In the fourth episode of TNT’s new drama series Animal Kingdom, Craig Cody finds his girlfriend lying unconscious on her bathroom floor. He checks her pulse, like a gentleman. Then he absconds with her money, jewelry, and drugs. “I don’t think that at their core, anyone feels that they’re a bad person. I don’t think Craig necessarily sees his behavior as bad,” explains British actor Ben Robson, who plays Craig on the show. “It’s only bad when he’s actually got himself in trouble and then looks himself in the mirror a bit,” he continues. “But once he’s gotten over it, he’s pretty much back to where he was. He’s someone who constantly lives in the moment.”
Led by matriarch Smurf (Ellen Barkin), the Cody family deals drugs, robs banks, and generally engages in criminal activities. There is Pope (Shawn Hatosy), the eldest of Smurf’s sons, fresh out of jail and mentally ill at ease; Baz (Scott Speedman), Smurf’s adoptive son and de facto second-in-command; Deran (Jake Weary), the baby of the group and Smurf’s favorite; and J (Finn Cole), Smurf’s estranged grandson and the newest addition to the family business. Wedged in between Baz and Deran is Craig. “Craig definitely is a middle child,” says Robson. “It’s probably why he’s as wild as he is, to some degree.”
Next week, Animal Kingdom will conclude its first season (a second is already in the works). While the show’s premise is based on David Michôd’s 2010 film of the same name, the characters are more malleable, and Robson was not given Craig’s arc in advance. “I knew he was a wild character. I knew he was going to get himself into a lot of trouble because he is so impulsive,” he says. “[But] you get the script a week before shooting while you’re shooting the previous episode. You kind of find out on a week-to-week basis,” he continues. “You have to be prepared for the unexpected because anything’s possible—not only with the Cody family, but with Craig to a further degree.”
HOMETOWN: Newcastle, England
FAMILY BACKGROUND: My father worked in manufacturing and was much more of a number cruncher. My younger brother works in wealth management. Most of my friends [work as] oil brokers and ship brokers and in the City. I have a younger sister who now works as an agent for directors and voice coaches. She was in casting for a while. A long time ago I actually had to go do an audition in front of my sister. It was quite a strange feeling. I did not get the part, but she assured me that it was a good audition all the same. She said it went well but I wasn’t right for the role—the old cliché.
I do feel quite like the black sheep between my family and friends to a certain extent. It makes it a lot more challenging because you don’t have that familiarity that you get when you grow up with a whole load of friends who are into the same things. I went to the movies with friends, but we never really discussed it.
STAGE DEBUT: I did a Nativity play when I was four. I think that was the last time I graced the stage. I can’t even remember [who I played]. I did have a strop in the middle of the play because someone had said my line or taken my mark or I didn’t want to do it. I stopped the middle of the performance. There’s a photo my mum has of me with my arm hiding my face having a big cry, not wanting to be on stage at the time. I think I knew right then and there that I needed to be an actor. [laughs]
SCHOOL DAYS: I wasn’t sure of who I wanted to be, what I wanted to be. I was always very creative; I wanted to get into photography but my school wouldn’t let me. I did design. I always enjoyed drawing. Some of the places I went were very rigid in terms of what they believed was a doss subject and what was a serious education. I wanted to do a lot more of the creative stuff and was stopped by teachers. They didn’t think they were the right things to be doing, but they were much more academic than I was.
THE TURNING POINT: I went to the University of the West of England, which is in Bristol. I was there studying business. A friend said he always wanted to get into acting, and I said I’d love to give it a shot. Within pretty much an hour, we’d booked two flights to go to New York. I didn’t tell any of my family or friends; didn’t let anything put me off in terms of how crazy it was to do in the first place. I got back, finished off my degree, and moved out to L.A. to study at Stella Adler in Hollywood. I had a lot of questions to answer to friends. I think my parents were pretty surprised to begin with because they didn’t know that I had decided to go on holiday. Then I told them I’d gone off to act and I think they were pretty stunned. My friends definitely were stunned. I got interrogated by them—”Do you really think you can do this? Where did this come from? Who do you think you are?”—which I can completely understand. I got into acting relatively late—I was 24, 25 when I really decided it was what I wanted to do.
