History’s riveting dramatic action series Vikings returns for the second half of season four on November 30, 2016 at 9pm ET/PT. The second half of the fourth season will find Ragnar Lothbrok’s grown sons playing a larger role, with Ivar the Boneless (Alex Høgh Andersen) emerging as a key player. Series creator Michael Hirst says the storylines in the upcoming Vikings episodes are inspired by real life events including Bjorn Ironside’s Mediterranean journey and Ivar the Boneless’ rise as one of the most feared warriors of the Vikings era.
With the fourth season’s second half about to premiere, I had the opportunity to speak with Andersen about tackling the role of Ivar the Boneless and what Vikings viewers can expect from the upcoming episodes. Andersen was on a brief six day break from the set and was home in Denmark during our interview, happy for a short break from filming Vikings but excited for fans to catch up with the lives of Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) and his sons. During our interview Andersen discussed playing a character who is unable to walk, researching the role, working with Travis Fimmel and his co-stars, and what sort of man Ivar the Boneless is in season four of Vikings.
Alex Høgh Andersen Exclusive Interview:
Ivar the Boneless is a such demanding role, in part because you have to concentrate on not moving your legs while acting. How do you approach that?
Alex Høgh Andersen: “Well, it is a challenge, really. But the thing is when you’re sitting down and doing a scene, that’s actually not the biggest challenge. You have to get used to it because, yes, when you constantly act with not just your face, but your entire body, it is sometimes hard not to move the right leg or something. The most frustrating thing actually was not being able to choreograph your own scenes. That’s so frustrating that as an actor you want to do something but you just can’t do it. A lot of the time we’ve just been settling down with, ‘Where’s Alex going to sit?’ I’ll try to act clever and find a good spot to sit. Usually the toughest challenge is actually just crawling around, physically, that’s the biggest challenge, really. If he’s been crippled his entire life, he would have been settled with the fact that he’s just not moving around.”
Is there a point when you’re filming that you forget about it and it’s kind of like not necessarily natural, but at least you don’t have to think about that aspect of it?
Alex Høgh Andersen: (Laughing) “Well, I think actually I’ve been pretty good about it. I think when you get into character and you sit there, that has not actually been the biggest challenge of this character, not to move my legs or not use them. But it has been frustrating, as an actor, not being able to move and choreograph your own scenes, really. That has been very, very horrible, actually. But it’s a good exercise as well, because I just move all my acting up to my face and my hands because that’s the only way I can do it, right? That’s very interesting as well, because you have to compensate for not being able to move. You have to do it all with your face, your facial expression, your hands, but still you can’t do that too much because it doesn’t work on the camera. It’s a great exercise, really.”
What sort of man is Ivar when we catch up with him at the start of the second half of season four? How would you describe his feelings toward his family?
Alex Høgh Andersen: “He’s a troubled, troubled, young man, really. He’s very troubled. He’s schooled by Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard), he’s the son of Ragnar, and he’s raised by Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland), so he’s one kind of a man already there. He’s also, somehow, he’s very independent. He’s chosen to be independent and to be able to do things on his own. Just to be physically handicapped in a Viking culture, that comes with a lot of challenges and obstacles. He’s always been the one sitting on the beach looking at his brothers fishing or something like that. So because of that, he’s also very lonely. He’s not physically able to participate in the same way.
He’s a challenged, poor kid, who actually just wants to be loved in the correct way, because Aslaug is, oh my god, she’s suffocating him with the wrong kind of love. She’s compensating for his disease, so she’s giving him too much. He doesn’t have a father. He really needs a father figure, because who doesn’t need that? Plus, the fact that he’s completely challenged, double as challenged as everybody else. When we see him he is in his teenage years where you really need a father figure to put some f**king ambition into him, to give him something extra, something to move on to, because I think he feels a little bit stuck right now. He’s also very determined; he does not give up. I think you’re going to see a lot of interesting stuff with him.”
Is Floki kind of filling that father role at this point, or is he more just a mentor and not a father figure?
