Katheryn Winnick has played the fierce and beautiful Lagertha for 3 1/2 years now, and as Vikings is set to return tonight, we will soon see the twists and turns of this complex and lovely character. Winnick sat down and blessed some of us with an interview about what’s in store for our favorite shieldmaiden, fight scenes, her relationships, and a little bit about her upcoming role in The Dark Tower.
Check out the interview below.
Geeks of Doom: My question doesn’t have to do with Vikings, My husband said he really wanted me to tell you that when we first saw Vikings he was like, “Oh my god, that’s Katheryn Winnick! during the first episode, because him and his friends are like really big fans of horror movies, and saw you in Satan’s Little Helper. He made me promise, so I had to tell you.
But I’m really excited, and I don’t know if you can talk about it, about your role in The Dark Tower coming up. I know they haven’t announced who you are but coming from when Vikings started out it wasn’t epic, and now it is epic, but just going into a production that is so big, what was it like working with them on that story. How is it working on that set with that story?
Katheryn Winnick: Yes well thank you. Well first part of the question is really just about horror movies. I think that for me starting off my career, I knew nobody in the business. I grew up in Toronto Canada, so horror movies was the way of getting your start and getting the experience that you need, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I think a lot of young actresses out there should always keep their eyes and ears open for those types of projects because of the genre. It’s strong enough that a lot of people will watch simply because of the nature of the movie itself.
The Dark Tower was an amazing experience. We shot in Cape Town. I shot it during my hiatus. I only had less than two months of break in between, so it just likely worked out in terms of scheduling. I went straight from the end of season four, and straight to Toronto to visit my family and literally two days later, I was on the plane to Cape Town so it was really quick. I know that they have been trying to get this movie made for over ight years. Ron Howard is producing it, Idris Elba is starring in it and Matthew McConaughey also, and we have an incredible young cast as well. And I play a character that’s in the novels as well, but cannot talk about who I play quite yet.
I will say this. I have some great scenes with Matthew McConaughey, who I love working with. I actually worked with him years and years ago on one of my first movies, so it was nice to reunite with him He plays a very interesting character [The Man in Black – Randall Flagg], and we have a great, incredible director who is very hands-on with the actors and really has his own vision of how his voice will be conveyed behind the camera and how he wants the film to be really authentic and real. I think fans are going to absolutely love it, and I know that they are in talks of doing a TV show now, and possibly more movies, and I know I had an incredible experience working on it. It’s just going to be amazing when it comes out. And I believe the dates are now saying it will air in July so I’m excited to see it in theaters, and I’m sure you guys will too.
Geeks of Doom: Oh yes. I’m so excited to thank you so much.
Katheryn Winnick: My pleasure. And I play a character that’s extremely different than Lagertha so I will say that.
Q: So at this point in her [Lagertha’s] life what do you think is actually her strongest motivation for everything that’s going on? What is driving her forward as we catch up with her at the start of this second half?
Katheryn Winnick: Lagertha has always had a lot of different challenges. Throughout this season it’s been evident for her at this stage. Going into four, it’s really seeing how Kattegat is run and being extremely disappointed that’s it’s not ruled by the right ruler. With King Ragnar not necessarily being there and present as a king should be, and with Queen Aslaug running the show and not necessarily running it the proper way or the strongest way as a ruler to help the people. And I think for her, her dream was obviously to expand two different territories and also make Kattegat one of the largest trading centers. It’s her dream and she saw the potential of it. So I think for her it’s a personal motivation but her heart is in the right place in wanting to do good for her Viking people.
Q: In the first episode, we meet Ecbert and then we also see you talk to Ragnar very pointedly about your regret and their regret and disappointments and I was wondering if you could talk about the emotional aspect. You know, you posture Lagertha as very strong but it’s the emotional aspect where you show weakness in the first episode, you show, there are tears in your eyes and if you could talk about that scene with Travis and about just the whole arc that we have to look forward to with their relationship?
Katheryn Winnick: It was certainly a very intense scene just because I, as Katheryn, hadn’t worked with Travis in a long time before that, just because our story lines were very seTara te, so it’s great to get reunited again and be face to face and working together and of course you really don’t fully know how it’s going to be until you shoot it, especially when you have such a gifted actor like Travis and you yourself could be as prepared as you can be, but at the end of the day when you are there and in the moment, emotions arise and it is what it is. Now you mentioned weakness, I don’t necessarily see it as a weakness, I see it as a vulnerability but I think that there is strength in vulnerability and especially with Lagertha and the fact that here is somebody that she shared her childhood with, her formidable years with together. They have been through so much, they had made children together and to see him now after so many years, especially after the time jump and still have love for him but she realizes she is in a different place, but yet they will always be together if not in this world, maybe in Valhalla in the future. So that scene was a very passionate scene in the sense that there was so much more outside that the words could not express — everything is really between the lines and they shared a beautiful kiss together and I thought that was really sweet. It’s one of those things that we added in. And one of my favorite moments is also when Lagertha is outside with her new love, Josefin Asplund plays her and she sees him right away and she is just overwhelmed and realizing maybe this might be the last time she may see him, or for a long time, she is definitely in a very different place and that’s evident in just that scene alone.
