Katheryn Winnick Talks VIKINGS, Battling in Harsh Weather, Women in Viking Society, and More

     April 6, 2013


Possibly one of the most interesting characters to come out of History Channel’s new series Vikings is that of Lagertha, a Shieldmaiden played by the lovely Katheryn Winnick. Even though she is a mother of two, she goes and fights alongside her husband, Ragnar, and frankly might actually be more of a badass then he is.  The cast of Vikings stopped by WonderCon last Saturday to talk about what’s to come for the second half of season; battling in harsh weather conditions, the challenges her character faces in upcoming episodes, and the standing of women in the Viking society.  Hit the jump for the interview.

Note: Spoilers are discussed during this interview

history-vikings-posterCan you talk a little bit about how Lagertha seems to be the only woman who is a Shield Maiden? Are we going to see other Shield Maidens?

KATHERYN WINNICK: Yes, there actually were at least two shooting. There was another woman, she was a stunt double that got cast as a female Shieldmaiden, as a female Viking in the battle field. And there were women that would fight, so hopefully I wasn’t the only one, or it wasn’t shown that I was the only one who fights. I’m not sure how much you’ll see as the series goes on, but yes many women actually fought in battle.

Was it fun learning how to fight with the shield and sword?

WINNICK: It was different, definitely different. I come from a martial arts background so kicking and punching and using your hands and your feet is more of the art that I was taught. And a shield and a sword was a new form of weaponry then I wasn’t used to, but the spirit of combat was similar in terms of fighting and being a strong character, that was similar in terms of my martial arts training.

Were you aware when you first joined the series how rigorous the training was going to be physically?

WINNICK: Was I aware? No, actually. When you get the script you don’t know how much of it is going to be action or not. The battle scenes weren’t written in the first two scripts that I got initially, and it wasn’t part of the casting process. It was just more they were focusing on really just hiring actors, good actors. But I love that stuff, I love being physical. And for me it’s such a treat to actually get a chance to use my martial art background with a multi-layered character. I loved it, it was great.

vikings-katheryn-winnickWe heard the filming conditions were kind of harsh as well.

WINNICK: Yeah, shooting in Ireland with the different multi-climates and the hills. And being the only girl, the guys could go to the loo in just the mountains, and being a woman. And being a woman with all these–especially my costume was all laced. And Joan, who’s the costume designer, she kept it very authentic and wanted everything as authentic as possible. So it took me about 20 minutes to get me in and out of that thing just to use the ladies room. But it all helped in terms of shaping the character and to dive into a different era.

It feels very rustic. It looks like there’s an awful lot of mud being employed just because of the conditions.

WINNICK: Which is so great though. The dirtier, the better. The less make up, the better. The more raw we are, the better. It’s so great just working as the only girl on set for the first 3 months, and they would make fun of me if I asked for, you know, “Can you check my hair?” So I definitely had to put away the vanity. But that’s the stuff that I actually like, because it helped not forget that you’re shooting something, and really live in the moment and be. That was a treat.

Did you work with the costume designer a little bit to make sure that the costume was more useful, so you could move around better, do certain maneuvers?

WINNICK: Exactly, we did. She built it around my body, piece by piece. My warrior costume, for example, there had to be a lot of freedom in the leather she used, so that I can move. And same with the legs, it wasn’t necessarily as fitted. The only fitted part would be the belt, the corset, which she was so great about making it very personal, and actually there was a raven that was just sketched in [she points to her side]. So everything was very detailed and very specific. And all handmade, and so much time and effort and care went into every piece of clothing, every article of clothing that it just helped us. It really did.

vikings-katheryn-winnickAny injuries? Did you hurt yourself in the battle scenes?

