‘Vikings’ – Dianne Doan Interview on Playing Yidu and Working with Travis Fimmel

Vikings Alyssa Sutherland, Travis Fimmel, Dianne Doan
Queen Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland), King Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) and Yidu (Dianne Doan) in ‘Vikings’ (Photo by Jonathan Hession/HISTORY Copyright 2016)

Dianne Doan (Disney’s Descendants) joins the cast of History’s Vikings with season four, playing Yidu, a slave who catches the attention of Ragnar (Travis Fimmel). Yidu is unlike anyone else in Kattegat and in some ways she’ll be filling the void left in Ragnar’s life with the murder of Athelstan (George Blagden). During a conference call in support of the February 18, 2016 premiere of season four, Doan said she can’t wait for audiences to meet her character. Answering questions without giving away spoilers, Doan discussed her character’s backstory and what it was like joining the cast of an established show.

Dianne Doan Vikings Interview:

What’s it like to take the leap from Disney royalty to Viking slave? Was it a challenge?

Dianne Doan: “I couldn’t have asked for a better transition out of that Disney experience just because the audience range is so limited, I guess? Challenge-wise, I think I was definitely pushed in my work as an actor, coming on to a show that’s already been so established with the course of three years, working with Travis and then numerous directors that I was able to come across. It definitely was intimidating and it pushed my limits, I would say that, but it was so rewarding.”

You mentioned working with Travis as Ragnar. It seems like he’s enamored with your character a bit and so without spoiling anything, what can you say about that relationship?

Dianne Doan: “I come on pretty early on this season, and right off the bat it’s not just Ragnar that’s intrigued or curious. It’s definitely all of Kattegat just because from my sheer appearance, it’s so different than what they’ve seen around them. But with Ragnar specifically, we know throughout the seasons he is a person who seeks to learn about different cultures and different religions which is why I think he does raid lands. Off the bat, from my appearance to the way that I carry myself, he questions it, which is why I would say our initial relationship starts out of that curiosity.”

Can you describe Yidu’s backstory and what her trajectory is for the season?

Dianne Doan: “I’ll tell you as much as I can. I think it’s already publicly known I’m kidnapped on the Red Sea and then brought to Paris, and it’s presumed that from their raid last season, they bring me back to Kattegat where I’m sold to Queen Aslaug as a slave, so I’m one of her new ladies for this season.

My backstory, I definitely did research for my character just to make sure that I knew what era and what dynasty I come from, the rights that women had during that time, how I would react in certain situations, I want to bring that. What was fascinating to me was I found out during that research that in fact women at that time in my dynasty had a voice and had an opinion and had rights to an education. I wanted to make sure that Yidu was a strong character coming into the show even though in certain circumstances, she’s a slave.”

Did you have any conversations with Michael Hirst about your character? Did he give you any guidance on what she’s about for this season?

Dianne Doan: “The beautiful thing about Michael’s writing was that it’s all in the scripts, and I was able to play reading between the lines and if anything was not what he envisioned, then we talk. He would discuss with all of us whether or not the route that we’re headed. In general, he gives it away for the cast at least, within the script and the storyline.”

Athelstan was a foreigner who led them to Paris. Could Ragnar and the village be expecting Yidu to help them uncover great things? Is she expected to fill his shoes?

Dianne Doan: Personally, hearing that question, I wouldn’t think so. She wouldn’t have any recollection of Athelstan being in Kattegat. I think the main thing would be just the fact that whether or not they choose to go east, but I don’t think that other than that, that would be an option. I think it’s just I come in as yes, you’re right, a foreigner but it has nothing to do with what I can bring to Kattegat itself. I think for Ragnar, he’s going to be picking my brain to see what information I can give about my past rather than where we’re going in the future.”

Dianne Doan in Vikings Season 4
Dianne Doan as Yidu in ‘Vikings’ (Photo by Jonathan Hession/HISTORY Copyright 2016)

What parallels do you think can be drawn between Yidu and Athelstan as far as a relationship with a Ragnar?

Dianne Doan: “Athelstan meant so much to Ragnar. I don’t know if it would be parallel like a repetition of that relationship. I do think that you will see some sort of relationship whether it’s intimate, unfold between Yidu and Ragnar. I would like to assume that it is a place of…I’m a confidante of sorts just because he is so alone in Kattegat. He doesn’t feel like he has anybody to talk to. Everybody just talks at him and not with him, if that makes sense.”

Do you think Ragnar’s going to hold her on a pedestal because she has seen things that he hasn’t? Is she going to become his right hand woman?

Dianne Doan: “I think that’s established within episode four and definitely you’re on, if it’s [not] a pedestal, definitely he holds me higher than say a regular slave just because I do come from somewhere else.”

Can you talk about actually being on the Vikings set and what it was like physically for you to take on a role like this?

Dianne Doan: “I’ve never moved across the world to work before and so that was definitely a game-changer for me. Like I said earlier, it was really intimidating and nerve-wracking coming on to the show that is so well-established and respected in the industry. Luckily, the cast and crew are phenomenal over in Ireland that it wasn’t so much a challenge working at all. [Laughing] The only challenge I would say was the elements. I think the cast have mentioned it before it’s the weather was probably the biggest thing I do adjust to just because everyone was so gracious and welcoming.”

Was it more physically demanding for you than you expected it to be as far as getting used to that weather and being able to act through the cold?

Dianne Doan: “No. If anything, I think it helped with the work. We’re put in a position where we got to play around with so much. The sets were made beautifully. Everything felt that you were transformed into this world. If anything, the weather would help. It was difficult as I said earlier, just like being pushed out of my comfort zone acting-wise. I’ve never been challenged like that before. I couldn’t have asked for a better project.”

Without spoiling anything, do you have a favorite scene you shot or an episode that you are especially proud of?

Dianne Doan: “Yes. I would say episodes four and five were really special for me. I got the chance to really play around and explore with my character and I think you’ll really learn a lot about Yidu. Also, that I got to work with an amazing director during that time and I learned the most probably then. It’s the start of my story arc, I would say, during that time, those two episodes.”

You got a chance to work with Travis Fimmel so closely and he’s known to be a huge prankster. Did he ever prank you?

Dianne Doan: “Yes, he did. Of course he did. Luckily, I didn’t actually get it that bad. I think I earned a place at the table pretty early on so he never bugged me too much. I just got to witness all the pranks. I think the worst that I got and I don’t want to get anybody in trouble but he definitely tied me to a boat and I am going to be dramatic and say that I could have possibly died. I’m just kidding. I didn’t. [Laughing] But yes, he tied me to a boat by my life jacket and as I was trying to exit off the dock, I got pulled back, and everybody laughed at me.”