FINDING CRAIG: I was coming off Vikings and I got sent the Animal Kingdom script. I fell in love with it immediately and really identified with Craig. I was just really drawn to who he was and the family dynamic—how they all fought for their mother’s love and attention. I sent in a tape and it went over to America. I got a phone call on a Sunday for a callback, went in on the Monday and the Tuesday, and got cleared from Vikings on Wednesday. Thursday, I was in the test read. I [found] out [about it] at nine o’clock in the morning and at ten o’clock I was at the Warner Brothers studio. I was pretty much shooting the next day. It was pretty wild.
BROTHERLY BONDING: Animal Kingdom was definitely a good vibe and everyone got on very quickly. When we would go on location to Oceanside and were all living there, it’s always a bonding experience. You definitely get to know each other a lot more on location. Even on set it’s a big bonding experience because you’re always up to mischief.
ANIMAL KINGDOM AIRS TUESDAY NIGHTS ON TNT.
MAXIM.COM – Not everyone can get away with playing a viking. You need to be rugged, bearded, aggressive, and an all-around BAMF. Luckily enough for Ben Robson, he fit in with all those qualities—and then some.
After blindly shipping off to New York from London with a buddy and few bags in tow, Ben found his day-to-day life transitioning from sports at college to studying scripts and performance art.
While he may not have had much recognition before traveling stateside, Robson quickly landed a big time role as Kalf on History Channel’s Vikings. Fortunately, this Aaron-Taylor Johnson lookalike found it easy to embody the greatest travelers and explorers of our time.
“It was obviously a very different time compared to how we live now,” Ben tells Maxim. “We cherish life so much and the Vikings looked forward to a great death on the battlefield so they could be recognized by the gods and be sent to Valhalla—especially Odin. They became great warriors to give themselves the best opportunity to achieve this. That insight gave me a good place to start, and then the beard came later!”
His latest role has him transitioning from life as Norse Viking to the sandy SoCal beach vibes of Oceanside, California in Animal Kingdom. TNT’s latest indie film-inspired crime drama follows 17-year old ‘J’ who finds himself living with the Cody family, a criminal clan led by Ellen Barkin. Ben takes on the character of Craig, the rambunctious middle child and most loyal who usually finds himself acting much more than thinking.
“Craig is an adrenaline junky that’s always looking for that next fix or high,” Ben said of his character. “I trained with motocross bikes in the Mojave desert in California with the stunt coordinators on the show. I would push myself to take on bigger steeper hills and do them faster and faster each time to recreate that rush which Craig lives for. To play such an uninhibited character has been really freeing for me both personally and in my work.”
Find out if Ben’s switch from swords and shields to surf swells and board shorts suits him well when Animal Kingdom premieres June 14th on TNT.
Robson spoke with Maxim about surviving a zombie apocalypse, owning a good watch, and what’s next.
What is one movie that really enjoy but your friends always make fun of you for?
It’s been a while, but I used to have Finding Nemo constantly on repeat in my room during my first year at university. If I didn’t have the movie on, my TV had an aquarium setting with Nemo and all his mates swimming around that was on all day and night.
What would be your weapon of choice in a zombie apocalypse?
Well not very long if we are going by the old Call of Duty standards. I think my friend and I managed to pass six stages. I chose the worst guns that constantly ran out of ammo while I was trying to save my buddy! I’m pretty sure that I tried every weapon in the game to survive and failed horribly. So maybe I’d choose a bomb or explosives. Or maybe I could train with Call of Duty until I felt like I was ready to try something a little smaller!
What is the one item that every guy must have in his wardrobe?
