Clive Standen Talks ‘Vikings’ Season Three and Rollo’s Journey

Clive Standen Vikings Season 3 Interview
Rollo, played by Clive Standen, in ‘Vikings’ season 3 (Photo by Jonathan Hession / HISTORY Copyright 2015)

The world of History’s Vikings expands in season three of the critically acclaimed series as Ragnar (Travis Fimmel), now the King, leads his people in a raid on Paris. Meanwhile Rollo (Clive Standen) comes more into his own this season as he’s able to – as Standen explained in a conference call in support of season three – do what he was born to do: raid and fight.

Vikings season three premieres on February 19, 2015.

Clive Standen Q&A

Most of the main characters go through some major transformations throughout the seasons: the hair, the outfit, tattoos, etc, but Rollo stays pretty consistent. Is he still haunted by the past and not being able to move forward?

Clive Standen: “Yes. I mean, there’s a lot more tattoos and things as he goes more down the rabbit hole of being a berserker, and you see more of that behavior coming out to the full front. But, yes, Rollo really is the old school Viking. He believes in the day of his death and the length of his life was fated by the gods, and the gods are in complete control of his destiny. So that enables him to live his life with utter confidence in his religion. I suppose he doesn’t really change with the times so much as life would throw him down, and maybe Ragnar does.

But, also, I think Rollo is stuck in a rut. He’s gotten to the point where he starts second guessing everything, because he’s made so many mistakes in the previous seasons up until now that I think he starts to forget who he really is. He finds himself in conversations with Ragnar because of the past, and he’s trying to build bridges and get back in into Ragnar’s good graces. When confronted with a question from Ragnar, he’s almost thinking, ‘What am I meant to say? I don’t want to put my foot in it again.’ So he’s found himself almost as a lost soul, and something happens in season three, maybe midseason, where it certainly makes him realize who he really is and the part of his destiny, and until he starts embracing himself rather than trying to people please, he’s not going to achieve greatness. So I think that’s midway through season three, maybe Rollo might surprise you and you’ll see a complete transformation, almost a phoenix in the flames.”

There’s a scene early on in the new season that shows Rollo kind of losing his mind a little bit and randomly walking up to some guy and chopping his leg off. Could you provide a little insight on what was going on in his head at that moment?

Clive Standen: “Well, this is part of being a berserker. The berserkers were known to take magic mushrooms to feel this sense of high where they would almost have an out-of-body experience and they wouldn’t feel pain on the battlefield. They would almost have this red mist on them. It’s part of preparing him. They’re eating these magic mushrooms and he’s almost tripping. He’s on an almost the equivalent of an LSD trip. This man is one of their captive soldiers who’s, in Rollo’s head, just sleeping with his leg on a really strange angle, and it’s just really annoying him. He can’t stop thinking about this leg that’s in the field of his vision. So, Rollo being Rollo and, yes, the berserker that he is, just tries to just get that leg out of his world by cutting it off. [Laughing] But yes, he’s completely tripping on magic mushrooms in that and you’ll start to see more of that, the berserker, which is there’s a bearskin berserk which [while] wearing the almost has the mentality of the wolf or the bear, and that kind of almost becomes more of his mantra or so. As the battles go on, he’s going to wind up with his own team of berserkers so it won’t be just Rollo this season that’s the berserker. You’ll see a lot more of them.”

Now that the Lothbroks are in the royalty circle does that change Rollo’s perception of life and his relationship with Ragnar’s inner circle?

Clive Standen: “I think Rollo is a bit of a lost soul at the moment because at the beginning of season two, we see that he tries in everything to be this king for a day where he thinks he’s got it all worked out and he’s going to get everything he ever wanted if he battled his brother in combat. He very quickly realizes that he’s fighting the one person that actually gets him as a person, the only other one person that’s always had his back; and he can’t follow through with it. So he spends most of season two trying to get back into Ragnar’s good graces and the relationship will really never be the same, but Rollo is trying. So as much as the battle is not truly with Ragnar anymore, he’s still not content to be in the shadow in Kattegat. He’s in this village, he’s almost having to pay for his past mistakes constantly, and the one thing about Rollo is every time he makes one of these mistakes, at least he’s tries to learn from it. But he’s gotten to the point where he’s just trying to say the right thing, and he doesn’t get where his destiny is going. He realizes that his deep, burning ambition is at the bottom of his gut; it’s never going to go away. But I think he realizes also that Ragnar is not the obstacle to him succeeding in that ambition. It’s been misplaced. So now he just needs to figure out if maybe Ragnar can actually help him achieve his desire for his destiny. But he’s definitely not content to stay in Kattegat in the royal circles because this is not fulfilling him.”

