History Channel’s Vikings has given audiences some pretty incredible characters and performances. From Travis Fimmel‘s rockstar swagger heavy King Ragnar Lothbrok to Katheryn Winnick‘s force of nature mother-shield maiden-Queen Lagertha and Gustaf Skarsgard‘s maniacal visionary Floki, it seemed there could not be yet another person of larger-than-life status. That is, until show creator and writer Michael Hirst introduced us to Ivar the Boneless.
Alex Hogh Andersen stepped into the role of the adult Ivar after the show’s second time jump, bringing the many sons of Ragnar into their adult years. Based on a historical personality, Ivar the Boneless is a character built on the twin peaks of rage and focus. Being unable to use his legs from birth, he grew up learning how to adapt to his situations in order to keep up with his older and mobile brothers.
After the messiness with Ivar’s mother Queen Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland) and Lagertha and the death of his father Ragnar, Ivar’s path of revenge has been pretty set since the end of Season 4.
Andersen, the man behind those brilliant eyes, was kind enough to talk on a conference call a bit about the character, his motivations going into Season 5, and what his first experience with fans at SDCC was like.
Question: Ragnar told Ivar he needed to use his anger intelligently, but do you think Ivar is capable of doing that?
Alex: Yeah, I think he is. But as you probably know what happened to him at the end of Season 4 when he killed his brother, he lost control of himself. He let his emotions take over. You have a point — he’s challenged in terms of that. He understands that’s his weakness; that he sometimes is too driven by his emotions and that they can take over.
I think it’s part of why he’s in remorse at the beginning of Season 5 — because he knows the killing of his brother created a wound with the other brothers, and I don’t think he’ll ever be able to heal from that. He let everyone see the loss of control, his weakness, and he struggles with it. You’ll see him try to control those emotions doing this season.
Q: How do you think Ivar has changed going into Season 5? More of a leader, or…?
Alex: I don’t know if that much has changed; of course, him being part of the great heathen army has matured him as much as you can mature Ivar, but he is still the same determined young man. In Season 4, he’s really a boy, but he’s becoming a young man. And in Season 5, the responsibility of leading the army takes its toll. And Ivar is ready for it, but it’s a challenge, and he’ll learn from his mistakes. He’ll never let anyone stand in the way of his goals. He’s so progressive; he’s not afraid of using violence to get his ways.
Q: How will Ivar’s relationship with his brothers change/deteriorate in Season 5 after the killing of Seagart?
Alex: Well, obviously there was already a rift. I don’t think he’s capable of healing that again. You’ll see him in the beginning of Season 5 generally being sorry, telling his brothers that. But is that really him, or is it him manipulating his brothers? You know, trying to make them feel sorry for him, bringing them onto his team a bit more for control, making them less hostile towards them.
He’s aware that he needs them to reach his goals, and you’ll see a lot of discussions with the brothers — unspoken things, a lot of love and also hate — those are the scenes that we all [the brothers] love to shoot. There’s so much drama, a lot of things going on in those scenes. It’s our greatest goal as actors to keep the audience guessing. Especially for me with Ivar — since he is such an extreme character, very manipulative, he can easily become one-dimensional. My main objective is to keep him balanced, and to have scenes where he’s genuinely sorry for his actions, and he almost hates himself. That’s the key of his whole relationship.
Q: Ivar is very much a dual character; we’ve seen that. Is he going to get harder as he grows in power and not as vulnerable?
Alex: He will always be vulnerable, he will always be three dimensional — that is my main goal as an actor. I can never ever judge him; I can do my very best to make sure people understand him. But the last thing I want is for him to be one-dimensional as a character. Michael Hirst wrote this character so brilliantly that we can’t do that to him. Ivar doesn’t deserve that as a character.
As much as I love the crazy scenes where I’m killing a lot of Saxons or yelling Old Norse while I’m crawling around — they’re a lot of fun — but what my heart yearns for as an actor is those vulnerable scenes where maybe he’s alone and you can see him as him. After his being on top and manipulative scenes, you see him as Ivar — most of that is an act. He’s so controlled on the outside, because that’s what people are when they’re broken on the inside and they don’t want to show that to the public. So he will always be vulnerable. And I will always do my best to show that; that’s the most important part of what I do with this character.