A great watch. I think it says a lot about who is wearing it. I like the history behind watches, there’s just something about holding time on your wrist that says a lot more than checking your smartphone.
You’re on a 10 hour flight—who do you want sitting next to you and why?
Winston Churchill. They don’t really breed men like that anymore. I would be fascinated to hear his outlook on life first hand over a couple of drinks. Not sure he’d appreciate a ten hour flight with no cigars though.
Your about to get into a fight – what song comes on as part of your personal soundtrack?
Probably ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ – Prodigy.
What’s one thing a guy should never do when he’s out with a woman?
Start chatting up another one!
What’re two things that you don’t know how to do that you probably should know how to do?
Skateboarding and working out percentages. Which has been a struggle when sorting the tip at the end of a bill in the states!
What’s next for you?
Hopefully work on more great material and interesting characters, and later down the line, I would like to get behind the camera at some point.
HOLLYWOODREPORTER.COM – [Warning: This story contains spoilers from Thursday’s episode of Vikings, “Promised.”]
The body count on any given season of History’s Vikings is expected to be fairly high. After all, this was a time period in which people weren’t long for this world, as they all sought a better place in Valhalla amongst the gods.
That didn’t make the twist in the closing moments of Thursday’s episode any less shocking, as Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) finally made good on her promise of finishing off Kalf (Ben Robson) for betraying her and stealing her earldom. After revealing she was “pregnant” with Kalf’s child and accepting his proposal, she easily slipped the knife into him on the wedding day itself before emerging from her tent surrounding by an army of female warriors ready to help her reclaim her throne.
To break down that integral moment and find out how he felt about Kalf’s swan song, The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Robson, who is currently working on John Wells’ newest series, Animal Kingdom, for TNT.
How did you find out about Kalf’s demise?
I found out just before I went back for season four from the producers. We had a discussion and then my fate was sealed as I returned.
Did you see it coming?
You’re always at the mercy of Michael Hirst’s fingertips as he’s at his computer. I think the second that Lagertha said she would kill me but that we would enjoy each other before then, there was always a strong possibility that it was happening. Anything Lagertha says should be taken very seriously, and it turned out to be true.
Lagertha is such a fan favorite — was Kalf always facing an uphill battle having betrayed her in season three?
Yeah, it was. It’s always going to be difficult not to upset the fans when you’re doing things like that to a fan favorite, especially such a cult icon like Lagertha. I was a fan myself — I was an avid watcher of Vikings before I got the opportunity to jump on it. So I knew exactly how the reaction would be when Kalf’s actions were laid out for me.
Do you think he had redeemed himself by death’s door, or was trying to have Bjorn killed the last straw?
Everything Kalf did was to put himself in a better position. Usurping Lagertha was to gain a position of strength. As he said in season three, he wanted the poets to sing about him in the same vein as Ragnar and to be recognized by the Gods in Valhalla. At that point it was about status. He did it to potentially turn Lagertha’s eye as well. In terms of the whole Bjorn thing, he became culpable by bringing in people like Erlendur (Edvin Endre). Erlendur is still very much wanting to get into a position of power similar to his father and those were the terms of agreement of him bringing his army and his kingdom to work alongside Kalf. I don’t think those actions were necessarily there to hurt Lagertha in any way or form; it was very much about survival and pushing forward. Those things he did, especially in coming back from Paris, were really to try and prove to Lagertha how much he did love her.
Was it a reciprocal love?
Yeah, I think you can see it by the end. There is such a chemistry; it wasn’t a sort of brutal way of being killed, it was very intimate in the way that it was done. It was done on the wedding day within an embrace. There were feelings. To be someone’s second in command and in someone’s private quarters is a very privileged place to be. They knew each other very intimately. She brought him into her world originally in that position. It all only changed when Kalf turned from a boy to a man to a certain extent that he became a much more powerful individual. There was a mutual understanding and love towards each other.