The relationship between Rollo and Siggy has been interesting. What do you see happening with that in the future?

Clive Standen: “Well, at the tail end of season two, Rollo finds out that she’s sleeping with King Horik, that she’s doing it for him. And anyone who has ever been in love before, I think anyone can really know that would never really compute in someone’s head. The problem that lies in their relationship is that when they first met each other, when Earl Haraldson was killed, Rollo goes to see her when she’s packing with fear and she’s trying to run away and he says, ‘Look, stay. How would you like to be married to an earl – another earl?’ They almost enter into a marriage of convenience. They enter into this mutual marriage of gain, so to speak, where she’s had everything and lost it, and wants it back, and he’s always wanted it and never had it. He needs her to show him how to achieve their goals. She needs him as her pawn in her plan to get everything back, to stay within those royal circles. So it’s already kind of a relationship which is being set up on all of the wrong foundations.

The problem Rollo has, or the mistake that Rollo made, is that he actually started falling for her and that was never part of her agreement. So now he’s a little bit lost in that relationship. He has feelings for her, but yet he also is not sure if he wants to strangle her because of what she’s doing to him, the manipulation that is playing out. I mean that scene in season two when he finds out what she’s doing and he does put his hand around her throat, he’s more emotionally charged because he’s been spending the whole time trying to build bridges with Ragnar and now she’s going behind Ragnar’s back, sleeping with the King, trying to get something he never even bought into, she never even consulted him on. So she has her own motivations and it just gets really messy as far as Rollo is concerned, because he can’t walk away from it, obviously, because he’s now had feelings for her. Siggy’s actions in season three can really mess with Rollo’s head.”

What kind of action can we expect as the Vikings invade Paris?

Clive Standen: “Well, as soon as Paris comes in, Paris isn’t just a one-off episode. Paris in series three really kicks off around the tail end of episode six and it kind of builds and builds and builds until a climactic episode at the end of the season. Paris isn’t like anything the Vikings have ever encountered, and it’s unlike anything that the general public and the 21st century view would see Paris as now, because Paris was entirely different back then. It was a fortress. It was completely enclosed on the River Seine with very high Roman walls. So when the Vikings came with their 100 ships and thousands of men, they’d never had to deal with a force like the Franks. The Frankish soldiers have got ethnic influences from all down through Europe down to the shipping routes of the Constantinople. There’s crossbows [on] fire kind of weapons, lots of their siege weapons and anti-siege weapons that the Vikings had never had to deal with.

The Vikings are at the forefront of their technology with their boats, and I like to just think of the Viking soldiers compared to the Saxons, almost more like the modern Navy SEALs, like they’ve been trained, they’ve been brought up with their axes and their weapons, because they’re farmers and they used them on a daily basis. So they’re ferocious and formidable when they’re in battle, whereas the Frankish have got machines. They’ve got soldiers that are trained in a certain way that the Vikings are not used to. So these battles are ginormous in scale and scope. We’ve got four times as many stuntmen as we had when we first started doing the show.

Now, I would go so far as to say at episode eight, which is a very action-based episode, the battle that you’ll see on episode eight is probably one of the best battles, one of the biggest battles I’ve ever seen in a TV show. I’ll go so far as to say it’s probably even grander than Game of Thrones’ battles, Blackwater, which had double the budget that we had. The thing is when you do something like the Battle of Blackwater, you’re filming it at nighttime and loaded with CGI through smoke and mirrors, because you can’t actually see very much. It’s easy to have CGI boats coming out of the mist and things. We film our battle in the middle of the day and we have hundreds of stuntmen jumping out of the River Seine and trying to climb the walls of Paris, the City of Paris. It was just carnage when we filmed those days. There were so many people. It was organized chaos. There’s hardly anywhere to move and everyone was getting smacked in the face with weapons and things, but it’s going to look really savage and visceral and, hopefully, can be the big payoff that season three deserves, because season three, in general, the scope of it is massive. The show’s become a juggernaut, so we needed a massive climactic episode as the end of the season comes. I think that Michael Hirst and the stunt team and everyone involved has really achieved that.