Q: Anyone who knows/follows the show knows about the pranks. Were you noobs/younger folks welcomed with big pranks? With Travis gone, has anyone stepped into that role of prankster?
Alex: (laughs) There was no big special prank, thank god, because I probably would have been scared away. Everyday shooting with Travis was a prank in itself. Not that he wasn’t phenomenal to work with or that he doesn’t take his job seriously — he was such a great actor to work with. It’s always fun to be around Travis. But also that’s translated to the entire crew. Every day with that group is so fun because we’re throwing food at each other and touching each other’s body parts in ways we shouldn’t sometimes (laughs). But it’s so, so great. A small family of 300 people and I love them to pieces. The things I’ve achieved so far I could not have done without them.
Part of it is we’re so good at keeping a light atmosphere on set, which is important since it’s such a dark show. It’s such an intense show, and there are some long days in the worst conditions. We’re shooting in January, February, and I’m crawling through the mud or the woods, and it’s snowing sideways and I can’t feel my limbs — it’s sort of forced method acting. It’s very organic. Part of why we look so wild in those scenes is we’re living like it, so it’s all good, I guess. But it’s very, very tough, so those days you really need to just throw food at each other. You need it.
Q: Bishop Heahmund, played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, comes in heavily this season to be Ivar’s adversary. In what ways is he really that formidable?
Alex: Jonny is phenomenal; it was such a great pleasure working with him. He’s just so intense. His character is really what Michael and I talked about, creating this archenemy for Ivar. Because if Ivar didn’t have anyone like this, who’s as similar as him, it would be kind of close to a walk in the park for Ivar. He needs someone just as extreme and as much of a powerhouse as him to really push him.
Having these two characters square off is amazing; you’ll see a lot of scenes with these two. The interesting thing is they really understand each other. It’s that thing where you have your biggest enemy and you hate him, but you do understand him. You come from the same place, you have the same ideas and goals, and there is a mutual respect there. You’ll see that.
Q: How does Ivar’s relationship with Floki affect him at this point, with Floki leaving?
Alex: Floki has always been Ivar’s only friend, and in terms of everything that’s happening at the beginning of Season 5, the aftermath of Ivar killing Siegart, Ivar really needed that support from Floki. It’s the absolute worst timing, Floki leaving. I think it’s really for the worst for Ivar.
Imagine losing a friend in the moment when you need them most, and especially with everything going on, it makes Ivar more cold and determined and hard — that’s rough on everyone else. It’s not really what he wants, to be hard like that, but it’s how he survives. It’s yet another person leaving him, so he reacts the way you would with the last person you really trusted leaving.
Q: For a bit of a change, I wanted to go back to San Diego Comic-Con and talk a little bit about the amazing thing History Channel setup for the fans, the Viking funeral for Ragnar. Getting to see you and the rest of the cast interact with the audience was really cool, and I was wondering: did you feel a measure of the same catharsis the audience did getting to experience that farewell to Ragnar?
Alex: It was absolutely amazing; I’m so, so happy you’re bringing that up. Because at this stage, all I had been doing leading up to Comic-Con was working on this thing nonstop because Season 5 was 20 episodes. And we filmed that for 11 months straight almost. So I never had a proper interaction with the audience except through social media, and that’s nothing compared to meeting people in real life.
Cont’d: It was such an extraordinary experience to see how happy people were and how much they loved the show. It was overwhelming; it’s a day I will absolutely never forget. I was such a nervous wreck sitting at the panel, trying to sound clever and smart and charming and intelligent — and in English, which is a challenge alone for me. And to see three thousand people show up for the panel alone was crazy, and then we went to the funeral — oh my god, it was almost worse!
It was such a phenomenal experience, and everyone was so nice and happy and appreciative, but I was even more appreciative of those people and that day. What it really did was made all the hard work we do, the crawling through mud in February, all worth it. I really felt alive that day; it was extraordinary.
Vikings Season 5 premieres on the History Channel on Wednesday, November 29th.
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