out for you?
Fimmel: The seventh episode is my favorite. It builds and builds and gets you sucked in. Hopefully, the audience feels the same way.
History Channel's Vikings premieres at 10 p.m. Sunday.