Alexander Ludwig Vikings Interview

Season Four of Vikings has been wowing the audience as only Vikings can, with its superb acting and intense backdrop. The start of the super-sized fourth season has seen Ragnar close to death, and his son Bjorn trying to prove himself yet again. We've seen Bjorn grow from a child to a man, and now, more than ever, with his father nearing his end, he's thrust into more of a leadership position. Alexander Ludwig, who portrays Bjorn was nice enough to answer a few question for a conference call about what we can expect for the upcoming season.

Well, my first question for you is what does Bjorn have to learn before he can become a leader as strong as his father?

I think the main part of this whole season for me is Bjorn basically learning to trust his instincts and that power corrupts and it’s important to - as much as he can trust everyone, the most important thing is that he trusts himself and this whole season is kind of about him learning to do that and learning to take more control.

Do you think that his father is hard on him to make him better because he wants to make him a better leader or because he fears that Bjorn might become too strong?

I think it’s the first one like my father is like that as well. You’ve just got to be a bit hard on your children and that’s kind of what he’s done as he’s been trying to harden them up because he didn’t have to work as hard as his father did at the start. He was kind of thrown into this more lavish lifestyle than he was. Ragnar was a father whereas Bjorn grew up but his father had become a king when he was still a younger man so it’s definitely about him growing up.

Can you talk a bit about the crazy bear fight? How much of it was CGI and what was the most challenging part about the whole filming process?

I think the most challenging part was definitely the conditions. The weather was pretty rough and pretty cold but in terms of the bear, most of it is real. We don’t have a budget like The Revenant so we can’t make a CGI bear so in a really exciting way, we got to use a real one and it was a very, very incredible experience to work with such a beautiful and amazing animal.

What’s the future for Bjorn and Porunn going forward this season? There’s kind of a heartbreaking scene at the beginning with Bjorn kind of shunning his daughter. Is he going to change his attitude on that?

Yes. The idea behind that was that it’s put on very subtly is that Vikings lost their children a lot and I think that Bjorn, when he sees his daughter for the first time since Thorunn has left and abandoned him and his daughter, it’s just a constant reminder of how hurt he was so, yes, I do actually, I think that you’re going to see a darker side to Bjorn as the season continues. He slowly starts to become hardened by life’s cruel circumstances and also become selfish by doing that.

Now that Bjorn has left Aslaug to take care of his daughter, does that at some point give her some kind of power over him seeing as she looks like she’s going for Ragnar’s throne?

Well yes I mean of course it does, but at the same time Bjorn has left - he’s going to be leaving with – you know he’s got command over the army and everything obviously to – just because there’s conflict between his stepmother and himself, I don’t think he believes for one second that she would hold his daughter hostage. I mean she’s still married to his father whether she likes it or not.

We’ve seen obviously the contentious relationship between Ragnar and Rollo. Is that something that Bjorn is also going to experience with his own brothers because right now they seem to all be fairly close?

That’s one thing that I try never to forget is that Bjorn actually has no allegiance to his brothers in terms of bloodline. I mean, everyone shared the same father but Lagertha is Bjorn’s mother and everyone else is born under Princess Aslaug so that’s definitely going to play and of course when they’re young they’re not threatening so at the start, I don’t think you’re going to see that but you’re definitely going to see that as the season continues. You’ll see certain brothers side with certain ones and others do not and it gets very, very intense.
You’ve done several movies in the past but this is really your first television series. Can you tell us what drew you to the character and the role and what if anything is different how you approach doing something like this from some of the other movies that you’ve done?

In terms of the character, yes, that’s a really good point. I never saw myself doing a TV show ever. That was never my passion. I’ve been kind of too ADD to just stay on one character for so long but as we’ve all seen, it’s been such an amazing change in the industry in terms of stories. I mean, the storylines on television have just been so exceptional and when Vikings came along, I was very reluctant to take the role at the beginning just because it’s quite a commitment and I kind of found solace in the fact that I knew I would only be there for four months out of the year so we’d only be 10-episode long and now with this double season order, it has definitely taken its toll but it’s been nothing short of the best decision I’ve ever made and the greatest experience. In terms of character-wise, and this is what you’re going to see in this season especially is I love the promise that was made to me by signing on to the show which you will see in season four which is I get to show this incredible growth since the beginning I signed on to now and this is kind of Bjorn’s big season with Ragnar and you’re going to see a huge shift in color and it’s pretty amazing that I had the opportunity to be able to show such growth and I really feel like I myself grew as well on the show so it was – the two things that drew me were definitely the show’s tone and our director of photography, P.J. Dillon, is phenomenal and the look of it and everything and our amazing writer and of course the challenge of being able to show such growth along such a long span of time which doesn’t happen a lot to these shows.

So Porunn is gone but there seems to be a new woman is Bjorn’s life. Can you tell me a little bit about your character’s relationship with Torvi? Is there a romance brewing there? We were teased in episode four that there might something between the two of you.

