Alex Hogh Andersen Interview: ‘Vikings’ Season 5 and Ivar the Boneless as an Antihero

Vikings season 5 Alex Hogh Andersen
Hvitserk (Marco Ilsø), Ivar the Boneless (Alex Høgh Andersen) and Ubbe (Jordan Patrick Smith) in History’s ‘Vikings’ season 5 (Photo by Jonathan Hession / Copyright 2017)

Fans of History’s Vikings can expect an epic season five with Alex Høgh Andersen as Ivar the Boneless front and center in the action. Andersen made quite an impact with his performance as Ivar in season four, and in season five Andersen’s character is taking on an expanded role as a leader in the Great Heathen Army.

The critically acclaimed series is set to kick off its fifth season on Wednesday, November 29, 2017 at 9pm ET/PT and in support of the show’s return, Andersen participated in a conference call to discuss playing Ivar, the challenges of making the character likeable and/or sympathetic, and Ivar’s relationships with his brothers and Lagertha.

Vikings is written by series creator Michael Hirst. The cast of season five also includes Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Bishop Heahmund, Katheryn Winnick as Lagertha, Gustaf Skarsgård as Floki, and Alexander Ludwig as Bjorn.

Ragnar had told Ivar that he had to use his anger intelligently. Do you think that Ivar is capable of doing that?

Alex Høgh Andersen: “Yeah, I think he’s capable of doing that. But as you probably know what happened to him at the end of season four, he killed his dear brother, Sigurd. He lost control of himself. He let his emotions take over. So, yeah, you do have a point in the fact that he’s challenged in terms of that.

I think he understands that that is his massive weakness, that he’s too driven sometimes by his emotions and that they can take over and make him lose control. I say that is part of the reason why he is so much in remorse in the beginning of season five. Genuinely, he’s in remorse because he knows that the killing of his own brother created a wound between him and his brothers that I don’t think he will ever be able to heal again. And, part of it is also him realizing that he lost control and he let everyone see his weakness. And, that he really struggles with. I think you will see him try to his very best to control his emotions throughout the season.”

Without giving away spoilers, how do you think Ivar’s really changed going into season five?

Alex Høgh Andersen: “I don’t know if that much has changed. Of course, him being part of the leading group of the Great Heathen Army has obviously matured him. You will see a way more mature Ivar, as much as is possible. But, he’s still the same determined young man.

In season four I would describe him as a boy. I think he’s becoming a young man, eventually throughout season five. There’s a lot of things happening and this whole responsibility of him leading the Great Heathen Army takes a toll on a human being. I think Ivar is really ready and up for the challenge, but it is a challenge. He’s going to learn from the mistakes he’s going to make. But, he’s still the same determined guy who will never let anyone stand in the way of his goals. He’s so progressive and he’s not afraid of using violence to get his way.”

Can you talk about how Ivar’s relationship will be with his brothers? Will that deteriorate?

Alex Høgh Andersen: “Well, obviously there was a rift already and I don’t think he’s capable of healing it again. But, in the beginning of season five you will see him being genuinely sorry. He tells his brothers that. But, is that again a way for him to manipulate them or try to make them feel sorry for him, or bring them onto his team a little bit again to be able to control them or not making them too hostile against him? I think he’s aware of the fact that he needs them to reach his goals.

I think you will see a lot of discussions between brothers. A lot of unspoken things, a lot of love and also hate. Those are the scenes that we, I think, all of us – all the brothers – really loved to shoot because they’re very intense. There’s a lot of things happening, a lot of drama. But do they still love each other or is that bridge burned? That’s the whole thing about it, and I think it’s our greatest goal as actors is to always keep the audience guessing. And, for me, especially with Ivar because he’s such an extreme character…he can easily become one-dimensional, so my main objective is to keep him balanced and to have scenes like in the beginning of season five where he’s genuinely sorry for his actions. He almost hates himself. I think that’s the key of this whole relationship.”

Is Ivar going to harden or will he remain vulnerable?