Would you consider his death itself a bit of a feminist movement thanks to the female warriors rising up?
Absolutely. There are many ways to look at it in terms of it always being harder for women getting themselves to the top as opposed to men — there’s obviously a very big discussion in that. You could also see it as a man squashing down a female’s opportunity of power and success and it’s retribution for that and how she felt towards it. I think it’s great how powerful the women are in this series. They’re incredible actors and characters. We’re still talking about a time in Vikings where people didn’t live long and were always looking over their shoulder. It’s going to be a remembered death. It wasn’t on the battlefield; it was about the complicated dynamic between two people and someone who took action in a way that felt necessary during that time period.
How do you predict she’ll rule without him now?
Lagertha is such an incredible character; her arc has been pretty astonishing from the beginning up to this point. Her ruling will be strong and very experienced. She’s been alongside the now King Ragnar and seen how he rose to that position. She understands everything in England with King Ecbert. And she’s been to Paris … she’s very worldly and has an incredible experience, so I would imagine that she’d rule very well. She’s smart and not to be underestimated.
Some past characters have resurfaced in visions and dreams — could that happen with Kalf?
It just depends on where Michael is going with it and if we find out how Lagertha really felt about Kalf after the whole wedding thing. There might be a mourning process into how she feels or there might not be. It’s a relationship in which they’ve known each other a long time, so it’s to be expected.
Vikings airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on History.
HOLLYWOODREPORTER.COM – Jonathan Rhys Meyers has also joined the cast of the drama as a series regular.
Vikings will fight for another season.
History has renewed the Michael Hurst-created series for a fifth season, the cable network announced Thursday. Additionally, Jonathan Rhys Meyers has joined the cast of the historical drama as a series regular. The 20-episode super-sized season will air in 2017. That episode count matches the current fourth-season order.
This season, Vikings has remained a top 10 cable drama series. It’s the top telecast on Thursdays in all key demographics when factoring in three days of DVR with an average of 4.2 million total viewers, 2.1 million adults 25-54 and 1.9 million among adults under 50.
Details on who Rhys Meyers will portray on the show are being kept under wraps. The Golden Globe-winning actor’s credits include The Tudors and NBC’s Dracula.
“The brilliant writing and depth of historical research and authenticity brought to the screen by Michael Hurst paired with our talented cast and crew, has made this series one of the most compelling, visually stunning historical dramas on television,” said new History president and general manager Jana Bennett. “Vikings has raided the hearts of audiences and we are thrilled that Jonathan Rhys Myers will become a bigger part of the History family after his incredible performance in our upcoming production of Roots.”
Vikings has been the cornerstone of History’s original scripted fare. The veteran series will be joined at the network by upcoming scripted dramas Six and Knightfall as well as mini Roots, which will air across all the A+E Networks-owned group.
Vikings is produced by MGM TV.
EW.COM – Another day, another dollar, another Vikings episode with a shocking and fatal plot turn for one of the show’s lead actors. On this week’s episode of the global-conquest odyssey, one of the show’s longest-running characters made a devastating decision – and not everyone got out alive. SPOILERS from here…
FOR REAL NOW, SPOILERS.
The first time we met Kalf, he was a close ally to Lagertha. They had a teasing, trusting chemistry. You may remember when, in of their first onscreen interactions, Lagertha half-jokingly asked Kalf, “Why don’t you offer to marry me?” On this week’s episode of Vikings, Kalf finally popped the question. Much had changed in the interim. Kalf betrayed and usurped Lagertha – and then saved her life in Paris. They became lovers, and then co-Earls – a regime-sharing system that led Kalf to betray his fellow usurpers. (Kalf was still trying to kill Lagertha’s son. It’s complicated!)
At the wedding, Kalf’s happiness was cut short, when his life was cut out of him by Lagertha. We talked to actor Ben Robson about what led Kalf to this moment.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did Kalf’s death surprise you?
