History Channel’s hit series Vikings is starting its third season. I recently spoke with two of its actors over the phone. Fans of the show will be familiar with Clive Standen, who returns for the third season as Rollo, the conflicted and dynamic brother of Ragnar. I also spoke with Kevin Durand, who, although new to the show, is a veteran of TV, having appeared in shows ranging from Lost to The Strain. They gave (mostly) serious answers about what’s in store for their characters and Vikings.
My first question is for Kevin. Had you seen the show at all before being cast?
Kevin: Yeah, I was actually a really big fan of the show so it was quite exciting to get to jump in and help and tell this huge and compelling story.
What drew you to the role? Because you had a really diverse filmography, but it seems like a lot of your recent projects have been more contemporary or sci-fi. So what about Vikings – other than being a fan of the show- made you want to join?
Kevin: Well I don’t particularly try to aim for any type of genre. I just like to do what compels me and if it’s really good and it kind of gives me some kind of visual reaction when I read it, when I watch it, then I want to be a part of it. And I was a huge fan of the show, but once Michael had – Michael Hirst- had sent me some of Harbard’s scenes, I was really super compelled. I really wanted to take my shot at this character and explore and play it. So it was really exciting.
So walking into the set…was there anything that surprised you on the show, or took you by surprise or the way the show as filmed?
Kevin: I don’t know if I was surprised, but I was really kind of taken aback at how lovely everybody was. Everybody just working together for the greater good of telling this story and there was a real kind of familial kind of feel amongst the cast and crew and it felt so nice to kind of step into that and get to work on something exciting.
My next question is kind of more, I think it’s more for Clive, I’m not sure how much it applies to Kevin. But going into season 3, we’re promised it’s going to be a lot more epic. A lot of the fight scenes in the first two seasons had been really, I mean they’re fantastic. But they’re shot at a really close range. There might be a couple of establishing shots, but mostly it’s kind of up close and gritty. How does the sort of the larger scale of the season translate to the fight scenes? Does bigger mean different, or it just the same but on a larger scale?
Clive: When we get to Paris and we get to France, there’s a battle that’s massive, nothing like we’ve done before. We arrive as Vikings on the river Seine, a hundred boats, if you can imagine a hundred boats carrying thirty plus Vikings, it’s crazy. And we have like four times the amount of stunt performers and extras and it’s organized chaos. When we got to do those battle scenes, we were running around and the choreography has to be really tight just to stop people from being [injured]. What we try to do with a lot of the battle scenes in Vikings is we have to kind of mix it up and make each one original. So the stunt coordinators Franklin Henson and Richard Ryan, they kind of break down each one and try and show a different side to the Vikings’ tactics or try to tell a specific story through it, because I always think that the fight has to continue the story in some way….They have to have a point to them, it says something about the character, otherwise it’s just gratuitous, and Vikings is no different to me. You have to be able to find a continuation of the story through that. Whether that means that two characters are kind of taking whatever happened immediately before the battle into the battle, or whether you kind of put the audience right in there with them. With the specific battle you’re talking about, it’s because we want to put the audience in with the shield wall, so you have to kind of get right up in there and see the whites of these character’s eyes. Because they’re not superheroes, they’re in a battle where, it’s very boring to watch a fight with these lead characters in a TV show. Because they’re indestructible, because it takes away the danger, it takes away the fear. So you have to kind of bring the audience in there with them to feel that in the moment, Rollo or Ragnar or Floki can be cleaved in half by an adversary’s ax and Season 3, it’s just, you’ll see it’s a lot more tactics that the Vikings employ. Jumping off boats, the long boats. And Paris, it’s just the scale of the battle, it’s an impenetrable fortress, it’s a ginormous city, surrounded by walls on the middle of the River Seine, and the Vikings, they have to invent new devices and use their technology to try and penetrate the walls. I’m sorry, I don’t to give too much away….there’s siege towers, there’s berserkers on rafts, there’s lots of different sections of the Vikings camps, all attacking this barricade, and have them with battering rams and all sorts of stuff that we’d never done…It’s just like anything you’ve ever seen on a TV show when it comes to battle sequences. So considering we have half the budget of Game of Thrones, it stands up there as an amazing feat that we can film it … there’s hundreds of Vikings coming off of long boats, wading through the water, and attacking this ginormous castle and you have to see what the outcome is.
Looking forward to seeing it. So Vikings is really one of the things the show does very well is it takes these mythical figures and kind of humanizes them. Both of your characters are…like Kevin, yours is very mysterious and sort of has a mystic aurora to him. And Clive, yours is kind of this terrifying warrior. So how do you sort of make those characters accessible to a modern audience?