Q: It seemed from the previews that there is going to finally be a reckoning between Lagertha and Aslaug. Can you talk a little bit about that and whether or not we are finally going to get a sense of satisfaction that Lagertha has kind of taken care of business there?
Katheryn Winnick: Yes, there is definitely a big epic scene where Lagertha and Aslaug come face to face and I will say it’s pretty epic, it’s juicy and it’s memorable. I wish I could actually give away more but it was a great scene to shoot. Lagertha felt that she needed to take and find Kattegat and really try to get control back. Kattegat is being run so badly and it’s been a lot of problems with Kattegat like people have been dying, things are not being run in a proper way as it should be, and she feels that she is doing the right thing by reclaiming it, because nobody would rule it better than she does because she truly cares about her people. And so we had this great scene with Alyssa Sutherland who plays Aslaug and she is fantastic in it, and it was great to finally get face to face with her and Aslaug and Lagertha together.
Q: I wanted to talk a little bit about The Seer and your perspective on that character and more specifically, has he always been cool as a cucumber and now he is screaming, which we were kind of wondering what that means. Is something truly horrible coming? Can you elaborate on that?
Katheryn Winnick: The Seer is the Seer.You never know necessarily what’s going to come out of his mouth but he’s kind of the modern day psychic I guess. Everyone goes to him to see the future and also for therapy and it’s interesting to see him in a different light and in a different animated state and especially with Lagertha, I feel that she does have a scene with him — a really strong scene — where she goes to him and he gives her some devastating news that literally changes her for not only the rest of the season but the rest of her life and it’s a really big scene. And it’s really a big moment for him answering a certain question and I think that what he actually answered I don’t think will be expected. In every choice that I make as an actress it is in the back of my mind. I think it’s something the audience wouldn’t necessarily expect.
Q: I wanted to ask about the relationship with Astrid and how it came about. I know she is not just suddenly allowed to be in, plus could you talk about sort of what’s going on there?
Katheryn Winnick: There is a big time jump in season four, in which you saw Lagertha is in a different place than she is now and had to be, and she developed this relationship with Astrid, who Josefin Asplund plays, and it’s a relationship that she — Lagertha has been betrayed by so many men throughout her life obviously Ragnar by cheating on her and asking her to be a second wife and then her second husband was abusive, and then Kalf who she groomed tried to use her up, and she had to kill him on her wedding day. So her relationship with men, I’m not sure it will change, I’m not sure she will ever trust a man again. So it did make sense that she would find comfort in another human being and that that human being happened to be a women and I don’t feel that Lagertha necessarily is a lesbian. I wouldn’t necessarily see that and I never really played it that way, but she did find a love with her that other men have never been able to give her. Also their relationship has been for over six, seven years and considerably she is very different and brings a breath of fresh air to Lagertha’s life and Josefin has a lot of humor and width and that’s evident in her character and especially her sense of style and her sense of the way she deals with Lagertha is unique and that was really a lot of fun to play. So I think you’re going to like that relationship and I think Lagertha definitely grooms her to be the warrior that she is and it was nice just to see that it’s not necessarily ‘oh here are two women that are in bed together’ but there is a strong bond that is not necessarily the sexual part of a relationship but more of an emotional bond that is evident and really beautiful to see.
Q: Okay and then a little follow-up, we’ve seen Lagertha almost marry Calf and then kill him and is there some other end game involved with Astrid? Is she using her for something else?
Katheryn Winnick: No, I don’t think there is any end game. I think that she sees her as someone that is very comforting, but at this stage Lagertha truly feels alone, I feel, because of all the betrayal that she had. Even though she has Astrid, I’m not sure how emotionally close she is going to let anybody into her life and with Astrid there is no other motive other than caring for her. And she sees in Lagertha herself through her own journey and really trying to find her own path and own purpose in life at this stage is the theory and that’s why she ends up going back to Kattegat and approaches Aslaug.
Q: I was wondering how Lagertha feels about Bjorn abandoning his responsibilities to his daughter?