BEN ROBSON: Kalf’s destiny was very much defined by his actions. When he did usurp Lagertha, there were consequences. I think [Vikings creator Michael Hirst] wrote an incredible arc for Kalf. He was subservient and loyal to Lagerta. It was fun to play a sort of naive kid who’s not looked to be a threat in any way, to come into power and prove himself in Paris.
Given that Lagertha had actually told him, point-blank, that she would kill him someday, why do you think he kept getting closer to her?
I don’t think it’s a case of him not taking it seriously, but I think it was a case of not really believing it would happen. I think he underestimated the betrayal of what he did. He felt that they found a level playing ground to carry on forward with.
What is Kalf feeling as Lagertha stabs him? You could read his dying expression in so many ways.
A whole range of emotion! The beginning of that day, in his mind, he’s marrying the girl that he’s totally besotted with. He proved himself to be a man by being an equal in Paris and saving her life. People now respect him for being Earl Kalf, rather than being subservient to Lagertha. He just wanted to be known as man. He came from a poorer background than the others. This is everything he wanted in his life. And he’s gonna marry the woman he’s been in love with since forever.
He goes in, sees Lagertha looking more beautiful than he’s ever seen her, in the dress that she has for him, on their big day. And then, the second the dagger comes in… if there was a way to be killed, he would wish it would be by her. All the way through it, he wants to enjoy every last breath of her. Everything else is not important at that point. He just wants to look at her and take her in.
Since so much of this show is about characters who look forward to a glorious afterlife, do you think Kalf’s spirit goes to Valhalla? Or rather, do you think, as he dies, he feels he’s going to Valhalla?
At the beginning [of season 3], when he arrives, he says he wants his name to be known by the poets, as Ragnar’s is. At that point, he wanted to die on a battlefield with the whole Viking kingdom behind him. Having a huge death, which would be glorified. I think Paris changes him, to a certain extent. It makes him realize how much Lagertha meant to him.
He accomplished exactly what he set out to do, which is to be surrounded by the greats and the kings. Which would mean he was recognized by the gods. So, I definitely think he’s in Valhalla.
ZAP2IT.COM – Warning: The following contains spoilers to the March 17 episode of “Vikings,” “Promised.”
All hail Earl Ingstad! At long last, Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) is back in power on “Vikings,” but not without shedding the blood of the man she had come to love — at least in part — who also happens to be the father of her unborn child. “Promised” was a heavy episode of “Vikings,” as Kalf (Ben Robson) learned that Lagertha was with child and got her to agree to marry him.
Of course, anyone who remembers the shield maiden’s Season 3 promise of revenge on Kalf for usurping her Earldom should have see what was coming next. On their wedding day, in a beautiful gown, she stabbed Kalf in the gut, allowing him to bleed out as she held and kissed him. When all was said and done, Lagertha was once again in control and ready to lead her army of shield maidens to war against any foe.
However, before taking his final bow on the series, Robson spoke with Zap2it about saying goodbye to Kalf, when he learned he was being killed off and what his character’s actual goals in the Viking world were. It turns out, it wasn’t wealth and power Kalf was truly after.
Zap2it: Way back before you debuted on the show, we were chatting on the set in Ireland and you were so excited to be diving into this world.
Ben Robson: I remember!
Now we’re here at the end of your stay on ‘Vikings,’ sadly. When you signed on to play Kalf, did you know this is how his story would play out?
Not at all! You know, I think that’s the thing with any job. You don’t know where you’re headed, I guess. [Creator Michael Hirst] has a piece of paper in front on him though, and he doesn’t know where the pen is going to take him.
So when he approaches you with the direction of Season 4, what goes through your mind?
A whole lot. You’re obviously disappointed because it’s an amazing production to be a part of and such a great character to play. I thought there was such potential for Kalf to continue, but I also think that’s what makes the whole series exciting. It has so many twists and turns. The unexpected is to be expected.
