Vikings is about to explore new territory, in more ways than one. Season 5 will be the first full season without its star Travis Fimmel, who portrayed the incomparable Ragnar Lothbrok. Without their father to guide them, Ragnar’s sons have scattered, with Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) headed for the sands of Morocco, and the others taking the Great Heathen Army with the intent to raid Northumbria, starting with York. These raids lead to the introduction of a new antagonist, played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers (The Tudors). On the horizon, however, is a massive civil war between Vikings.
At the head of tensions this season is Ivar the Boneless, played by Danish actor Alex Høgh Andersen. Ivar let his anger get the better of him in the Season 4 finale, when a few cruel remarks from his brother Sigurd (David Lindström) resulted in Ivar throwing an axe into his chest. The TV Junkies spoke with Andersen about how this fratricide may erode his relationship with the rest of his family, the difficulties of playing a complicated character like Ivar, and what else lies ahead for him in the face of civil war.
For Canadian fans looking for even more Vikings intel, ET Canada will air a half-hour special ahead of the two-hour premiere, with interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. Until then, read on to see what Andersen has to say about Vikings Season 5.
The TV Junkies: When we last saw Ivar he had killed his brother, Sigurd. Where does he stand with the rest of his brothers going into Season 5?
Alex Høgh Andersen: He’s in the dog house. I think he has created a wound between him and his brothers that is not able to be healed again. He understands the fact that he has burned the bridge between them and he’ll never have brotherly love with them again, so he’s devastated. Absolutely devastated. Because he lost control and because the anger took over. Somebody got to him, which showed his weakness. He’s quite an actor, being so manipulative, and understanding people, so for him to have his façade crack, in a way, is tough on him.
TTVJ: Ivar has done a lot of terrible things, and continues to do so in the upcoming premiere, but we also see a lot of vulnerabilities and his softer side at times. How do you balance that?
AHH: That’s what it’s all about. I have a great dialogue with [series creator and writer] Michael Hirst, and we have a great environment on Vikings where actors are able to sit down and discuss, and come up with suggestions, for his or her character. It’s tremendous that we have that dialogue. For me, it’s all about Michael and I agreeing about when we need to balance him out. There’s a lot of stuff happening in Season 5 where he’s ruthless and killing people, and he’s that extreme edge-seeking character that he is. But then we also both understand, Michael and I, that we need to have those moments when Ivar is sitting alone and he’s so very lonely, and you see that everything he’s doing is compensating for his disease and what’s he’s dealing with on a daily basis. Then you just want to give him a hug, right? That’s my main goal as an actor is to defend [my character’s] actions, because that will keep him as a three-dimensional character. He’s an antihero, of course with the emphasis on “anti”, but still a hero.
TTVJ: Have there been any moments where you’ll disagree with Hirst?
AHH: Oh yeah, there are always creative differences and disagreements. Just the fact that I’m able to sit down and talk to him and make suggestions is way more than I could ask for. He’s a great, great writer and he understands my character so well that we’ve never run into any harsh words or anything like that. He’s doing a brilliant job with my character.
One thing is the way it’s written on paper, and another thing is how we choreograph it and how we do it on set. One scene can be written in one way, and you take a look at it, and the standard way to see that scene is that Ivar is very tough and he’s acting up, and all that, right? Yeah, I can do that, but in the end of the scene I can make it look like he’s pretending, so when everybody leaves the scene and there’s a closeup ending on my face, I can do the shift, I can show the audience that it was all an act and he’s actually pretty insecure. You can choreograph scenes in a matter that suits you most of the time, and that’s the great thing about it. You can get into so many details and tell a thousand things with just one look.
TTVJ: Ivar is such a strategic guy, so there’s definitely an importance to bring a lot of nuance to the character.
AHH: Really, the great thing about being on Vikings is the dialogue we have. I’ve written my own lines for this show, and that’s a bucket list thing. I’ve written my own lines for a massive TV show. That’s too cool. I appreciate it so much that myself and the other actors are able to talk to Michael, and he really wants to listen and hear us out. That says a lot about him as a person. There’s no one who knows our character better than ourselves, right? So it’s brilliant, and such a learning experience.
TTVJ: A big part of Ivar’s story is his disability. As an able-bodied person, do you ever have difficulties portraying a disability?
AHH: It’s such a challenge. Yeah, there are some times I forget that I can’t use my legs, and I push off a little bit, but I try my very, very best to keep it to a minimum. It’s always a challenge when you’re not able to just stand up and act, because it’s so far away from what I’m used to and who I am. The further away the character gets from me, the more interesting and the more challenging it is, and that’s when it gets really fun. I’m so passionate about acting and playing around, and acting is really just playing around, so for me to play in that way and play with a character who’s so different from who I am is brilliant. I’m so privileged to take on that character at such a young age.
TTVJ: We talked a little bit about Ivar’s intelligence, but how much of his strategic side will we get to see this season?
AHH: Quite a lot. There’s a new character introduced who, you might have heard of him, is a very great actor called Jonathan Rhys Meyers. [laughs] I was very, very star-struck when I heard the news and when I got to work with him. We have some great scenes, because Ivar and Bishop Heahmund are very much alike, and have a mutual respect for one another because they understand each other. They are on different sides, so any chance they get, they’d use it to kill each other, but it’s a great dynamic between two very extreme characters. They’re very determined and progressive. Some of the stuff that we shoot in York is going to be absolutely amazing [to watch], and most of that is Ivar being a strategic genius as well. It’s so much fun to shoot.
TTVJ: This will be the first full season without Ragnar. The brothers have had their revenge, but are the characters still feeling the loss of Ragnar going into Season 5?
AHH: I think he’ll always be on the show in one way or another. His character has affected so many lives. What we need to do in a show that kills of the lead character is keep going and have a lot of action happening. Not just action scenes, but a lot of dramatic events. There are a lot of those in Season 5. His character passed on the torch to Ivar–obviously no pressure, of course–but I’ve taken it upon me, and I think Ivar’s going a lot of places. Bjorn as well, he’s going to Morocco, and Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) is always a powerhouse. You’ll see the brothers grow as characters, and we have new characters introduced, and new characters in England as well that are interesting and doing one hell of a job. I’m excited to see the whole thing.
TTVJ: The promos for this season are promising a massive Vikings civil war. What will this mean for Ivar?
AHH: [laughs] It means a lot of trouble! Especially for me, because Lagertha’s a fan-favorite so I’ll probably get sacrificed by the end of this month. But it’s all good! I’m very excited for people to see it because it was very, very big. It’s Vikings fighting against Vikings, and we’ll see how that ends up happening, but we were excited to see how the audience is going to take it. Nobody wants to see Vikings against Vikings, they want to see Vikings against Saxons, right? It’s risky, but that’s the great thing about this show. Michael Hirst is taking a lot of risks as a writer. He killed off his lead character, and now he’s putting two of the biggest characters up against each other. I love to be a part of a TV show that’s not afraid of taking risks.
What are your thoughts on Ivar going into Season 5? Sound off in the comments below.
Vikings premieres Wednesday, Nov. 29 at 9 p.m. ET on History. The ET Canada special airs at 7:30 p.m. ET on Global.
Associate Editor Kelly Townsend always had strong opinions on TV growing up, so it was only natural to evolve from couch musings to online journalism. She can't ever choose a favorite series, so please don't ask. Her writing has also appeared on IndieWire and Tribute.ca. You can find her on Twitter at @kellybtownsend.