As Vikings Season 2 lands on Amazon Prime Instant Video, brothers Ragnar Lothbrok and square off for a brutal showdown. But can Rollo find his way back into Ragnar’s good books? Is he really that bad after all? And just who has the best hair?
We sit down with Clive Standen to discuss what it’s like playing a bad guy – and what’s in store from Season 2.
So what’s it like, being a douche?
[Laughs] Rollo’s not! As an actor, you have to love your character. I think what’s great about Rollo and the characters in Vikings is they’re so multi-faceted. Michael writes so many layers to these people; us humans are capable of doing all kinds of things in the right or wrong circumstance and Rollo’s no different. At end of Season 1, we’re left with the knowledge Rollo is going to betray his brother and I think there’s only one outcome; those brothers can only settle their differences on the battlefield.
Yes, the showdown in Episode 1 is… well…
Carnage! [Laughs] I think Rollo’s been his brother’s shadow for far too long. In history, a lot of people who changed the world weren’t necessarily nice people. When it comes to being worthy of the history books, a lot of leaders had to do questionable things to advance in society.
We spoke to Michael before and he was hinting the idea of redemption…
I do like to hang onto the idea that some people are more capable of change in a day than others are in a whole lifetime. And Rollo is at that crossroads, he’s made that decision and the outcomes result in a massive knock-on effect upon almost every other major character in the series. That’s what’s so good about Michael’s writing. He completely threw that out of left-field. I didn’t think Rollo was going to go down this path. It’s devastating some of things he does – and I’m not asking anyone to forgive him.
And then there’s your relationship with Siggy too…
Siggy’s the other factor in all this. She’s very Machiavellian, she’s pulling the strings, in a sense. She’s got her own agenda and she’s using Rollo as a device. I think Rollo becomes more aware of that as time goes on. He still holds a flame for Lagertha and he has a love interest in Siggy, but whether it’s real love or a marriage of convenience, we don’t know…
Rollo’s still the most bad-ass of all the characters, though
That’s the thing: Rollo is the first to admit he was born to raid. There’s no question that Rollo is a far greater force than Ragnar is on the battlefield. Ragnar’s a farmer. Rollo’s spent his life raiding and pillaging. Ragnar’s a thinker and questions the gods. Rollo puts his life in their hands. He goes out and does it. That enables him to be formidable. Rollo’s also the beginning of the berserkers. If you see the trailer for Season 2, he’s fighting without his armour on. It’s not because he likes to show off his six-pack, it’s because he believes his life is in the gods’ hands, so what’s the point in wearing it? The berserkers – some people believe the word to come from “bear skin”, that they wore the skins of bears or were literally “bare-skinned”. We’ve interpreted that, especially for the beginning of the berserkers, as bare-skinned. They also used to take magic mushrooms, which makes them almost feel like they’re superhuman…
So you’ve got a very interesting season lined up!
Yeah, he definitely goes berserk.
Does the physical side of the role get any easier?
Nearly every episode in Season 2 there’s some kind of crazy battle or skirmish! We work very hard with the stunt co-ordinators, Mark Henson, Richard Ryan – we rehearse and rehearse, but we’re lucky enough to get the choreography long before we shoot it, so what we then try to work on is forgetting all that choreography to make it more organic. We try to keep in the slips. What I’ve learned from watching masses of fights on the screen and being involved in a few in previous projects is that mistakes make a fight: I don’t like it when it’s like a dance and everything’s so fluid. It’s appropriate for martial arts films but not in the Dark Ages. Fights didn’t last very long; it was kill or be killed. They were grabbing on to each other’s hair, sliding in the mud. All that stuff happens in the moment, you just have to keep shooting. There’s no point missing a move and saying “Stop everyone, let’s go back!” because sometimes you’ll find when you get body-checked by a stunt guy and go down, and you start doing that choreography you learned on the floor, as long as everyone else is on the same page, you can come up with some real cinematic stuff.
So often Travis and I will smack each other in the face! I got a spear in the shoulder in one fight for Season 2. I was bleeding and needed tents shots and stitches and things, but we carried on filming! It was only at the end of the day that we realised. We check while we’re filming “Are you alright? Are you alright? Are you alright? Yes, carry on!” It just becomes part of it. If you start complaining about that stuff, you’ve signed up for the wrong job – it’s a show called Vikings! It’s not going to be a walk in the park.
And then there’s the other battle between you and Rollo… the battle of the hair.
[Laughs] It’s the battle of the tattoos too! He’s always going for tattoos on the head, but I’ve got tattoos up all over my body now!
So you wouldn’t ever go for the Ragnar look?
I think Rollo’s in his brother’s shadow; he doesn’t want to copy him! Rollo is more of the old school. He’s a man who knows what he likes and likes what he knows. Ragnar’s pushes the boundaries a bit more…
What are you working on next?
Everest. In 1996, there was a tragedy at the top of Everest where many mountaineers didn’t come down. There was a book by John Krakauer called Into Thin Air. Our film’s based on that and many others written at the time and I’m playing one of the mountaineers who tries to bring people safely down the mountain. It’s epic in scale and has a great cast.
Was Vikings good prep for that?
We’re three weeks into filming and the altitude is crazy! Sometimes it’s -20 degrees by the end of the day! It’s tough, but Vikings has been great for me – I thought that was tough in the Wicklow mountains, with hailstorms, but now filming at the top of the mountains and you can hardy breathe when you’re going up, Vikings is going to be a walk in the park when I come back for Season 3!
So you’re expecting a Season 3?
I hope so. I have so much fun filming it I don’t really want it to end! We’re just hitting the tip of the iceberg. We’ve started in Season 2 with the golden age of the Vikings, with the element of discovery and colonisation, but the Vikings got everywhere. We haven’t got to Iceland yet, to the Mediterannean. And Paris! Ragnar and Rollo have some amazing stories in Normandy and Paris.
Finally, Vikings is on Amazon Prime Instant Video. Do you have a VOD account at all?
I had a LOVEFiLM account way before they started Vikings. I’ve always been a guy who likes box sets and enjoyed renting DVDs through the post.
What do you stream?
I’ve got three kids so Amazon’s brilliant for them – they’ve got all my favourite cartoons from when I was a kid! Like Thundercats!
Want more Vikings? Read our interview with creator Michael Hirst.
Vikings is available to stream exclusively on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription – or, if you would also like unlimited UK delivery and 350,000 eBooks available to borrow on your Kindle, as part of a £79 annual Amazon Prime membership.