So you’re disappointed, you make great friends and enjoy the project. But at the same time, you have a strong storyline and I understood where it was all coming from. Kalf knew what he was into when he stole Lagertha’s kingdom.
That’s one of the almost poetic things about Kalf’s demise. Firstly, there was so much character development for him in this episode — between plotting with Erlendur and finding out he was going to be a dad — that it made his death become even more important to the very core of the series than it would have been otherwise. How did learning Lagertha was carrying his child change his mindset?
You’ve got to bear in mine, in Season 3 when he says he wants to be recognized by the gods, he wants the poets to sing about him like Ragnar with the gods in Valhalla. For him it was pure ambition to getting that recognition. Being Lagertha’s second-in-command, that was never a position to be known or respected or recognized by the gods.
Paris definitely changed him in terms of, he came back wealthy and managed to sort of become attached to Lagertha — somebody he’s been in love with his whole life. I think the problem is he still had the pressure of knowing he had to retain his army, because he didn’t have an army to himself — he aligned himself with Erlendur and Einar to bring in as much power as as he could, which is obviously a phenomenal amount.
However, he also had to keep those people happy. As much as he wanted to do as he wished, there was this pressure from others. So I think his actions were him trying to maneuver the best way he could.
I think there’s a phenomenal amount of stuff going on in his head and Kalf was a very calculated and intelligent character, there was just a lot to carry.
And yet once Lagertha stabs him, there’s this level of peace. He’s not angry. Instead he’s almost calm spending the final moments with the woman he loves. Then again, chances are he should have seen this coming. When Kalf usurped Lagertha in Season 3, she told him revenge would come.
I think anything any viking says has to be taken very seriously. I think we all know and love the fact that Lagertha is someone to be taken very seriously as well. [laughs]
I think he knows full well what she’s capable of, especially being her second-in-command for so long. However, I think love blinds us in many ways. I think he could well of underestimated how she felt about the usurping, even though he gave her the level to share in the Earldom with her.
But I think in any life, you look to share your last breath with the person you love. At that point it’s hard to be angry when you feel responsible for a situation you created.
Vikings didn’t lead a long life anyway, but I think Kalf had an incredible arc where he achieved and the amount of time he did it. He actually accomplished pretty much everything he set out to do. So I think at that point it’s all about taking in those last few breaths with her.
It’s just a strong moment where he wanted to connect with her and prove it was never about the Earldom, it was always about her. Would she have recognized him if he’d always been the second-in-command?
It was only when he became an Earl himself and had that power and wealth that he was able to woo her to a certain extent. I think that’s what he wanted to prove to her. It was always about her, never the money and power. I don’t think even he realized it for a long time, though.
“Vikings” airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on HISTORY.
There’s an air of betrayal at Court in Paris and Wessex as those whom Odo trusts plot against him and Ecbert agrees to support Kwenthrith in Mercia, but is Ecbert a true ally? Ragnar confides in Yidu his darkest secret.
» Television Productions > Vikings [2015 – Present] > Season 04 > Promotional & Episodic Photography > 4.05 – Promised
» Television Productions > Vikings [2015 – Present] > Season 04 > Episode Screencaptures > 4.05 – Promised
TVSHOWPATROL.COM – Starring a warrior in History’s “Vikings,” Ben Robson runs around the Irish countryside with axe and shield in hand, screaming and playing at war.
“That’s my favorite bit. It’s great,” he said during a recent phone interview. “It’s all really, really good fun because it’s not something you get to do in everyday life.”
As Kalf, the Earl of the village of Hedeby, Robson also shows viewers his ambitious and calculating character’s political adeptness.
In the past, Kalf took his leadership role in Hedeby by overthrowing his lover, Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), the former wife of Viking King Ragnar Lothbrok. This season, he has made her co-Earl with him and eliminated her chief enemy in a treacherous massacre.
But the family of Ragnar Lothbrok—or anyone else—shouldn’t rest easy just yet.