WINNICK: Oh. [referring to Travis Fimmel and George Blagden] Did they say anything? I almost died on set! No, it’s true. We were shooting this big battle scene up in the Guinness estate, up in these mountains, in the middle of nowhere, and I remember I asked the AD, “Listen, I need to use the Ladies room.” And of course the guys, being Vikings, they can go in the bushes, but of course being a Lady Viking, it’s not proper. So they had to transport me from one location to another in this mini-Jeep, I guess. And we were shooting a scene where I had a long cloak tied around my neck, and all of a sudden I was driving and I’m like [mimics head being pulled back slowly] my neck started tensing and I’m like, I can’t breath. I held on, and my cloak got caught in the back wheel of the buggy as I was driving forward. Luckily enough it actually ripped off, so I came on set, I had a mark from [motions from one side of her neck to the other] here all the way to here. And I came on set and I’m talking to my cast members like, “Help me, “because I was in shock and I could barely breath. And they started laughing, they were like, “Oh, I didn’t know you were shooting that fight scene today.” They thought it was just make-up, cause I’m a Viking, you get bloodied scars everywhere. And I’m like, “No, really, I’m hurt.” And they were like, “Yeah, you know, that looks great.” They’re looking at their pages to see if I’m in their big fight scene. And I’m like, “No, really, this is what happened!” But it was all part of the experience, and it could have been a lot worse.

I bet now they have a cloak wrangler to make sure you don’t get injured again.

WINNICK: Right? So if you notice, my character ends up wearing scarves that didn’t exist then in the Viking times. So if you see my character wear something around her neck it’s because we had to hide my neck injury. But, if anything, it all helped with all the battle wounds.

vikings-katheryn-winnickCan you talk about about some of the central themes that your character’s going to go through in the second half of the season?

WINNICK: Lagertha’s character definitely is challenged. She struggles with a lot of conflicts within her relationship with Ragnar, but also within the community and being a young mother as well. As Ragnar gets more status and becomes King of the Viking tribe her family rises in rank and there’s a lot more responsibility and a lot more conflicts within the community that Lagertha has to deal with, especially when her husband goes off to raids. That was very fascinating for me because starting off as a farmer, and a warrior, and a young mother, and then all of a sudden getting in a different environment, and different clothes, and different status. Have a say in the community, a political say, was interesting and challenging. But I think that her core personality, as a Shieldmaiden also being very strong, helped with the responsibility and that conflict.

Then there is the square peg with Athelstan, he’s got to be such a different kind of puzzle for her.

WINNICK: Yes. I think, originally, she’s used to seeing slaves but having such a foreigner…But she does trust him; she keeps him in his place but she did trust her kids with him. She is someone that would do anything to protect her family, and do anything to protect her relationship. She truly does love Ragnar to death, their equals, their partners, and I don’t want to give up too much so I’m dancing around that.

The sex is a little confusing because there was a scene where Rollo wanted to have sex with her and she put him off of that, and yet there’’s the other scene where Ragnar invited Athelstan into bed with them.

WINNICK: Well the Vikings were very free people in terms of their sexuality, and even the scene where Rollo comes in and asks Bjorn “Where are your parents?” And he’s like, “Oh, they’re having sex.” It was part of their culture to be open with their bodies. But I do really believe that it’s a love-match between her and Ragnar, and to answer your question, I think you just don’t know. I think that’s what’s great about it; were they just teasing? Were they just testing Athelstan or were they actually inviting Athelstan into their bed? So that’s left for your imagination.

vikings-katheryn-winnickHas it been fun to learn about the Norse culture in terms of the position and standing of women?

WINNICK: Oh yeah! It’s really fascinating to realize, and to discover, that women had a lot of status and power in the Dark Ages. They’re very, very strong and allowed to be equals with their husbands, they’re allowed to be mothers and warriors, and also own land and protect their land and divorce their husbands and eventually rule. So that status and power was really liberating and very empowering to know that women were really celebrating in that time period. I think it went a few steps back, if you look at our history, but in the Viking culture women were toe-to-toe with the guys.

Is there anything you can tell us about Donal Logue’s character?

WINNICK: Oh I love him, he’s great! I’m not going to say much., I’m not going to say much about that, because I don’t think I’m allowed to give up any spoilers. But he’s great to work with; he’s one of my favorite people on set. He’s hilarious and I think all his fans would really love to see him in this character. He’s fantastic.

Does Lagertha come from the different clan? Rollo gave the indication that she was an outsider?

WINNICK: In what way?

Like from another clan?

WINNICK: What’s great about the Viking community; they had different clans everywhere, it’s really within your community, and each village different and works together as a community. So her background, I would assume, she has her own family, and she joined Ragnar and they’ve been together a very long time and started off as young kids.

Click here for all our Vikings coverage.  Vikings airs on Sunday nights on History.