Vikings tells the story of Ragnar, one of the greatest heroes of that era. It follows him, his family and band of Viking brothers on his quest to become the King of the Viking tribes. His often brutal quest.
Travis Fimmel plays Ragnar and as he said when I talked with him at WonderCon, it wasn’t the violence, it was learning the Viking language. “It took me a long time,” he said.
In the interview, Travis talks about getting that language down, the shooting conditions in Ireland – “it just pissed down rain” – and how he prepares for the next shooting day when he’s already working long such long hours.
Vikings airs on Sundays at 10pm on The History Channel
For the full interview, click the audio link above or download it from iTunes
Travis Fimmel: I used one of these to use… to learn the language. It’s so hard, man. Yeah. I just keep repeating it.
How long did it take you?
Travis Fimmel: It took me a long time. Certainly not my strong suit, but… especially for that scene on the battle. I had to speak, thank you so much, English Saxon and Norse at the same time. I was confused.
And that’s weird extra vowel in the Norse language, right? That one that’s really hard to get around.
Travis Fimmel: Yeah. I think we pulled it off. I wasn’t very good, but the other guy was really good, the Saxon talking to me.
Do you have somebody on set correcting you and listening?
Travis Fimmel: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Thank God. Yeah.
What else has been particularly difficult about shooting and about being on set besides the language?
Travis Fimmel: The conditions. Just the weather in Ireland. But it really adds to the value of the show, but it was… we never had a good day with the weather. We were there for summer. We started in July and the weather was just horrific all the time. It’s like that first fight scene, it just pissed down rain the whole day. And, you know, we don’t have the budget to… or the time, because we’re trying to beat winter too, then it’s just ridiculous to shoot. So we just shot through all the days and the weather, you know, and it was the weather.
How long was the shoot?
Travis Fimmel: 5 months. A little more I think. 5 months, yeah. Yeah, we finished in November.
Can you talk about the relationship between Ragnar and his wife? I think it’s a fun relationship to watch.
Travis Fimmel: No, it’s good. She’s rough and tumble like us, you know, but obviously gorgeous. Yeah, and that, there’s a lot of conflict with that. There’s so much conflict in the show with every character, which it should be on a good show. You know?
How did you prepare to know about the religion that you’re following?
Travis Fimmel: Just a lot of reading. Michael Hirst is just amazing. He’s a wealth of knowledge, that man. He just… he knows a bit about, not even Viking, he knows everything historical, you know, so he gave me a lot of documentation. So, yeah, a lot of reading.
What was the most surprising thing you learned about the era?
Travis Fimmel: It was probably the courage that they had to take risks and it was honorable to die in battle. You know? So it really adds a… if you’re happy to die in battle, it makes you a pretty savage race.
Can you talk about working with Gabriel Byrne?
Travis Fimmel: Brilliant. He’s so present and he’s so lucky to act next to such a great actor like that. Makes such a difference, you know? What he gives you and, yeah, my favorite scene was with Gabriel. Such a nice guy, too. Very down to earth. Everybody out there was so down to earth, you know? Crews were amazing, directors were amazing, Michael Hurst was the most ego-less person you’d ever meet. And if anybody deserves an ego, someone with that kind of brain, you know, and talent.
You’re working long days and then you have to get ready for the next day. When do you prepare? That night or that morning?
Travis Fimmel: It’s a struggle, man. Yeah, because we get picked up at 6 and get home at 9 and all you wanna do is sleep or have a beer. You know.
Travis Fimmel: Yeah.
Travis Fimmel: Yeah. I can’t say that on tape. But it’s very difficult. You know, I do a lot on set where I was doing another scene but I’ve already… do it between takes and that sort of stuff. And, yeah, sometimes you just have to stay up really late, especially if there’s… I’m horrible at remembering lines. Horrible. You know, and I don’t wake up until… or, get up early but my brain doesn’t wake up for a few more hours. You know, so I try to learn it the night before.
Are they sticklers of getting every single word right?
Travis Fimmel: No. No, he’s so good. Michael Hirst is… like I said, he’s got no ego about his stuff, so he lets me change a lot of stuff and… but luckily he’s such a good writer you don’t wanna change much, you know? Sometimes it helps just to speak, to humanize it. You know?
How was it working on a real life boat and who was the first to get seasick?
Travis Fimmel: No, there’s no seasickness. Those actual boats don’t actually go out in proper ocean. It’s gotta be pretty calm. But they’re great fun. It makes you feel… really gets you into character, you know? And they really rode it, really sailed it, you know, so it was, just like I said, it’s like being a little kid.
Where do you think Ragnar got his ambition?
Travis Fimmel: I guess some people’s just got that in their mind with them. Not happy with where they are and they just want more and see more of the world.
I’m a farm kid, you know, grew up on a farm. I love it. I’m over here trying to make some more of myself and make my future children proud, that sort of stuff. Like anybody, if you wanna do well with yourself and some people are prepared to take more of a risk than others and I think Ragnar’s take any risk, sacrifice anything, you know? He wants to acquire more knowledge and I’m sure a lot of it’s just to be known and respected and have posterity, all that stuff.
How did you prepare for the weapons training? I know you said you lived on a farm. Did you use an ax before on the farm?
Travis Fimmel: Yeah, we always chopped wood. Always had axes. It’s more from Indians back then, though. You know, Indian tomahawks. I loved cowboy movies so we’re always running around with tomahawks, me and my two brothers. But they had great stunt coordinators and choreographers there and they made it really easy. And you get used to it, it’s like anything you work out a muscle, you know, by the end of it you just go there and it becomes a lot more natural.
Have you been surprised by the fan reaction? Are you one of those people that looks on the internet to see what people are saying or do you avoid it?
Travis Fimmel: No, I’m too scared.
Are you scared of what fans are saying, are you…?
Travis Fimmel: No, I don’t really look. You hear it from other people, you know, if they like it or not. Fortunately my friends are brutally honest.