“I think you’ve always got to be worried about any Viking in a position of power,” Robson said with a chuckle.
Born in Newcastle Upon Tyne in northeast England, Robson now calls Los Angeles home. We chatted about Kalf and Lagertha, his role of Craig in TNT’s upcoming drama “Animal Kingdom,” and his love of surfing.
Why do you like playing a character like Kalf?
You get the most fun things to explore. It’s interesting because when he’s playing all these different things you can kind of get a sense of why he’s doing them and then what his motive is when you start looking into the reasoning he’s doing all these things. It is fun to play someone who is playing 100 different cases in his head because you have so many more things to explore with his reasoning and sentiment and character.
How has he changed over the time you played him?
Michael Hirst has written an incredible arc for the character Kalf. I mean physically as well as positionally in terms of where he is in his society. He’s a boy, he’s subservient. He knows what he’s doing. And then as he grows up I think even his stature and his position. Normally he would be following Lagertha and the rest of the leaders.
Now he feels strong enough and proud enough to walk alongside her, if not in front of her, as we start Season 4. By going to certainly the biggest battle of recent times, he’s accomplished some goals. He’s proved himself, has been recognized by the gods, will be written about by the poets just like they write about Ragnar. … That’s something that no one can take away from him. He’s come out much richer. I think a lot of respect comes with the sort of success he’s achieved. I think it’s more important that he’s done it alongside the very people who were dictating and redefining the way that the Vikings live.
Before Paris, he took Lagertha’s Earldom. What was that about if he claims to love her?
We’re talking about a time when recognition came from being a power, a leader. If you’re second in command and loyal to your superiors you can’t really claim that you’ve really put your stamp on the world. I think for him to earn that power and respect and maybe validate himself as a man, he had to do something like that. … Men want to be successful and it’s very alpha male for him to think that once he earns that respect, he can then earn the right to Lagertha’s love.
I think that’s kind of where it’s at. There is a time, frankly, in Viking lives where they all want to be powerful and be recognized.
Now he’s made her his co-Earl. Is that another political ploy or is that a heartfelt move?
It’s all the above. It’s a safety move in terms of political strength—having Lagertha on his arm. His goals do kind of change at that point. He’s constantly sort of aware of his surroundings. He’s very intelligent and able to read situations and try and put himself in a position of strength.
But I think ultimately the closeness and the bond he has with Lagertha is a very difficult thing to kind of shake off. … I think he is deeply in love with her. I think he’s ready to be the man alongside her rather than the boy underneath her.
What for you has been the most challenging thing about playing a Viking?
Forgetting everything that you live in today. I think the most interesting thing about playing a Viking is just the dedication to and fearlessness of war and putting themselves at the will of the gods. Still to me that’s always it.
The other sort of side challenge—which isn’t I guess directly apparent within the show but you’re just always aware of it—is recognizing the daily struggle for survival they experienced. They lived in very difficult conditions every day just to get food on the table, to stay warm and to stay alive essentially. It was just a constant battle that we take for granted today. We go out to the supermarket, jump in a hot bath and get into a nice cozy bed. Whereas then you had a daily struggle for everything.
When they set off to new lands they really were going into the unknown. Today we’re fully aware of our surroundings from one side of the world to the other. The bravery and fearlessness they had to have to jump on a ship and cross seas that you have no concept of how big they are, how treacherous they are, is amazing. And to go into lands where you see a new race of people and [hear a new] language.
As an actor, you almost have to unlearn everything that you know so that when you go back you start everything with an open set of eyes as a Viking.
Michael Hirst talks about how it was very important for him to put the Vikings spirituality into the series. That plays into how they don’t fear death but look forward to it. What was it like to get into that headspace?
