Clive Standen took the time to chat about his role as Rollo, brother to Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel), on History’s Vikings. It was wonderful to be able to speak with Clive and learn more about Rollo. I adore the show. It is the definition of perfection. I was hooked after seeing the first few minutes of the pilot, so you know that says a lot. Do notmiss the premiere of Vikings on History tonight.
Lena Lamoray: Hi Clive. I love the show. Now you’ve already worked with Michael Hirst on Camelot, so can you talk about working with him again?
Clive Standen: Hey Lena. I didn’t really get to work with Michael in Camelot. When I got the role in Camelot I was very excited. I’ve wanted to work with Michael for a very long time and, you know, I’m a bit of a history nut at the heart. And, you know, I grew up – as a child my parents would take me to all sorts of castles and monasteries and I got my fair fill of history through my parents and, you know, I’d always play with my older brother. We’d play warrior and Vikings and knights. But I’m a bit of a – I like to consider myself as a bit of a history nut and Michael, what you get with Michael, is not just a scriptwriter you get a historian as well. I mean he really is genuinely excited by getting it right and researching. And it’s just really inspiring to work with someone like that. But he wasn’t really involved in Camelot. He’d moved on by the time it started shooting to the ((inaudible)). Chris Chibnall was the writer of Camelot. So even though when I auditioned I thought I was going to be working with Michael I had to wait a little bit longer to get my dream job, but it’s all paid off in the end. And, you know, he really is an inspirational person to work with and you really feel – you have to uphold his vision and to do justice to what I think is a culture and a story that I don’t think has ever really been told and never, definitely never, had justice paid to it. Everything we think we know about the Vikings – I thought I knew loads about Vikings. Like I said, when I grew up and all of the castles and monasteries that I visited and went to ((inaudible)) farm when I was very young. But when you start talking to Michael you start doing your own research because what Michael has done is he’s kind of really invested from the inside out and gone to Scandinavia; and looked at the sagas; and the history books; and talked to the Vikings; and, you know, Scandinavian people over there; and worked with our Historical Advisor, (Justin), and created, you know, a fact-based show that obviously is historically accurate as much as a TV show can be. You have to piece together the holes, you have to make it accessible and you have to kind of tell an entertaining and exciting story. But, you know, the Vikings have always been the hired help, they’ve always been the raping, pillaging, murdering scum that came from the sea with their horned helmets sent from the devil himself, you know, and that’s not the story we’re trying to tell. And I think hopefully when people watch this show they’ll have a completely different idea and perspective on an amazing culture of people, colonists and market traders and who lived in a really harsh climate and, you know, a miserable time. And, you know, they did do questionable things. They did raid and they did colonize other countries, but we’ve never seen it from their perspective why they did it and, you know, they were living, breathing multifaceted human beings just like us.
More Press Conference Call Interview Highlights:
Q: What did you find the most challenging about the role?
Clive Standen: The most challenging? Well what I love about Rollo is that just like any human being he’s kind of very multifaceted and what I always look for for a character is the flipside of the coin. You know, the character seems heroic on the surface, what are his fears, what are his insecurities, what are his hopes? Just as if someone’s a villain the same thing applies. And I think with Rollo I kind of get a free reign to kind of – to really play with the many layers that he has and that just comes from, you know, the great writing of Michael Hirst. He’s, you know, he’s a sociopath, but you never really know what’s going on behind his mind. You know, he’s capable of great things, but is he in his brother’s shadow? And it’s all of these questions that you never really quite trust Rollo, but you never really want him in the opposite corner to you. And, you know, all of these things come together and I just think it’s a fantastic character to get your teeth into as an actor. You know, it’s far more fun playing a character in the gray.
Q: Can you tell us a bit more about your character?
Clive Standen: Rollo is, just as Ragnar is based on a real character in Viking sagas and historical history books, he was the Duke of Normandy; he was the Great, Great, Great, Great, Great Grandfather to William the Conqueror. He is a – he’s a phenomenal fighter and warrior. He is the brother of Ragnar Lothbrok. He’s very much the kind of – if Ragnar is the farm boy, he’d be considered the city boy. They’re brothers and they’re very close and, you know, they can’t live without each other. But as I’ve got brothers myself, you know, sometimes you don’t always like your brother; sometimes you disagree with your brother; you lock horns, but at the end of the day you’re brothers and you’re stuck with each other. And, you know, Rollo is very different to Ragnar, you know, as where as Ragnar is very much a thinker, I mean he’s on a quest for knowledge and to escape and to rise in the Viking kingdom, Rollo is very different to that. He’s very an old school Viking, he thinks he knows what he knows and likes the way his life – he’s a hedonist, you know, and he’s a sociopath and I love him and, you know, every actor, I think, needs to love their character and I love him in his own special way.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the physical training you had to go through to get in shape for the role?