But Ragnar’s actions, he has to think outside of the box which he’s actually very good at doing, I think, as a character. He always thinks outside of the box. He always kind of does the thing you don’t expect him to do and second guesses the enemy, but he has to do a lot of that now because I think he isn’t underestimating the Frankish forces. And Rollo, for the first time, gets a whole army of berserkers, which is something, as an actor, Rollo has been wanting for a long time. So it’s just not Rollo running into battle with his beliefs. He’s got a whole band of berserkers, life-sized, and gets to be the general.”

Clive Standen and Travis Fimmel in Vikings
Warrior brothers Rollo & Ragnar (Clive Standen, Travis Fimmel) in ‘Vikings’
(Photo by Jonathan Hession / HISTORY Copyright 2015)

How has that change in Rollo’s position been for you to play?

Clive Standen: “Well, I mean, this is the one thing that Rollo is good at. I mean he says, in his own words, ‘I was born to raid and fight.’ He likes being at the forefront. He’d be the opposite to the general that sits at the battle on his horse watching and waving. He wants to be there leading by example in the thick of the action with his men, and Ragnar knows that. We go back to season two when Rollo makes those monumental mistakes and had to go back to his brother with his tail between his legs. The first thing Ragnar does is ban him from raiding in England and leaves him behind with the old men and the women and the children. That’s the best punishment for a character like Rollo, because it’s the one thing that makes him feel alive, and he doesn’t get to do it. So in Paris, it’s almost like all of his dreams come true. This is his one chance to get a Valhalla. He can wade in there, lead by example. He can be the savage animal, beast that he is in the battlefield, and prove to Odin that he’s not just sitting at his table and feasting in Valhalla. You kind of achieve the things that you think he wants in life with the success in having a name for yourself, at least no one can take that away from him. No one can stop him from having his day in court on the battlefield and proving to the gods that he is worthy, so he embraces that.

Also with Rollo, I mean with the battles, I always think it’s some kind of form of self-harm, that he has so much inside his head that he’s battling with, so much emotional pain, so many mistakes, so many past failures, always feeling second best, always chosen below others – this is that thing he’s been running away from for so many years that the pain on the battlefield is almost a displacement. It’s to divert his mind from having to deal with the emotional pain. So, just as someone self-harms and they might cut themselves to avoid the pain that they’re feeling inside their head, Rollo is no different. This way of living as a Viking on the battlefield gives him the perfect way to run away from his feelings, because this red mist…he can feel his pain.

You’ll see a scene in season three which involves Alexander Ludwig’s character, Bjorn, and Rollo, and it was a big monumental scene for me, for my character, because it really does come to the forefront that this self-harm of his that I described, it really comes to the forefront of the story. He’s going to go almost through some sort of physical therapy with his nephew.”

How do you view your character’s relationship with Bjorn? Do you think that he understands him better than his father?

Clive Standen: “Yes. I mean you’ve seen it right from day one in season one when you see the relationship with Rollo and Bjorn. He is fond of his nephew and you can see that scene when Rollo arrives on the rolling boat and he says, ‘Where is your mother and your father?’ And the young Bjorn says, ‘They’re having sex.’ They sit down and they just sit there and watched the sunset together. So there’s a definite bond between the two. There always has been, and as much as Rollo has resented Ragnar and resented everything he’s got in the family, I don’t think he can’t love Bjorn. Maybe there’s more of a reason for that in the past, but definitely, as the seasons go on, Ragnar gets almost caught up in his own ego and he gets handed all these things, the earldom, then he’s suddenly the king of Sweden and he hasn’t really got time to be the father that this young son needs because he’s been away for four years with his mother, and he had not had a father in his life. And Ragnar really doesn’t step up to the plate. He just simply hasn’t got the time. He’s having to deal with this newfound power and what comes with that.