They had such a dedication and belief, or as you said spirituality, and embraced it because they believed that by proving themselves on this Earth they get to fight a bigger war alongside Thor and Oden and the gods. It’s just such an incredible thing. … It’s a difficult thing for us to comprehend. I think we, especially the Western cultures, sort of treasure every moment that we have on Earth. … I think now everyone really does appreciate life so much more, whereas Vikings believed they had a second life. Maybe it’s an injustice to say it wasn’t as daunting to die, but they looked forward to a good death.
Death for me today is—it doesn’t matter if it’s a good or bad death. It’s not the most pleasant of thoughts of leaving life.
So it is a challenge to constantly sort of have that engaged while you’re acting in this. But it’s also quite liberating because you’ve got no shackles. We’ve grown up and are accustomed to fearing death, so to play [the opposite] has been quite liberating in terms of it sort of brings an added invincibility to your mind in battle scenes.
I imagine the French weren’t quite prepared for how it was going to be when the Vikings raided because they weren’t willing to put themselves—their lives—on the line for the greater good. It’s quite a unique mentality.
You have 20 episodes this season. How was that? Did they just come out one day and tell you all, you get to fight another 90 days?
It was more than 90 days actually. It was great. I’ve got such a family and everyone gets on. I came in in Season 3 but immediately got on with everyone so well. You become such a family in Ireland because everyone is from all over the world. You sort of become very close and everyone has a good time. So in terms of actually getting to spend time with everyone it’s great.
The show as well is a very special show. It’s fun to work on stuff that you enjoy doing. It is also incredibly grueling as long a shoot as it is, but these things all help. The Viking life wasn’t easy and working constantly within this environment that they’ve created, you just get more and more in depth with the work.
You’ve talked about how it was a little bit daunting to join a show in its third season, but you’re right in at the beginning for “Animal Kingdom.” How has that been?
We just shot the pilot. … But it’s good. It’s obviously a very different sort of show than “Vikings.” But it’s a very great experience and there are some really incredible people behind it as well, with John Wells, TNT and Warner Brothers. So it’s exciting. I’m looking forward to getting into character and it’s going to be a fun one and again, another sort of family show to a certain extent—with a strong matriarchal character played by Ellen Barkin.
Tell me about Craig if you can.
He oversees part of an underworld family and he’s sort of finding his position there. He’s volatile, wears his heart on his sleeve, a bit of a substance abuser. He drinks; he’s up for a good time. I think he’s someone who just lives for the moment and is very present in everything that he does. That’s very fun to play.
Does he embrace the criminal life of the family?
Absolutely. They’ve all grown up into it and he’s very sort of smart and intellectual. I think they’re very loyal to each other and very good at what they’ve done. Otherwise they wouldn’t have been as successful as long as they have been.
Do you still get a little star struck with cast members?
I do. That Dracula movie [“Dracula: The Dark Prince,” 2013] was kind of the most star struck I was. … They hadn’t cast Van Helsing yet and then they started dropping some names and then they said Jon Voight. And I was like, “You’ve got to be kidding.” I mean Jon Voight is, you know, a legend in Hollywood and it was quite a moment when we had to sit down and I realized I was pretty much acting in every scene with him. He’s an Oscar winner. I’ve watched countless movies with him and I’ve been a huge fan.
I had it to some extent with “Vikings” because I used to watch the show for two seasons. And then the next thing is you sit in a read through and then all the characters that you love start becoming the people you’re playing with on set and hanging out with drinks.
And how about “Animal Kingdom?”
The same thing with “Animal Kingdom.” Ellen Barkin’s another one who’s just a great person to be around. The most amazing thing is when you work with all the people you get star struck with and they’re all such incredible professionals and human beings. They’re all about helping everyone put out the best performance they can get. And you can understand why they’ve had such long, successful careers. … You learn it the whole time with them so it’s been fun.
I noticed on your Instagram you like surfing. So are you happy to be shooting your next show in LA?
I am very excited about that, yeah. And it’s also a bit warmer than Ireland so it’s nice and you can get on the water and it’s good fun and the character surfs as well. I’d love to spend more time in the water chasing more waves and getting better at it.