It’s kind of a power play at the start for Bjorn. It’s him kind of just taking what he wants and what’s his and that’s something you’ll see more in this season as well is that he becomes more ruthless as a character and he takes what he wants and doesn’t think twice about it so at the beginning it’s a bit of a power play and I wouldn’t say it goes much further than purely a sexual attraction. These Vikings had so many partners and whatnot. I mean, it definitely goes into something. He ends up he possibly has a family [Laughter] but he’s gone for so long and he’s away for so long, you’re going to see quite a few different romances in this season and it’s going to get pretty ruthless of him. [Laughter]

Yes. It seems to be a bold choice especially because Erlendur is not a friend of Bjorn already.

That’s kind of what the thought behind it was, it’s kind of putting him in his place like, “I can take anything from you. I could take your life, I could take your wife,” and he starts with his wife and maybe we’ll see something else after.

What do you think has been the biggest challenge you’ve encountered since the show began?

Well, I’d say on the show it’s got to be the weather here is just unbelievable. I’ve never seen anything like it when you’re coming on the boats and working in these brutal conditions especially right now that we’ve never experienced having shower in the winter. It’s got immense repercussions to our show but the funny thing about the weather is just it looks so great that you kind of find solace in the fact that the show is going to look awesome but it’s definitely been a brutal shoot towards the end. So that would be one of the toughest and I think the second one would be just as you grow and understand why I think the TV show has been so amazing for me in particular is the more camera time you have, the more experience you have in front of the cameras working with great actors and whatnot, you learn so much and that’s been – it has its own challenges and it’s an immense reward so that’s been an amazing, amazing thing for me.

The show is an incredible mix of the real and spiritual world and to date, Ragnar has been the character that’s been the nexus of those two worlds but with Bjorn’s vision quest and his fight with the bear which a lot could be read as a fight with Odin, how do you see Bjorn’s spiritual growth unfolding especially in reference to the fight, the struggles going on between Floki and traditional Vikings faith and Ragnar and his turn toward modern Christianity?

Yes. I think - that’s a great question, by the way. I think Ragnar, he’s always been the curious type whereas Floki has been more of the fundamental extremist and Bjorn, as he struggles to find his place and has his own opinions and beliefs, his trek ion the woods serve as a foil for that and I would say that he definitely would – he believes in the gods, he appreciates the power that they have over their people and Floki’s belief but at the same time, he shares his father’s curiosity.

What do you think about or what do you love about the strong female characters that are in Vikings and interacting with them?

Just because there’s nothing romantic between them doesn’t mean that he doesn’t respect her. I think that if anything that’s probably why he is drawn to her, but what I’m saying is especially after his wife leaving, there’s no way he’s ready to go back into something so quickly. He’s been immensely hurt and not by just that, by his father almost dying, and by having to take over while he was sickened. There’s so much pressure on him. He’s just not even in that process or mindset. In terms of the female lead. I mean, it’s about time we started to see more of that. I mean, if everywhere in our everyday life and what I think is so amazing is that historically, the Vikings were so progressive in terms of respecting their women and they had their own saying. They were just as equal if not better than in some senses. So, I think it’s an amazing thing and I think that the women we have on the show are doing an excellent job portraying it and I’m really happy to see what a great female following there’ been and I hope it continues because it’s not what I expected. When I have a girl - I think it’s so sexy and cool when a girl comes up and says that she’s watching the show – I mean, I love that.

How isolated were you in preparing for your vision quest scenes? Were you pulled away from the cast or did the cast know what was going to go on and ultimately did they have any knowledge or did they get to view the scenes for context purposes when you returned back to the cast?

Dude, like I’m telling you I was so excited it was ridiculous. The cast never saw anything that we had done so that’s why they were so excited to see the episodes. They were so jealous that I got to go do it and we’re basically in the middle of nowhere and we have to take snow mobiles to the set, and just for me personally, I thought it was one of the most beautiful and spiritually awakening experiences I’ve ever had, and it’s something that I think the show needed just to – you just can’t fake that stuff. You know when it’s real when you’re watching the show and it’s important to setup an environment. So, I’m really happy that the studio and everybody took the risk and did it because it was definitely worth it.

Did you keep all that secret or did they even get to see the script that you got to see?

Yes, everybody gets to read the scripts, but what you read and what you end up shooting are two very different things. You find elements and things when you’re there that we didn’t necessarily - though it weren’t written, but it was just too great to pass up on. So, there’s a lot of things that they don’t know about, but yes, we do get to read the scripts before.

Earlier you were talking about Bjorn’s search or journey and this quest that we’ve seen him go on leaving behind his family and civilization. Is that to prove something to himself or to prove something to Ragnar?

He said to his father in the first episode that it’s because, “You don’t think I can survive.” And of course if most sons – well, if it’s my view that most sons go to make their father proud in subconscious way or just any other way, but for Bjorn, I think it’s more for him. He needs to do this. He needs to get away and he needs everyone to see that he’s become his own, he’s testing himself because he doesn’t even know if he can do it. He needs to prove to himself that he’s not in a position he’s in because of his father. He’s there because he deserves to be there. He deserves to be a leader.