Alex Høgh Andersen: “Well, I think if you don’t have a father, you know, you try to fill that gap with somebody. I think Floki has really stepped up. But still, if you’re the son of Ragnar Lothbrok, you know that he’s your father and you want him to be your father because he’s the most famous Viking of all time. I think he forces Floki somehow to just stay his mentor and not pull him in too much, to actually become a father figure. But, it’s a balance between those two things, being a father and a mentor, because he has definitely helped Ivar out. Definitely.”
Did you do a lot of research into the time period, into the Vikings, before you took on the role?
Alex Høgh Andersen: “Yes, I did. Just on watching the show you get a really good understanding of the entire vibe to the Vikings and the TV show and who they were. Just observing Travis Fimmel working as Ragnar Lothbrok, that’s interesting on its own. I’ve picked up a lot of stuff working with Travis. I’m very spoiled to have worked with Travis a lot. He’s a great, great actor and very fun to watch. His way of saying his lines and his accent, his Viking accent, I really picked that one up from just watching the show.
But I did do a lot of research myself, as well. I did a lot of research on the disease that we went with with Ivar the Boneless – osteogenesis imperfecta or brittle bone disease. That was very interesting to learn about what am I capable of doing and what am I definitely not? What are my real obstacles. Trying to keep it authentic.
But the cool thing about Vikings is it’s also just a show between characters and real people. I think it’s also very important not to get caught up in the history and all that, but actually keep it relatable. Keep it about human beings. Ivar could just has easily have been a guy in 21st century, right, struggling with the same thing, of being handicapped in a culture where you are limited. I think that’s the core of it. That’s what acting really is. Make it relatable so people can feel you and create some sympathy with you, and empathy, and all that. That’s really what it’s about. That’s really my main ambition of creating this character was really just to make him relatable, and make people understand him.”
You touched on it briefly, but after listening to the cadence and listening to how Travis Fimmel brought the Viking voice to life, how tough was that for you to actually do?
Alex Høgh Andersen: “Well, that’s the thing. As an actor, what you do is you really just pretend. You know, impersonations and all that. I’ve been doing that all my life, been doing different accents and all that. It was actually pretty easy to pick up, because it’s so unique in a way. But also we have a great voice coach on Vikings who helps us a lot. I think it also helps me, personally, a little bit, that I’m from Denmark; I don’t have a perfect English accent, so it’s almost strange to me, in a way. It’s already something that I have to work on. Maybe it’s actually tougher if you have an English accent and then you have to do Viking with that. For me it was strange, the whole thing, I don’t know how to describe it. It wasn’t actually that bad. I think maybe that kind of Swedish/Scandinavian accent that’s to it and a little bit of Icelandic as well, I think that maybe helped me a little bit out that I’m from Denmark.”
I think it’s really fascinating that you’re so into photography. Does that change the way you view a set and how you approach a character, because you’re more visually tuned into the setting itself?
Alex Høgh Andersen: “Well, it definitely helps an actor working with cameras. If you’re an actor and you don’t understand the little black box that shoots you, you have a lot to learn. And, I’m still working on that. But it really helps me a lot to understand the different angles, to communicate better with my camera operators, with DPs, trying to figure out what’s going on. You just have a more profound understanding of what’s going on on set. That has helped me a lot. I can ask the camera operator what lens he has on the camera, and if he says it’s a 50, I know within the framing and what limits I have for acting. If he’s like five meters away from me and he puts on a 50, then I act completely different than if he was up in my face. It’s that basic understanding of what’s going on cinematography-wise.”
That’s fascinating. Are you going to do a book with all the photos you’ve taken behind the scenes?
Alex Høgh Andersen: “That’s actually an interesting question. I’ve been working on that idea a little bit, yeah. Mostly it’s just for fun, really being a hobby. It’s almost kind of a therapy for me when I go home to my apartment after work and I can just sit there and enjoy a glass of red wine while I’m just editing my photos. It’s just a way for me to come down in a way, because it is a very stressful job. There’s a lot of pressure and 14 hours a day working, and all that.
