History’s Vikings season four is underway with Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) still attempting to regain his health, Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard) on the outs, and Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) striking out on a vision quest. Bjorn’s journey takes him away from the rest of the Vikings as he attempts to discover more about himself and what he’s capable of becoming. Season four’s third episode even found Ludwig as Bjorn doing battle with a bear, although as he explained in our conference call the bear in Vikings was real and not a CG creation like the bear in The Revenant.
Vikings season four is currently airing on Thursday nights at 10pm.
Alexander Ludwig Interview:
What does Bjorn have to learn before he can become a leader as strong as his father?
Alexander Ludwig: “I think the main part of this whole season for me is Bjorn basically learning to trust his instincts and that power corrupts. As much as he can trust everyone, the most important thing is that he trusts himself and this whole season is kind of about him learning to do that and learning to take more control.”
Do you think his father is hard on him to make him better because he wants to make him a better leader or because he fears that Bjorn might become too strong?
Alexander Ludwig: “I think it’s the first one. My father is like that as well. You’ve just got to be a bit hard on your children and that’s kind of what he’s done as he’s been trying to harden them up because he didn’t have to work as hard as his father did at the start. He was kind of thrown into this more lavish lifestyle than he was. Ragnar was a father whereas Bjorn grew up but his father had become a king when he was still a younger man, so it’s definitely about him growing up.”
Can you talk a bit about the crazy bear fight? How much of it was CGI and what was the most challenging part about the whole filming process?
Alexander Ludwig: “I think the most challenging part was definitely the conditions. The weather was pretty rough and pretty cold. But in terms of the bear, most of it is real. We don’t have a budget like The Revenant so we can’t make a CGI bear. So, in a really exciting way, we got to use a real one and it was a very, very incredible experience to work with such a beautiful and amazing animal.”
What’s the future for Bjorn and Porunn going forward this season? There’s a heartbreaking scene at the beginning with Bjorn kind of shunning his daughter. Is he going to change his attitude?
Alexander Ludwig: “Yes. The idea behind that was that it’s put on very subtly is that Vikings lost their children a lot and I think that Bjorn, when he sees his daughter for the first time since Porunn has left and abandoned him and his daughter, it’s just a constant reminder of how hurt he was. So, yes, I do actually. I think that you’re going to see a darker side to Bjorn as the season continues. He slowly starts to become hardened by life’s cruel circumstances and also becomes selfish by doing that.”
We’ve seen obviously the contentious relationship between Ragnar and Rollo. Is that something that Bjorn is also going to experience with his own brothers? Right now they seem to all be fairly close.
Alexander Ludwig: “That’s one thing that I try never to forget is that Bjorn actually has no allegiance to his brothers in terms of bloodline. I mean, everyone shared the same father but Lagertha is Bjorn’s mother and everyone else is born under Princess Aslaug so that’s definitely going to play. And, of course, when they’re young they’re not threatening so at the start I don’t think you’re going to see that but you’re definitely going to see that as the season continues. You’ll see certain brothers side with certain ones and others do not and it gets very, very intense.”
Porunn is gone but there seems to be a new woman in Bjorn’s life. How is Bjorn’s relationship with Torvi? Is there a romance brewing there?
Alexander Ludwig: “It’s kind of a power play at the start for Bjorn. It’s him kind of just taking what he wants and what’s his. That’s something you’ll see more in this season as well is that he becomes more ruthless as a character and he takes what he wants and doesn’t think twice about it. So at the beginning it’s a bit of a power play and I wouldn’t say it goes much further than purely a sexual attraction. These Vikings had so many partners and whatnot. I mean, it definitely goes into something. He ends up he possibly has a family but he’s gone for so long and he’s away for so long, you’re going to see quite a few different romances in this season and it’s going to get pretty ruthless of him.”
It seems to be a bold choice especially because Erlendur is not a friend of Bjorn already.
Alexander Ludwig: “That’s kind of what the thought behind it was, it’s kind of putting him in his place like, ‘I can take anything from you. I could take your life, I could take your wife,’ and he starts with his wife and maybe we’ll see something else after.”
What do you think has been the biggest challenge you’ve encountered since the show began?
Alexander Ludwig: “Well, I’d say on the show it’s got to be the weather here is just unbelievable. I’ve never seen anything like it when you’re coming on the boats and working in these brutal conditions, especially right now that we’ve never experienced having shows in the winter. It’s got immense repercussions to our show but the funny thing about the weather is just it looks so great that you kind of find solace in the fact that the show is going to look awesome. But it’s definitely been a brutal shoot towards the end, so that would be one of the toughest. I think the second one would be just as you grow and understand why I think the TV show has been so amazing for me in particular is the more camera time you have, the more experience you have in front of the cameras working with great actors and whatnot, you learn so much. It has its own challenges and it’s an immense reward so that’s been an amazing, amazing thing for me.”
Have you ever been seriously injured while on the set?
Alexander Ludwig: “Surprisingly, no. There definitely were a few times where I should’ve been but no, never anything to be hospitalized or anything like that.”
How do you see Bjorn’s spiritual growth unfolding especially in reference to the bear fight, the struggles going on between Floki and traditional Vikings faith, and Ragnar and his turn toward modern Christianity?
Alexander Ludwig: “I think Ragnar, he’s always been the curious type whereas Floki has been more of the fundamental extremist. And Bjorn, as he struggles to find his place and has his own opinions and beliefs, his trek in the woods serves as a foil for that. I would say that he definitely believes in the gods, he appreciates the power that they have over their people and Floki’s belief, but at the same time, he shares his father’s curiosity.”
What do you think about the strong female characters that are in Vikings and interacting with them?