Alex Høgh Andersen: “He will always be vulnerable. That is my main goal as an actor is to never ever judge him. I can do my very best to make people understand him because the last thing that we want is a one-dimensional character. Michael Hirst wrote this character so brilliantly that we can’t do that to him; he does not deserve that as a character. He will always be vulnerable.

As much as I love the crazy scene where I’m killing a lot of Saxons and I’m yelling and crawling around – those crazy, crazy scenes are a lot of fun – what my heart really longs for as an actor is the vulnerable scenes where he is maybe alone in the room. A lot of these scenes where you see him being on top and he’s quick and he’s smart and he’s intelligent and manipulative, being Ivar, you see that most of it is an act because he’s so controlled on the outside. That is what people are when they are very broken on the inside, and he doesn’t want to show people. So, he will always, always be vulnerable. I will always do my best to show that. That is the most important thing of what I do with this character.”

The Vikings set is known for pranks. Did the veteran actors welcome the newer cast members with any special pranks? Now that Travis Fimmel has left has anyone taken up the mantle of chief prankster?

Alex Høgh Andersen: “There was no big special prank, thank god, because I would probably have been scared away. But as you all probably know, every day shooting with Travis is a prank in itself. Not that he’s not phenomenal to work with and that he doesn’t take his job seriously – he’s quite the opposite. He’s a great actor to work with and he’s always fun to be around. But, also that has translated to our group. Every single day at work is so much fun. We’re throwing food at each other and we’re touching each other’s body parts and we shouldn’t, and stuff like that. (Laughing) It’s horrible and it’s so great.

It’s a small family of 300 people and I love them to pieces. They’ve helped me with so much. The things that I’ve achieved so far, I could not have done without them. It sounds so cheesy, but it is so, so true.

Part of it is that we’re so good at keeping a light atmosphere on set, which I think is very, very important because it’s such a dark show. It’s such an intense show and there are some long days through the worst conditions when we’re shooting in January, February, and I’m crawling in the woods and it’s snowing sideways, raining sideways, and I can’t feel my limbs. Some would say that it’s forced method acting and it seems very, very organic. The reason why we go wild in those scenes is because we feel like it, so it’s all good, I guess. But, it’s very, very tough. And, especially on those days, you just need to throw some food at each other. You need to do that. But, yeah, we’ve taken it upon us to keep that atmosphere. I think everybody has. It’s just great.”

Vikings season 5 Alex Hogh Andersen
Ivar the Boneless (Alex Høgh Andersen) in History’s ‘Vikings’ (Photo by Jonathan Hession / Copyright 2017)

Ivar is motivated to succeed in a system that didn’t necessarily respect or honor people with disabilities. Why do you think he was capable of such success in that world?

Alex Høgh Andersen: “Well, I think part of it – most of it – is he’s brilliant. He’s so smart. He’s so intelligent. People know that he has his flaws. He knows he has his flaws but when he shows up on the day of proving yourself, on the day of battle when everybody’s lives are at stake, he’s the one organizing the whole thing. As we saw in season four, we see that he is the reason why they get through it.

I think actions speak louder than words. You know, some of his actions are good and some of his actions are very, very bad. But, I think you also have to remember that this is in the Viking era where death is a way bigger part of life than it is today. It’s way more acceptable. Vikings grew up only thinking about death and how to die so they could get into Valhalla. So even though it sounds horrible in contemporary minds, the fact of him killing his brother is probably not that big back in the day, right? Of course, it’s horrible but, I mean, people with no personal relation to him who only see him as this leader probably didn’t give a damn. All they care about in the end of the day is winning the next battle or dying in a tremendous and beautiful Viking way.

I think that the Great Heathen Army and the troops of the Viking army understand that Ivar is probably the one that will get them there in the best way. I think that he understands that he’s very, very confident, and especially after what happened at the end of season four – winning the battle against the Saxons. He just becomes more and more confident, and rightfully so. That makes him very, very dangerous.”

What is Ivar’s relationship with Lagertha like in season five? Will there be a power struggle between the two characters?

Alex Høgh Andersen: “Oh, definitely. I think it’s great because Lagertha may be the complete opposite of Ivar. She is such a great and perfect and humane character. It’s great to see those two characters clash and see this wild and crazy guy who’s so determined and probably only thinks about himself against this powerful woman who is all about the people. It’s great to see those two characters clash. And, yeah, there’s going to be a massive power struggle.