In the premier we saw Bjorn studying a map taken from Paris where we get a glimpse of Italy and Rome on the map. Is that possibly foreshadowing for Bjorn’s own future conquest?

100%, yes and that’s something we’ve known about since the beginning, the beginning of the show. So, it’s a very, very cool little addition and I’m really excited for you guys to see where it goes.

Right now where we’re at in the series, Lagertha is in Hedeby. Are we going to see a reunion with her and Bjorn this season and what does he think about her kind of assuming this position of power now?

You will see a reunion and he’s all about Lagertha achieving her own dreams. They’ve always had such a strong bond that he’s just excited for her when she’s achieving her goals and I think that Bjorn’s learned so much from her as well that – you’re also going to see actually a cool little change as well that they start becoming more companions than just – she’s become as much of a parental figure as a companion to him now which is a really cool shift in the relationship.

Well, and it seems she wanted to rely on Ragnar to help her keep her position and he wasn’t really going to participate in that. Is Bjorn going to step up more to kind of protect her, not that she needs a lot of protection, but just to kind of have her back?

Yes but at the end of the day it’s what’s best for the people and that was the point is that it wasn’t about defending her Earldom at that time because there are more important things to think about, and as the show continues there will be that – that will be addressed in this season in a very, very big way and yes he does protect her.

Bjorn and Floki always shared this special bond, like they even had similar concerns with Athelstan and Ragnar. So what changed? What made him imprison Floki in front of the whole village?

Well it was what was – it’s what had to be done. At the end of the day Bjorn had to do what’s right about his people and if somebody betrays the wishes of his father who is the king, they need to be dealt with no matter who it is. It’s not easy for Bjorn to do. He puts on a front. He does his best to show everyone that this is what has to be done, but it’s not an easy feat for him at all.

We know the cast is very close, and you've talked about how much you grew this season, and how much Bjorn comes into his own, so you were in the spotlight with so much screen time. What did you do prepare for that or was there any particular cast member that helped you more or crew that helped you get there where you needed to be?

Travis above all. He’s been my champion, he’s one of my best friends and he’s just completely - he’s been amazing, amazing, just working with him and learning as much as I can. We both worked with an acting coach with named Evonne Travis who’s incredible. So just consistently working on the scripts and whatnot are really important, and also I would say Michael Hirst has been amazing because it’s so rare that you find a writer on especially on a television show that’s so open to collaboration. It’s so great that he is and it really has been a dream come true.

I was going to say also Gustaf, Gustaf is like Floki’s - my best friend as well. I mean I just – I’ve learned so much from him as well. We lived together and it’s always great to bounce ideas off him.

Do you think Ragnar’s womanizing had any effect on Bjorn’s past and his relationships and how he treats women this year or does he continue to kind of hold his high bar for women and how he should treat women?

I think it’s a mix of both really, but I will say that you will see that Ragnar, his personality has definitely kind of made its way into Bjorn. It’s like father like son, that somehow I worked a lot on with Travis just to show that. So you will see that he’s – but also I think it’s such important to remember it’s something that I always have to remind myself is that of course you got – you’re caught womanizing or whatever but at the end of the day, back then in their culture it wasn’t seen as that. I mean of course with Lagertha and Ragnar, they had their own rules that they lived by, that was just between them. There are other Vikings who have gone out, they want raid and pillage and they could do that and that will be fine. That’s a very cool thing to remember. Another thing that I always try remind myself on set is in battles. It’s so easy for you to – if you kill somebody, it’s easy so to want to play how we’ve grown up in this wild world. I think oh my god, I killed someone how is this going to affect me? But at the end of the day they wanted that, that’s why they were so terrifying is that they wanted a good death. They were excited to go to battle. That’s why they were so feared. So that’s what something I would always try to remind myself is when you put yourself in that world - and that’s what it’s so exciting to play is because you kind of - you get to live by all the rules, you can’t not [obey].

Do you guys ever wonder how – because you see the public’s reaction to your social media and such, do you see sometimes how difficult it is for people to separate our modern culture with the Viking culture and what you guys have to maybe do to try and communicate that?

I think that that is the controversy – controversy is what gets everybody off. I mean that’s – it’s everybody’s kind of guilty pleasure and if anything I want to push that more. I want people to be fighting over us, was that right or was that wrong? I want people to be talking about that. That’s what makes the show exciting. That’s what drama is conflict. So the more of that I think the better. I mean of course people will think, me personally, and they all have their own views. Also on Twitter and stuff I love being able to communicate with the fans. I also distance myself from reading a lot of articles and stuff because that will be the death of you as an actor is if you start justifying your choices on the public. It doesn’t matter what they think. I mean I’m so happy that there was a show and stuff but if you live by a standard that everybody else makes of you, then you don’t get to ever be interesting. You don’t get to make choices that will make people talk about it. It’ll just be a boring show so I try not to read a lot of that stuff, but it’s been working so far. I’m glad to hear that people have been stirring about.


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