Alexander Ludwig: “In terms of the female leads, I mean, it’s about time we started to see more of that. I mean, it’s everywhere in our everyday life and what I think is so amazing is that historically the Vikings were so progressive in terms of respecting their women. They had their own saying. They were just as equal if not better than [men] in some senses. So, I think it’s an amazing thing and I think that the women we have on the show are doing an excellent job portraying it. I’m really happy to see what a great female following there’s been and I hope it continues because it’s not what I expected. I think it’s so sexy and cool when a girl comes up and says that she’s watching the show. I mean, I love that.”
Do you have a favorite scene from this season?
Alexander Ludwig: “Yes, I really did take a lot of pride in that Rollo scene that we did in the second episode where I address everybody for the first time as the leader while Ragnar’s kind of incapacitated. But a lot of the stuff that I’m really excited for everybody to see, and I mean like beyond excited than anything I’ve ever done in Vikings, comes from about episode 15 and onward. You’re going to see a pretty crazy event and Bjorn’s going to do some pretty amazing things.”
How isolated were you in preparing for your vision quest scenes? Were you pulled away from the cast or did the cast know what was going to go on?
Alexander Ludwig: “I’m telling you I was so excited it was ridiculous. The cast never saw anything that we had done so that’s why they were so excited to see the episodes. They were so jealous that I got to go do it. We’re basically in the middle of nowhere and we have to take snow mobiles to the set. And just for me personally, I thought it was one of the most beautiful and spiritually awakening experiences I’ve ever had. It’s something that I think the show needed to…you just can’t fake that stuff. You know when it’s real when you’re watching the show and it’s important to set up an environment. So, I’m really happy that the studio and everybody took the risk and did it because it was definitely worth it.”
Is the quest to prove something to himself or to prove something to Ragnar?
Alexander Ludwig: “He said to his father in the first episode that it’s because, ‘You don’t think I can survive.’ And of course if most sons – well, it’s my view that most sons go to make their father proud in a subconscious way or just any other way, but for Bjorn, I think it’s more for him. He needs to do this. He needs to get away and he needs everyone to see that he’s become his own [man]. He’s testing himself because he doesn’t even know if he can do it. He needs to prove to himself that he’s not in a position he’s in because of his father. He’s there because he deserves to be there. He deserves to be a leader.”
In the first episode this season we saw Bjorn studying a map taken from Paris and he got a glimpse of Italy and Rome on the map. Is that possibly foreshadowing Bjorn’s own future conquest?
Alexander Ludwig: “100%, yes and that’s something we’ve known about since the beginning, the beginning of the show. So, it’s a very, very cool little addition and I’m really excited for you guys to see where it goes.”
You’re filming in Ireland. Can you tell us a little bit about what it’s like to film there and what you’re able to do during your off-time?
Alexander Ludwig: “Yes, I always think it’s important to never let your work justify your life but the thing is I love what I do so much – and it’s hard not to. But when I’m not working, I’ve been taking music production classes in Dublin and I’ve also been getting my pilot’s license in Wicklow. So, it’s very exciting up until now though because the weather’s been so bad. I can’t go. I can’t continue [but] hopefully we end up coming back next year.”
Are we going to see a reunion Bjorn and Lagertha reunion this season? What does he think about her assuming this position of power?
Alexander Ludwig: “You will see a reunion and he’s all about Lagertha achieving her own dreams. They’ve always had such a strong bond that he’s just excited for her when she’s achieving her goals. I think that Bjorn’s learned so much from her as well. You’re also going to see actually a cool little change as well that they start becoming more companions than just – she’s become as much of a parental figure as a companion to him now, which is a really cool shift in the relationship.”
She wanted to rely on Ragnar to help her keep her position and he wasn’t really going to participate in that. Is Bjorn going to step up more and have her back?
Alexander Ludwig: “Yes, but at the end of the day it’s what’s best for the people and that was the point is that it wasn’t about defending her Earldom at that time because there are more important things to think about. And as the show continues that will be addressed in this season in a very, very big way. And, yes, he does protect her.”
Bjorn and Floki always shared a special bond and they even had similar concerns with Athelstan and Ragnar. What changed? What made him imprison Floki in front of the whole village?
Alexander Ludwig: “Well, it’s what had to be done. At the end of the day Bjorn had to do what’s right about his people and if somebody betrays the wishes of his father who is the king, they need to be dealt with no matter who it is. It’s not easy for Bjorn to do. He puts on a front. He does his best to show everyone that this is what has to be done, but it’s not an easy feat for him at all.”
Do you think Ragnar’s womanizing had any effect on Bjorn’s past relationships and how he treats women this season or does he continue to kind of hold the bar high for how he should treat women?
Alexander Ludwig: “I think it’s a mix of both, really, but I will say that you will see that Ragnar’s personality has definitely kind of made its way into Bjorn. It’s like father, like son, that somehow I worked a lot on with Travis just to show that. But also I think it’s so important to remember it’s something – and I always have to remind myself – that of course you’re caught womanizing or whatever but at the end of the day, back then in their culture it wasn’t seen as that. I mean, of course with Lagertha and Ragnar, they had their own rules that they lived by; that was just between them. There are other Vikings who have gone out, they could do that and that will be fine. That’s a very cool thing to remember. Another thing that I always try to remind myself on set is in battles. If you kill somebody, it’s easy. So you want to play how we’ve grown up in this [world of], ‘Oh my god, I killed someone. How is this going to affect me?’ but at the end of the day they wanted that. That’s why they were so terrifying is that they wanted a good death. They were excited to go to battle. That’s why they were so feared, so that’s something I would always try to remind myself is when you put yourself in that world… And that’s what is so exciting to play is because you kind of get to live by all the rules, you can’t not [obey].”