But this whole civil war as you can see is going to be very, very intense. It’s Vikings fighting Vikings. I remember when we shot the stuff and when we read the scripts and read where this whole thing was going and realized there was going to be a civil war. The biggest talk was how is the audience going to take this because nobody really wants to see Vikings fighting against Vikings. They want to see Vikings fighting against Saxons or whoever, right?

I think it’s very, very interesting and I’m very excited to see how the audience is going to take this. But, I mean, we did our best and I have a great feeling about it. The stuff that we shot looks amazing. This season, in particular, is probably the biggest we’ve ever done. Some of the executives I’ve heard are very pleased. We are happy, as far as I’m concerned. But I can’t wait to see to see that stuff myself. I haven’t seen any of it.”

Ivar is an antihero but also filling the void left by Ragnar. How do you approach making him sympathetic or likeable? Is that even possible?

Alex Høgh Andersen: “Yeah, that’s the big struggle with Ivar. It’s a great thing you mentioned Ragnar because I like to think of it this way: Ragnar is an antihero and he’s more of a hero than he’s anti. I think Ivar is a bit more of the opposite. He is an antihero with an emphasis on anti.

That’s the great thing about it because I love to challenge the audience. There’s nothing more interesting, I find, than to make the audience guess all the time, and sit down and actually think, ‘Do we like this dude?’ That just challenges the audiences. That’s the whole part of the art, right, is to make people actually think and not just sit down and be relaxed.

But, yeah, he’s quite a trouble to make people feel sympathy for him. What I do and then of course working with Michael all the time and have great dialogue with him – we’re both aware of the fact that we need him to have these flaws where we see once in a while the real human where he’s not in control. He’s not acting and he’s not manipulating people. We really need to have those because otherwise he will become one-dimensional and that’s the worst thing I know.

But, also, the whole physicality of him, the visual part of him is very important to keep in a crawling mode, so to speak, as much as possible. I believe that every single time we see him crawl it’s a constant reminder of what he’s been through and what he’s dealing with on a daily basis. I think it’s hard for people to fathom what he’s been through. It’s hard for me and I’m playing the dude!

I think every single time we have a chance where he can crawl, he’s not just sitting on a chair, because if he’s sitting on a chair, he looks like everybody else. But if I have a chance to either choreograph the scene in a way that makes it obvious that he’s a cripple or creates a reminder that this is what he’s been through or this is what he’s been dealing with, I think that’s one way to keep him as being an antihero. That there’s still good in him.

But, yeah, it is a challenge. On the outside he is a controlled maniac, but on the inside he’s a poor boy. So, for me, I’ve never had trouble having sympathy for him. I think that if I ever lose that, I think the audience will as well. And the opposite way – if I have sympathy for him, I think the audience will as well.”

How is Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ new character, Bishop Heahmund, a formidable adversary for Ivar?

Alex Høgh Andersen:“You know, Jonathan Rhys Meyers who plays Bishop Heahmund is phenomenal. It was a great, great pleasure working with him. He’s outstanding. He’s so intense. It was great to work with him.

His character is really what Michael and I talked about when Michael told me about the idea of bringing him in and creating this archenemy to Ivar. I think if Ivar didn’t have someone who was similar to him, I think it would be close to unbearable, close to a walk in the park for Ivar. He needs to have some enemy that are just as extreme, for a different cause but just as extreme and determined and such powerhouses as well. Jonathan really, really brings that to the table.

Having these two characters square off together is phenomenal. You’ll see a lot of scenes with these two together. I think what’s very interesting with the two characters is that they understand each other. You know that thing about even though it’s your biggest enemy, you do understand him because you are very similar. If you come from the same place, you have the same ideas, you have the same goals. There’s a mutual respect and you’ll see that. There’s mutual respect between these two guys. The dynamic between these two strong characters, I think, is going to be very interesting. I believe some of the stuff we shot where they are squaring off is going to be very, very good. I have a great feeling about it and Jonathan is just absolutely tremendous.”

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