Based on the mythology surrounding the legendary King Ragnar Lothbrok, Vikings is part action blockbuster, part family drama and part historical epic. Season 4 Part 1, which aired earlier this year and is released on DVD and Blu-Ray this week, finds Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) returning from his raid of Paris, gravely-injured and disheartened with his marriage to second wife Queen Aslaug.
We spoke to Alyssa Sutherland, the Australian actress who plays Aslaug on the show, about how she came to join the cast, working with fellow Aussie Travis Fimmel and her love of chocolate.
You got your start in modelling, how challenging was it to transition into acting?
There were kind of pros and cons to making the transition. I think a lot of people sort of roll their eyes at models becoming actresses and you have to fight that, but at the same time I had more contacts that somebody else would have if they were just trying to get into acting without having modelled. So some parts were easier and some parts were harder. I think when it comes to being an actress, it takes a lot of work regardless of where you’re coming from and I kind of liked working hard on it and, thankfully, so far it’s working out.
Did you know much of Viking mythology and Queen Aslaug before you joined the show?
No, not at all, I had no idea. I mean I had that same stereotypical idea in my head of the Viking with the horned helmet and that was it. It was all sort of news to me when I started researching and looking into things and we’ve had some wonderful historians on the show that have helped out with stuff as well. And you realise that the history of the Vikings was written by Christian monks mostly, because the Vikings themselves didn’t record things or write them down. The records of the Vikings for you to read about are written by basically their enemies, which is an interesting tract. So I know a lot more now!
What was it about the character that attracted you to the role?
It was tough, because in the beginning there wasn’t really a whole lot of insight into the character. It was really the opportunity to work with Michael Hirst that was the biggest draw for me, because I’m a huge fan of the film Elizabeth and also Cate Blanchett obviously, so to be able to work with him on something was just a dream come true. It was more about working with Michael, because the first episode I came into wasn’t too revealing about the character at all. I knew that she was the second wife of Ragnar and that it would be a prominent role from then on if the show got picked up [for a second season].
And had the show been renewed at the time?
No, it hadn’t! So I was kind of sitting there going, ‘well, it’s either one episode of a TV show or it’s a steady job for a time.’ So I think when it came to the show being renewed it almost meant more to me than the other guys on the show because they’d already had a full season of work and I was sort of sitting there going ‘well, I’d like to have that’, so I was maybe a little bit more invested in it getting picked up.
What’s the toughest part of filming?
It’s probably the weather conditions that we get in Ireland. It gets pretty rough and you have to be pretty strong mentally to get through some of those days. You have days where you’re out in the rain and the cold all day and that’s what you’re acting in. They don’t call it if it’s raining, we shoot through it and we’ve shot in some pretty horrendous conditions. I think that’s probably one of the hardest things, because mentally no one wants to be out in the wind and the rain and to remember lines and perform and do a good job, you just have to be a little stronger mentally, I think, not to get distracted by that.
Obviously your co-star Travis Fimmel is also a former Australian model, is it strange having that connection on the set?
I think it’s actually normalised it for the two of us. I think we’ve probably had some similar experiences and Travis himself is quite a character and likes to play pranks and mess around, but he also works really hard and has a great work ethic. He’s a wonderful scene partner to have as well and I think being Australian helped.
With the success of Vikings and Game of Thrones, what do you think it is about the medieval/fantasy setting that audiences engage with?
I think it’s always had an audience and now that people have put it on TV as well – I think the audience was always there for it. And for Vikings on its own, it’s so relatable to so many people because I think there are really great things for people to take from it. If you like action and violence, obviously the show has a lot of action and a lot of violence, if you like drama and conflict in relationships, the show is full of it as it’s a family saga first and foremost. I think what really keeps people tuning in is the relationship between the characters and I think the cast have done a really great job of making their characters really memorable and I think that’s another thing that people tune in for.
I think it’s also what you mentioned before, that the Vikings have such a rich history beyond the clichés.
Yeah, exactly. I think a lot of people don’t realise that they came and they pillaged, but they also traded and explored and settled, so they were good and bad!
What was your favourite scene from Season 4 so far?
There’s one coming up that hasn’t aired yet, it’s in the second part of Season 4 and I think it might be my favourite scene overall and not just in Season 4. It’s a scene with Ivar once he’s grown up a little bit, because we have this time jump right at the end of the first part of Season 4, and it’s a scene I really, really loved. I think my favourite part of Season 4 is the exploration of the relationship between Aslaug and Ivar and what they mean to each other and what they need from one another. I was really interested in that in Season 4 and it was a real gift that Michael gave me.
What can we expect from Aslaug in Part 2 of Season 4?
She just gets a bit darker and darker, which I like. There’s darkness, but there’s also justification as well, she gets a couple of things that she’s wanted for a really long time but I won’t go into too much of that, because I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone. But what I’ve always loved about her is she has this grey area and one day you see her doing something and you think, ‘wow, that is not what I would do’, and then the next day you see her breaking down and being vulnerable and you’re like, ‘aw, I understand where you’re coming from now.’ I like that whole grey area and making people question themselves and what they would do in a similar situation.
Is it true that you’re a big Cadbury fan, if so how was it appearing in the Flake Girl ad?
Haha, yes, I love Cadbury. It was so funny. We shot it over three days and at the beginning of the first day they said, ‘here’s this spit bucket for you,’ so after each take if I didn’t want to keep just eating chocolate I could just spit it out and I was like, ‘yeah, I’m not going to need that.’ And they said, ‘trust us, after three days, no one is going to get through it [without the bucket]’ and I’m like, ‘that sounds like a challenge!’ And I didn’t use the spit bucket, everyone of those Flakes that I bit into in the commercial was eaten!
Own Vikings Season 4 Part 1 on Blu-ray and DVD October 12