I’ve been thinking about it. I shoot a lot of the extras and I really think that, in general, that extras and all the stuff that’s in the background, it’s easily forgotten. In Denmark where it’s usually small-time set and not all this Hollywood big budget stuff, I’m used to working with everybody and helping out with the camera guys, carrying the cameras and stuff to wherever we’re shooting next. That whole thing of being a team culture, or something like that…I don’t know how to describe it, but it’s just natural for me to invite them or include them in this whole thing. And oh my god, they’re so good-looking, the extras. It’s so easy to take a great photo of them. They have beards down to their belly button, and the makeup and the blood on their face, and the body is perfect. Of course I’m going to shoot it!
I’m thinking about working on maybe some kind of a book, as you said, with all the extras. Some portraits or something like that, yeah.”
Speaking of the hard work on the set, series creator/writer Michael Hirst has given you so much praise for this upcoming season, saying you’re going to be the breakout star. People are going to be as fascinated with you and your character as they are with Travis Fimmel and Ragnar. How does it feel to receive that kind of praise from the man who created the series?
Alex Høgh Andersen: “Well, I know that some of the guys on the show would probably say that I paid him to say so, but that’s not true. (Laughing) It’s outstanding. My face is already red now by just talking about. It’s great because you’re nervous when you’re getting into the job. The first days on the set were absolutely…you know, I can’t even remember them because I was just in a weird zone and you’re so nervous.
I remember the first day on set where it was the four brothers. It’s the scene in episode 10 at the cabin outside where Bjorn comes up and tells us about the fact that the settlement was killed and destroyed. The first scene where we see the four brothers, when we shot that that was the first day ever on set and I remember this Irish guy coming up to me. We were all nervous, I mean we were green. This Irish dude comes up to us and looks us in the eye, and he has a smoke in his mouth, and he’s like, ‘Well, you guys, do you see these 200 guys working behind me? They do not have a job next year if you f**k up,’ and he walked away. You know when it’s a joke and you’re laughing a little bit, but you also realize the seriousness of what he just said? I will never forget that.
It’s great that Michael says stuff like that, but I’ve just been spoiled by working with some great, great directors and some great co-stars who are so giving. The entire set of Vikings is absolutely outstanding. It’s a small family of 200 or 300 people, which is something I never thought I would experience. Not even here in Denmark I’ve experienced a set where you’re that connected with each other, and you’re almost more friends than you are colleagues. It’s a huge help, because as an actor you need to relax with your work and what you’re doing before it can really be great. Just working with these lovely people, Irish people, on Vikings are just outstanding because they help you relax. They help you feel welcome. It’s just been a great experience. I could not have done this without a bunch of great actors and a bunch of great directors.
Michael Hirst just wrote a phenomenal character that was a bullseye straight off. I didn’t have to do anything. I think he’s one of the best characters written right now, one of the most interesting characters right now, I have to say. (Laughing) Completely objectively, of course.”
I’ve watched the first three episodes of the second half and they’re fascinating. Ivar is a captivating character and you’re terrific in the role.
Alex Høgh Andersen: “Thank you very much. You’ve seen more than I have! He’s just such a wonderful character, so interesting. There’s so much armor to that character. I’m spoiled as a young actor to be able to work with such a challenged character in such a young age, so to speak. He’s a great character. I’ve learned already.”
One final question that actually has nothing to do with Vikings. I noticed on your Twitter feed that you’re a San Diego Chargers fan. How did that come about?
Alex Høgh Andersen: “Lovely! Oh my god, good stuff. I love American football, really. The San Diego Chargers aren’t doing a very good job. They lost last night.”
Philip Rivers threw four interceptions.
Alex Høgh Andersen: “American football is actually getting bigger and bigger in Denmark, and Europe in general. I think the first game I watched was with the old Chargers with LaDainian Tomlinson and Rivers. I was like, ‘Oh my god, these guys are awesome.’ I bought the Madden game and always played with the Chargers. I think it just became the Chargers straight off because it was the first game. Another thing on the bucket list is definitely San Diego, to go to San Diego.”
I’m a lifelong Chargers fan, born and raised in San Diego so I had to ask that question.
Alex Høgh Andersen: (Laughing) “Oh, great stuff! Go Chargers!”