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Sam Corlett remembers wanting his next job to “demand all of myself, emotional, mentally and physically.” He got his wish making Vikings: Valhalla.
In the new Netflix show premiering Feb. 25, a sequel to the hit History series, the Australian actor, 26, plays Norse explorer Leif Eriksson, portraying the reluctant warrior with a mix of fierceness and primal grace.
Corlett started every Vikings shoot day with meditation, a 7K run and a swim in the cold waters of the Irish Sea (the series mostly shot at Ashford Studios in Wicklow, Ireland), followed up by weight lifting every night. “It was quite a militant thing,” he says. Before production, he adds, “I stayed in a cabin by a river for a week and just dove into what I thought [Leif’s] memories may be and imbued the whole world of his existence.”
Corlett studied drama in Australia for three years and studied with acting coach Les Chantery (who’s also coached Euphoria‘s Jacob Elordi). He went on to star in the 2020 Aussie drama The Dry, with Eric Bana, and then gained attention (sometimes for his often-bare-chested wardrobe) on the Netflix series Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
The actor admits he was originally unsure about joining Vikings: Valhalla, which has already shot two seasons, because “it’s a long commitment and to do the same role for a long time was kind of scary because variety is what excites me as an artist. As a series lead or regular, you sign for six or seven [seasons].”
“That hesitation,” he continues, “was completely blown out of the water when I started reading more and more scripts; the character evolved so much and it was nice to share that journey with him.”
Corlett spoke further to THR about being vegan on set, a writing project he’s working on and anticipating Vikings‘ global release.
What were some things that drew you to the role of Leif Eriksson?
He was the son of Erik the Red, notoriously one of the most violent Vikings of all time. [Leif] grew up in a household that was very different to my upbringing but not to too dissimilar to my mom’s. I’ve always seen myself as kind of wanting to absolve a bit of the trauma that had come through my family. And I felt like Leif wanted to do the same, with his father being exiled from Norway. He felt a lot of responsibility to kind of absolve that pain and a calling for something greater.
Had you watched the first Vikings series before?
My dad and I used to watch the original series when I was younger. So I knew that his one would excite dad. I remember when I sent the tape off, I sent it to my family just saying, ‘I put this [tape] down.’ And my mom messaged me saying dad’s watched that about 15 times. So that was really nice.
Were there any challenges with being vegan on set?
I hadn’t worn leather in a long time. The costume at the start was all leather, and so that was quite overwhelming. Gratefully, Susan O’Connor Cave, our amazing head of costume, she ended up designing a vegan armor for me. So that was really beautiful. I think it was cactus leather. It’s a funny mix because you want to be as authentic as possible which makes sense but also, you know, the values come in sometimes.
You got a good bit of attention for having your shirt off frequently on Sabrina. What was that like for you?
It’s never been, you know, what I’ve wanted to be known for. But I think — trying to bring as much authenticity to that world allowed something to bubble up. So I was like diving into the energy of Jim Morrison from The Doors and Michael Hutchence from INXS.
On your Instagram, you sometimes write posts that read like poems. Do you write poetry in your spare time?
Yeah. I’ve been working on something that kind of just came up. During Vikings, I was writing a lot of reminders to myself, like, “Be steady, Sam.” All this stuff. I ended up doing it every night, and then all of a sudden I had like six books full. So I’ve just typed them up, and I’ve done all the art for it. So hopefully I’ll be able to release some of these little soul reminders, which is what I call them. I’ve always been attracted to the spiritual, whether it be [writers like] Alan Watts or Eckhart Tolle. I love their succinct way of making the macro micro and the micro macro. That really fills my cup.
Can you talk more about the family trauma you brought up?
I think it was my life experiences that imbued me to want to tell stories. Whether it be like — you know, my mom battled cancer three times while I was growing up; the second one, she had breast cancer and it was the full nine yards of the chemo. And my uncle was an incredible artist, musician, poet and unfortunately alcohol took him away early. He passed away when I was 17 or 18 and I only consciously remember meeting him once and it was when he was in hospital. Throughout my life he was never physically present, but every time I picked up a guitar, my mom would say, ‘Your hands look just like Chris’s.’ So I always wanted to honor his story through mine and attempt to bring as much healing to the world as possible through my art. I feel like he’s with me.
How do you feel ahead of the show premiering globally?
It’s becoming a bit real. I was grateful to spend some downtime up in Byron Bay [in Australia] last year and this year, and I was able to have a lunch with Matt Damon. He was there shooting Thor [Love and Thunder] with Taika [Waititi]. And he just said, “You know, the world around you may change, but you don’t change.” He’s a really good example of just staying steady.
Did you enjoy shooting in Ireland?
The Irish people [are] absolutely beautiful, like such kind hearts. Funnily enough, where I was put up in this village. It’s called Greystones. All these people who weren’t on set ended up like being absolute family to me, you know. These guys swam every morning at sunrise: rain, hail, or shine. There’s a duo called The Happy Pear who are quite popular in Ireland for being vegan chefs and I’m vegan myself so it was convenient to have their cafe nearby. And there’s a lady, a 72-year-old ex-Catholic nun, a lesbian, who stills sends me quotes whether it be Rumi or [poet] John O’Donohue. To have that sense of family over there was very much welcomed.
It’s so beautiful. You can travel down the coast and there’s these beautiful beaches, amazing walks and hikes and then there’s these incredible mountains. And then you go down to the Spanish point down the bottom and you can see sunrise and sunset on either side of the beach. A lot of Aussies have Irish heritage and you can feel a sense of lineage when you arrive on the land.
Was the shoot physically demanding?
I’m not sure there’ll be another set that I’m on that I’ll have to work as hard. The crew shot the whole of the previous series, so a lot of it’s the same family. It was actually like a bonding experience, whether it be swimming in like three degree water at midnight and trying to shoot a fight scene without shivering or whether it be climbing up these incredible mountains to get to where our location is and everyone’s carrying each other’s things and the actors have got, you know, some hair and makeup bags, the hair and makeup have some cameras. It was really cool to see.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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