Rollo is the lost soul. He latches onto Bjorn, I think, and certainly he sees that they’ve got this common need for each other. One needs a father figure and one almost needs somebody in his family life to kind of nurture and to learn from. I think that’s the thing, it very much is Rollo is almost like a father figure to Bjorn. I think Bjorn has so much to teach Rollo that Rollo probably is completely unaware of what might rub off on him.”

Will the seer will have any predictions for Rollo this season?

Clive Standen: [Laughing] “Yes, because we sat down at the beginning of season three, myself and Michael Hirst, and Michael came out to me, ‘Did you know what I realized in the break between season two and coming back to write season three? It is Rollo’s never been to see the seer.’ I said, ‘Yeah, you’re right.’ I love John Kavanagh – he plays the seer – and I’ve always wanted to have just a moment to latch with him. And I said, ‘Yeah, I know. It’s that a long time ago I just thought there was a reason to it.’ ‘No, it just slipped my mind and now I’ve written a scene for you and…’ So it will come into season three. There will be a scene between the seer and Rollo, and for the first time, I think Rollo actually… This man that trusts innately in what the gods have in store for him, it’s very interesting for him to get to a place where he is questioning everything and feels like he’s completely lost sight of who he really is. I could go as far as to say he’s almost close to taking his own life and the seer changes all of that in only the way that a seer can: in his riddles and his mysticism and his cackling lore. He kind of puts Rollo in his place and I think it’s a really important scene for my character and sets him on a completely different course for the future.

It’s one of my favorite scenes. I’ve always wanted to do a scene with John Kavanagh. He’s an incredible actor and he didn’t let me down.”

What do you feel it is about the show that continues to resonate well with viewers?

Clive Standen: “It’s one of those things where you have no idea when you’re filming it how big or successful a show is going to be, and you can have a great time as an actor. It could be like boys and toys, and it could be just fire all the way, and then the show bombs. So we had no idea, because this has been such a great show to work on and the cast all get on really well. We’re such a bunch of eclectic nutcases that we somehow really gelled so well. We’ve had a blast making every single episode, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the show is going to be great. And now that it is doing well, it’s just such a great feeling for me because I’m actually in a show that when I have to read the script where Rollo is no longer in it, or me and my death scene, or whatever it is, whenever my time at Vikings comes to an end, it’s going to be really tragic for me because I’m having such a good time, and everyone as well.

I think what makes it original is that there’s nothing like this on TV. The only shows that people can compare it to are fantasy shows, because they have the dragons and they have the monsters and the dwarves and the elves and things. We don’t have any of that, but because of the Viking belief system and the gods they believed in, it verges on the fantastical. You have these amazing worlds. You have Asgard and Midgard and Utgard, and the Vikings believed that the Frost Giants were in Utgard, and the dwarves and the gods came down the Bifrost, which is the rainbow. You’ve got serpents like Jörmungandr wrap himself around the world and bite onto his tail; and Fenrir, the wolf that swallows the sun; and Hati and Skoll, the two wolves that chased at the moon and the sun that were apparently in a chariot, running away from these wolves they were chasing night and day. These are all of the things that the Vikings believed in their life. Yggdrasil held the three worlds together and at the top of Yggdrasil, there was an eagle that every time it flaps its wings, it was the breeze in the air. These are things that these people believed in. So we get to tie it all out and the screen. We had these Viking characters the way they believed this is all true, and the gods themselves. So it does verge on something that’s otherworldly.

And because the Vikings did all the things they did over the hundreds of years they did it, the conquests, the action, the raiding, the adventure, the technology of the boats, it suddenly brought in a completely different demographic they are used to watching historical dramas on TV. Before Vikings came along, historical dramas were in that bracket of Sunday night television where your mom and dad would sit down and watch a bit of Pride and Prejudice, or watch Keira Knightley in a corset. Now, you can sit down with your parents, be sitting and watching these historical raiders kind of colonizing and raiding half of Europe and these early continents and I think it just makes so incredible event TV. The reason why I speak so passionately about it is I would watch it even if I wasn’t in it. When this script came along, you just take one read at it and just go, ‘This is immense. This is everything I’ve ever wanted in a TV show.'”

-By Rebecca Murray

Also of interest: Clive Standen and Travis Fimmel on Vikings season 3 at the 2014 Comic Con in San Diego:

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