‘Vikings’ Star Clive Standen Exclusive Interview on Season 5, Part 2 and Rollo’s Journey

Vikings star Clive Standen
Clive Standen as Rollo in season 5 of ‘Vikings’ (Photo by Jonathan Hession © History)

History’s Vikings will finally return after an agonizingly lengthy wait for the second half of season five on Wednesday, November 28, 2018. Part two of season five will see Ivar the Boneless (Alex Høgh Andersen) continuing his tyrannical reign. It will also find Clive Standen‘s Rollo, now a respected Duke, re-entering the Vikings story.

In support of the upcoming Vikings season five part two’s premiere, we spoke with Clive Standen to find out what’s in store for Rollo as he returns to Kattegat. In our one-on-one interview, Standen described Rollo’s journey and how the character’s evolved and matured into the Duke of Normandy.

After slipping into the character for five seasons, has your approach to getting into Rollo changed much?

Clive Standen: “Probably. There’s been moments because there’s been big transitions where you had to reinvent the character somewhat, and because of the time jumps you had to piece together what went on in between. It’s easy to change the character as the story unfolds and how you let the emotions hit you as an actor. But sometimes when there’s a five-year age gap or an eight-year age gap, then you have to ask, ‘What has this guy been doing in this time?’

With Michael (Hirst) and me we always come back with Rollo as he transitions. For instance, I think a major transition was when at the end of season two he’s trampled by horses. If you remember the last time you see him, his legs are all broken and he’s trying to defend Kattegat from all the soldiers invading. And you don’t really know what happens to him in the meantime because then we go and have a time jump and he’s completely fixed. He’s walking again, at least. That’s hard to kind of approach the character differently and go, ‘What’s happened in between, psychologically?’

But this time, to get back on point, this time coming back it wasn’t so hard. I thought it might be. There was a lot going on with Clive that was parallel with Rollo. You know, I’d been away from the set for quite a long time, for a season. And Rollo had been away from Kattegat being the Duke of Normandy. So, my very first scene was this big scene full of pomp and grace with all my men – a lot of supporting artists as Francia soldiers – and I walk into the Great Hall and I meet Ivar (Alex Høgh Andersen and King Harald (Peter Franzen) and Hvitserk (Marco Ilso).

It was strange because when Rollo was in Kattegat, that was very much my stomping ground. It would be Ragnar, it’d be Rollo, it’d be Lagertha, it’d be Aslaug, it’d be Bjorn. So, to go into this Great Hall as Rollo and be greeted by actors that I didn’t have so many scenes with and there was a part of them that were like, ‘Clive Standen’s back. He’s number two on the call sheet. He’s done five seasons of the show,’ and they’d only really previously done one season before. So, there was a part of them kind of almost going, ‘You take the space. You’re the adult in the situation.’ And there’s a part of me going, out of respect, ‘You guys, it’s your show now. I’ve come back here and I’ve been away. Let’s see how you guys work. Let’s see the energy you’re giving to the set.’

And it was very much actors trying to suss each other out, trying to kind of get a grasp of how the day’s going to unfold – just as Rollo is. Rollo is walking into that room and it’s all a game of cards. He’s holding his close to his chest and he’s going, ‘Who are you? What’s been going on? What are the politics of the situation? Who’s going to try and stab me in the back?’ All that kind of stuff. He’s very much kind of mirroring what I’m feeling.

The next day I’m doing scenes with Katheryn (Winnick) and Alexander (Ludwig) – Lagertha and Bjorn – and I’m suddenly kind of back with the old tribe, so to speak. I think it was a very different energy and we had to kind of almost go back and go, ‘Okay, hang on. What is the status here? What’s changed?’ We were almost like carrying on where we left off.”

How in-depth did you go in terms of filling in the blanks of what’s happened during the periods when we don’t witness Rollo’s journey? How much did you discuss those periods with Michael Hirst?

Clive Standen: “Most of it’s there in history as well. There’s a lot written about it. I think it’s probably because we have fun with it when he said, ‘The show’s not about Francia. We can’t keep going in Francia. It’s called Vikings; we have to stay in Scandinavia.’

That was all the information I needed anyway because there’s so much written about Rollo in Normandy, the things he did as the Duke of Normandy and how he accomplished getting the people on his side as opposed to the King of France. He became far more popular than the King of France himself and built Rouen and Normandy into such a powerful state. All of that’s in history books so I know what he’s been doing, and I know how he’s grown as a man and as a leader, a responsible leader of people. I mean, he really has embraced their culture and their religion and his wife. So, that’s all there. It’s just not going to play out on screen.

It’s the real peccadilloes that an actor wants, that kind of meat and gravy that you can go and just give yourself such a big backstory. Status is the most important thing. That status is completely different now. Before it was a Rollo grasping at straws, banging on doors hoping someone would listen to him. Now this is a man who has people come to him. He doesn’t need to use force. But there is also that the age has caught up with him.

