Historians may say “history is written by the victors”, but what if the victors were too busy busy gaining glory on the battlefield to have time for keeping diaries?
Only a few pages were ever written about the Vikings, the Scandinavian seafarers that give name to the TV show created by Michael Hurst, which pretty much gives him free rein to tell their story in any way he wants.
One of his biggest challenges, though, was creating Ivar the Boneless, a Viking leader and a commander who invades what is now England. He’s the son of Ragnar Lodbrok, the former main protagonist of the show, and was born with weak bones and twisted legs, hence the eipthet, “the boneless”.
Time Out Abu Dhabi caught up with actor Alex Høgh Andersen during filming in Ireland to find out more about the character and Season 5B of the series.
Tell us about Ivar the Boneless?
He’s been living a life with no boundaries, really. Except for physical ones, of course [in the series he’s born with a condition affecting the use of his legs]. Part of that is because his mum suffocated him with too much love, and on top of that you have a dad, Ragnar Lodbrok, that was never really there. He’s crippled in a society at a time where no one could comprehend what was wrong with him, they put no time or effort into helping him, even though he has the family name that he has. It was a rough upbringing.
How has the character changed since the beginning of the show?
The influence of his dad really manifested in him and now he’s trying to figure out that whole morality thing. In the beginning of Season 4 he’s just a young man, but he’s getting a lot of experience now. All he knew up to that point was dragging himself around Kattegat [the village where the Vikings live in the show] through mud and horse droppings.
By the way, we do that authentically on set, so I smelled horrible.
He’s been on the road with the boys and he’s fighting with his brothers to take over the army, because he’s always trying to prove himself. That’s the key to his character.
What Season 5B like for him?
I think when Ivar and Harold team up at the end of 5A, they’re definitely on the same side, but in different corners. Ivar would never accept Harold as his mentor. At this stage he’s already proved himself to others, but just not to himself. He’s like “Pfft I‘m the leader to the great army, we all knew that”. And he did take over that army, after all.
How long can a character like Ivar survive on the show? In history, he apparently dies of natural causes, but he’s such a fan favourite.
Obviously we’re trying to stick to history as much as possible, but we also have to be aware that we’re creating a TV show here. There are a lot of theories throughout history of how Ivar the Boneless got his name, some say it had to do with the condition he was born with, but others say it was because he was super flexible. I like the latter.
But I would say he would have some trouble surviving for long, and I try put myself into that in every single scene.
What physical training were you given to make scenes look realistic?
I had a trainer and I was in a hotel room for three weeks until the first day of shooting, so I was just crawling around the room, trying to get down from the couch and bed. If there’s an obstacle in your way, you just have to get around it. That’s the beauty of this character, as no matter what gets in his way, he’ll figure out how to get around it. But don’t get me wrong, it’s horrible to do and very hard. I got really tired.
Could you learn anything from the Viking period?
I know that Vikings are a lot cleaner than we are on set. They were also actually pretty progressive people, more so than many other cultures at the time. They were phenomenal farmers, and had many trading ports throughout Scandinavia.
What’s your favourite thing about being on set?
The thing I love about it is that I get to work with people that inspire me. It’s like family on set. I think it has a lot to do with us being on top of a mountain [filming in Ireland] – in storm and rain and snow – horrible conditions. It brings people closer together naturally, because we have to survive it all. We get up at around 4.35am and we’re home at around 8pm, when we’re covered in mud, and then we have to learn all the lines for the next day. We work every single hour of the day. It’s hard, but then you spend time with all these phenomenal people and colleagues, they’re absolutely great.
Also, the Irish are some of the nicest people on Earth, and watching them work is something else, because they are so good at what they do.
Vikings Season 5B is out now on STARZ PLAY across the UAE, arabia.starzplay.com.