Clive: I mean I don’t see Rollo as a Viking in the 9th century any different than I would approach a geography teacher in the 21st century. It’s, you know, human beings haven’t really changed much since the beginning of time. They’re all motivated by the same things. They’re motivated by power and greed and sex, and they love, and they have families and children and a lot of these things are motivations to do good things or to do bad things. It’s about circumstances, really. It’s about trying to see someone’s life through another person’s eyes. So, yeah, I don’t think that I really think of it as a period show. I just kind of think about it, it’s a character, it’s a human being and then….everybody makes choices, some people make choices they regret as soon as they make them, but they have to live with those choices for the rest of their lives.
Kevin: I think for me, quite honestly, it’s all on the page. The pages that Michael Hirst writes and it’s in these beautiful costumes and hair and make-up and you know, the designers of the show. It’s all there, so I almost feel like I just have to make sure that I can live up to those words that are written on the page and we’ll be alright, you know. So, yeah.
My next question is for Clive. You kind of touched on it. You said that characters make choices they regret. Rollo’s had a really dynamic arc. He’s kind of gone from being the jealous brother, to betraying his brother, and then sort of towards redemption. Can you give us a hint of what kind of journey Rollo’s going to go on this season?
Clive: Well I mean, there’s one thing you can say about Rollo is that whether you agree with his actions and the choices he makes, what Rollo always tries to do is he tries to learn from them. And he tries to get it…he often gets it wrong far more times than he does get it right, but I think we find in Season 3, he’s tried so hard, he’s actually forgotten who he is. And he wants so desperately to get back into his brother’s good graces, but he has to second guess everything before he speaks. You know, Ragnar asks his opinion, and Rollo’s trying to say the right thing. I actually have a line in Season 3 where I actually go, ‘well I’m just trying to say the right thing, brother’, I think making it clear. It’s Floki that has very strong opinions about pagans and Ragnar’s very interested in Christians and what that means and how different that is, who is looking for new knowledge. And Rollo, you know is someone that doesn’t really question the gods at all, and Ragnar asks those awkward questions all the time and Rollo is quite content to leave the gods in total control of his destiny and so in Season 3, he’s a little bit on the fence…and I think halfway through the season he actually realizes that the problem doesn’t just lie with his brother…it’s the fact that he has this burning ambition at the bottom of his belly and it’s not going to go away, so if he’s not going to be content to be at home in Kattegat with his brother he has to explore where he believes the gods want to go, where he’s destined.
Rollo’s based off of a historical figure who was very important in his own right. Are we going to see more hints of Rollo’s real world legacy this season?
Clive: Well we’re going to France. You’ll have to wait and see. The thing about history is that it’s all down in the history books. We know what these people accomplished but we don’t know how they did it really. We don’t know the ins and outs of what made them tick, so what was interesting in Season 3 is Michael came up to me in the beginning of Season 3 and said, ‘it occurred to me when I was writing that Rollo is one of the main characters that never went to see the Seer.’ So he wrote a scene for me, a beautiful scene where Rollo goes to visit the Seer, and the Seer tells him some things that completely change Rollo’s outlook on life, and that’s maybe the start of an almost a phoenix from the flames, a sort of Rollo reborn.
And Kevin, how did you prepare? Did you do anything specific to prepare for this role?
Kevin: Yeah. You know, there are some really strong hints as to who [Harbard] might be, which I can’t really divulge that information, because I would just kind of ruin it for you. But you know, I read up on a couple of different historical figures. It was kind of a confirmation of a couple different ideas and I kept that in mind as I was just studying these beautiful words that were written down for me to speak, so I mean, it’ll be interesting to see what people say, what kind of questions the pose as to who he might be. I’m really curious to see how quickly people catch on and yeah, that’s going to be a really fun thing to watch unfold in front of us.
I just have one last question. I’m not sure how much you can divulge, because it might be kind of spoiler-y. But your two characters, their storylines kind of start in different places. Kevin, your character only arrives when Rollo and all the other Viking warriors leave Kattegat. Can you give us a hint of what happens if/when they meet each other?
Clive: Harbard ends up being Rollo’s gay lover. And they get married and they sail off into the sunset.
Kevin: Oh man. That’s true. Well you know that’s actually another tough thing to comment on because it may or may not have happened. So we’ll have to hold on and see what happens.
Clive: The things that Harbard does when Rollo is away will definitely affect Rollo.
Kevin: Everybody in town’s affected by Harbard’s actions and yeah. It’ll reverberate for a while. So we’ll just leave it at that for now.
Clive: We have some other new characters joining the show as well. We have Ben Robson and Morgane Polanski, and Lothaire Bluteau, another Canadian actor. So there’s a few more kind of surprises in the story of Season 3 from more kind of lively, scary and exciting characters to unleash on you all in Season 3 as well.