I’m not sure if I’m going to sound really silly saying this because it might actually be in the episode because I haven’t seen the episode in its entirety. I’ve only seen the episode when I had to do my additional dialogue in the ADR studio. But I was under the impression that because we have to cut so many scenes to get it down to 47 minutes, there was a scene we filmed with Rollo talking to King Harald, Ivar, and Hvitserk and Rollo is telling a story about an old Berserker who couldn’t fight in battle anymore. That was all he was good at in life and all he wanted to be known for. In his old age, he gathered all the pots and pans and weapons and anything metal that could find in his house, or his domain, and then climbed to the top of a cliff and threw them all off so they’d clatter and smash and bang against the rocks below just to remind him of the sounds of battle one last time.

I don’t think it makes it into the episode – maybe it’ll be on the DVD extras – but it was such a lovely speech to get into the mind of Rollo because he’s obviously really speaking about himself. And this is why he’s come back. He’s a man that’s older now and he’s a ruler. It’s one of those things of is the grass greener on the other side? He’s spent his whole life trying to accomplish some things, trying to be known, be famous, and to be rewarded by the gods and to be respected by his peers. And he’s now, conceivably, he’s got the people, he’s got the wealth, he’s got the land, he’s got the acknowledgement and the riches and all the things that come with that, but is he really happy? Was he happier before?

When someone pines or wants for something their whole life, if they actually get it is it all it’s cracked up to be? Because he’s now dealing with the mortality of where will he go in the afterlife, and there’s some certain things which we all know. Most people gather it when they’re younger; some people it takes them a lifetime. But the things that are really important in life are family and love and all those big things that never go away, your stable things. They’re the things that life’s made up of. And he puts some of those things to the side or other people have forced him away so now’s his chance to go and open up those wounds and hopefully get some respite by someone putting some salt in them. And the somebody I’m talking about is Lagertha and Bjorn – the two reasons he has to come back.”

Vikings star Clive Standen
King Harald (Peter Franzen), Rollo (Clive Standen), Hvitserk (Marco Ilso) and Ivar the Boneless (Alex Høgh Andersen) in ‘Vikings’ (Photo by Jonathan Hession © History)

He’s endured so much and accomplished incredible feats. At this point who is his closest confidante? Who is he turning to for support?

Clive Standen: “I think that’s the question, isn’t it? Who is he turning to? It’s always the god. When you’ve been a Viking all your life and you’ve worshipped those gods, they’re always the people you turn to. And, there’s so many of them to turn to in the pagan religion. But now he’s embraced another religion and he’s got that god, but who is he turning to in his old age? When you find god, if you find god, when you’ve got two entirely different religions, who do you turn to? Have they shunned him?

He’s now trying to prove to the gods that he’s going to put right what once went wrong. He’s going back and he’s trying to hedge his bets, as did the real Rollo in history. The real Rollo, Dudo of Saint-Quentin wrote – one of the historians – said that in his later years in life he lined up a hundred Christians soldiers in front of him in the town square and had them all beheaded. And at the same, he sent a hundred pounds in weight of gold to the Christian churches. So, in one way he’s trying to appease Odin by giving him 100 sacrifices. At the same time, he’s sending all that money to the church to kind of appease the Christian god.

This is a man who’s completely at his wit’s end. ‘I just don’t know. I want to go somewhere!’ He just doesn’t want to go to hell. We didn’t want to play it that way. The historian I’m talking about wrote it that way, but he was very one-sided in history and I think that kind of history down the Christian side is very bastardized and very one-sided. Dudo of Saint-Quentin was writing about Rollo because he was commissioned by the current Duke of Normandy, so he’s obviously going to write his ancestors in a very warm light. But, we wanted to have that in there. This is a man who’s lost and he’s trying to find which gods are going to accept him in the afterlife, and I think that was a nice little homage to that part of history with Rollo that we found.

I had a little elixir…he’s got a little tonic that I’m carrying around with me. I’m shaking it up and the servant comes and I take a little swig from it. It’s just to give the audience that little hint that something is not quite right, you know? Something’s rotten in the state of Denmark I keep saying from Hamlet because we’re dealing with Scandinavia. But he’s a man who’s slowly dying…maybe sooner than we think.”

Is playing the older version of Rollo more fascinating for you as an actor than playing Rollo in his younger years?

Clive Standen: “Oh, yeah, definitely. But, it’s a journey. Once I’ve done something, I never want to do it again anyway so that’s what’s so great about a character that almost reinvents himself. Because once I’ve done that season and I’ve played that part of his life, I’m done with that. Just like in life in general, Clive Standen has no regrets because I would never do anything the same way again. I’d do it all different to see what it was like the other way.

What’s so great about a character like Rollo is that as an actor you don’t usually get to play the 60-year-old version of the character you play. Usually they would cast a 30-year-old as a 30-year-old and there would come a point where they’d recast an older actor to play the 60-year-old version. I’ve been able to track this character all the way through, and that’s what’s so exciting. I’m getting to play a role that I would never usually get to play and it’s not just the character I’m dealing with, it’s everything. It’s not just the inner tempo and the emotions I’m dealing with, it’s transforming my whole body and that’s why I got into acting. I got into acting to draw attention away from myself, not towards myself. So, the further away from Clive Standen I can get that I can really lose myself in, that’s what really gets me up in the morning and makes me excited about my job.”