Katheryn Winnick: I feel that Lagertha is a warrior and she understands that Bjorn has ambitions passed necessarily just being a father and especially in those times it is not uncommon for the warriors to go out to explore different lands and to really raid entourage. So is it comfortable for her to necessarily leave her granddaughter to Aslaug? No, not necessarily. I don’t think that that’s the ideal situation. But, she does understand that Bjorn is Bjorn and she really wants the best for him and in life he ends up being a very famous powerful warrior and he needs to do what he needs to do. So I do feel that it’s different from how we may look at it now in our society that he’s not necessarily a great father, but in those days it’s making a name yourself and teaching your children to be good warriors and to be able to find their own path is what really drove them and definitely is what drives Lagertha.
Q: I wanted to touch base on a little bit on, obviously there is some great emotional stuff coming up with Lagertha, but people really enjoy your fight sequences in battles. You are very talented and have a good background in that. Is there anything coming up in these next stretch of episodes that was particularly fun or interesting for you to do as far as action and fights and stuff like that?
Katheryn Winnick: Great question. You have to understand we are shooting right now, so we are so far beyond what you are about to see, I’m trying to refresh my memory. Yes, there is a very big battle coming up in four and it’s one that’s going to be in the course of double episodes and it is in the history books and it is something that you wouldn’t expect and it is definitely epic. It’s powerful. It’s a battle and you will see deaths, unexpected deaths. You will see challenges within the fight. You will see personal relationships getting tested when they confront their enemies on the battlefield. And of course as an actor, for those scenes you try to be prepared as much as you can by knowing your fight choreography. Shooting in those elements of rain in Ireland, on a slop with mud, with horses, with axes, with blood, you kind of have to expect the unexpected and sometimes you find the real magic in those moments when you slip and fall and you pick up someone else’s axe because yours is gone, and everything is done a bit more sporadically. Or, you may realize that you think you feel like action. When you see those battle sequences, it’s an opportunity to tell the story in a different way, and it’s also a way of sharing the story in the battles through the action element. And if it’s done well, which our crew is incredible in shooting those scenes and our stunt guys are incredibly talented and amazing to be able to fight against, they really give it their all and you can feel the heart going into it and understand how special this set really this because it’s those moments that fill in the reality of us being Viking warriors. And you can’t walk away from our set without getting banged up and you can’t walk away without being black and blue and full of cuts, it’s just part of the job and this job is not for everyone. This job is not for the divas or for the actresses that are going to be in the trailer, this is a really brutal gorilla shoot in a lot of ways and you need a thick skin and you need to just go for it and I think that’s what makes this job so special and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I think that’s what makes me love being a Viking. It’s because it’s raw and it’s real. And some of those cuts that you see on camera are actually real blood, I’ll tell that for sure.
Q: How much do you delve into what’s written in the history books, in terms of immersing yourself in the character as opposed to kind of just trusting what Michael has in store for you do you? Have you two worked on kind of shaping and sculpting Lagertha or how has that process kind of evolved over the four seasons?
Katheryn Winnick: It’s a great question. Well, I’m very much involved in Lagertha in terms of helping to make her who she is with obviously Michael’s collaboration. I think it started off not necessarily being as strong of a wall as it is now and definitely wasn’t this prominent, or there being plans of being this prominent. So it’s a blessing that I’m still here today and absolutely love my job. I pinch myself when I wake up and get the chance to go to work and to go to set. But Michael is very hands-on in the sense that whenever we get the new scripts every few weeks, we sit and talk about what’s coming for Lagertha and where do I see her and where we can challenge her and what we could do that’s unexpected. And that relationship is something that I hold very dear to my heart because when you yourself are invested as an actor in terms of making your character great you are more invested in performing well and you feel very much a part of the entire process and very much a part of your character, and I feel that way with Lagertha.
We do have the luxury in the fact that Michael writes every episode. Since 99.9% of all TV shows is written by a team, a staff of writers and it’s really rare to have one sole writer write every episode, especially now doing 20 episodes is a huge challenge. We started off doing 10 episodes per year giving everybody a break but now when we shoot the show, we pre shot some five months for the first two years, then we went into 10 months so even though you are seeing it now, months and months later we’ve to shot it consecutively. So I guess you are in the rhythm of it which is helpful, but it’s also keeping up the stamina and trying to find some fresh ideas and trying to make your character different and find different ways of challenging yourself is always interesting and it’s also great too because it peels away the layers like an onion with your character. You find different ways of expressing yourself in different ways of understanding Lagertha and where she is opposing or where she comes from, or where she can go, that could be than so it’s always incredible to see what Michael comes up with. So in the long winded answer to answer your question is yes. Michael is very much involved and I’m very much involved, too in making Lagertha who she is.
Vikings returns tonight at 9pm ET on The History Channel.