Clive Standen: Well you have to be – I’ve been sword fighting since I was 14 years old. I used to be part of a – when Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves came out at the cinemas, I grew up just up the road from Sherwood Forest, and they were looking to kind of put on a kind of stunt team of kind of full experience of walking around Sherwood Forest with tour guides and kind of live action. And when most of my friends at that age were kind of working in shoe shops and McDonalds and things my very first paid job, way before I was into acting, was doing, you know, stunts and jousting and jumping out of trees as Wulf, Little John’s son at Sherwood Forest. And I did a lot of Thai Boxing as well. I was – that was a very big part of my life when I was younger. And so I’ve done, you know, I’ve done a lot of horse riding; and sword fighting; and martial arts and things beforehand, but one thing I hadn’t done before I got the role of Vikings is we did a very big boot camp before we started filming to man the boats. History were very adamant that we, as actors, would be able to sail these boats ourselves. And so every time you see the actors on the boat we’re really rowing, we’re really manning, you know, the boat, we’re sailing. And that was a very long process where we’d go out in the sea and many actors would get seasick and it was a grueling process. But at the end of it we got to the stage where all of the marines that taught us would get off the boat and there was this one guy hiding under a sheet of tarpaulin with a walkie-talkie just so they could communicate with our actors and the cameramen and dry land. But, you know, we got to a stage where we could sail our boat and we become – we became real Vikings. So that was something that I wasn’t prepared for and had to work really hard to achieve. In terms of physical fitness we did lots of stuff. Johan Renck, the first director, who’s very much involved in the whole look of the show, didn’t want another muscle man. He didn’t want, you know, lots of guy’s kind of, you know, doing kind of crazy spot and training sessions and things. He wanted Vikings to be, you know, live and sinewy and real because, you know, these were hard guys. They lived in a harsh climate and they weren’t bodybuilders. They, you know, so everything we did physically with rowing and – it was all generated to kind of try and create that kind of physic that a Viking would have.
Q: Was there something about your character that wasn’t scripted for you that you added to the role?
Clive Standen: Well it’s – it was very much – Michael was very good at sitting down with you. I mean I think when Rollo was originally written in the very first draft of the script he was written to be played by someone that was very much older than me. But what’s very good with Michael is he’d sit Travis down, he’d sit myself down, he’d sit Katheryn down, he’d sit Gustaf down, and Gabriel down and sometimes sit us all down together before we started filming and talk through our characters and how we interlinked with each other and what we wanted to do and how we interpreted them. And it’s a very good collaborative process and the crew in Ireland have been fantastic about that as well where we’ve, you know, we’ve been able to kind of put our own input into the characters. And Michael is very good at, you know, kind of adapting and amalgamating ideas and, but he’s also very good at, you know, telling you to shut up when it’s the right time to shut up and to tell his story. He’s got amazing vision and you don’t really question Michael’s vision because he’s often thought about lines and what your character’s done a lot more than you have. He really is that good. But yes, you know, there’s lots of research and we’d all be coming in each day and kind of sharing our research with each other and it was a very good collaborative process.
Q: So you have a lot of experience working in period pieces like Robin Hood and Camelot. Is there anything that you are using now, like experience or training, that is carrying over from that?
Clive Standen: Yes I think so. I mean you learn on every job and every time you approach any character, regardless if he’s a lawyer, or a geography teacher, or a knight, or a pirate of the sea, you always have to kind of start with clean slate, you know, you have to work the canvas clean and build your character from scratch, so every character’s different. But it’s been quite handy to kind of, you know, just to keep immersing yourself in that kind of time period and the research you do becomes a little bit easier. And, you know, to try and keep that kind of passion of keeping, you know, as accurate as possible and fighting anyone who, you know, doesn’t necessarily have the same regard. Because I think as an actor and in a period piece you have a responsibility to kind of – especially if the character you’re playing and the society that you’re portraying is based on fact, then you have a responsibility to those people to do the best job you possibly can. So it’s made, you know, it’s given me more of a passion for kind of doing justice to things. And what I always like to think that when you’re playing an historical person or figure that you kind of have to imagine them either in the back row of the theater or, you know, in the studio with you or, you know, maybe on the battlefield with you and you imagine that you’re playing him and you have a, you know, responsibility for kind of doing your best job of getting it right and doing him justice and it’s kind of a nice little thought to have. It’s bit like having that angel and devil that you see in the little cartoons. You just have to imagine that, you know, the real Rollo is on, you know, your shoulder whispering into your ear and you have to kind of do him justice.
Q: Rollo, you said, is a sociopath and he’s not a very nice guy a lot of times. Is it hard to kind of get into that mindset?
Clive Standen: It is tough. I mean it’s, you know, we have a lot of fun on Vikings as well and it sometimes can be hard to kind of pull yourself back from that when you’ve got a day where you’re playing Rollo and Rollo’s being Rollo. But we made a bit of a joke about it. There was, you know, people were very good at giving me my own space and they’d see when I was, you know, I was having to do something and I was having to get myself in the right mind frame for it and it became known as “Clive is giving you the deadeye.” Rather than the stinkeye. You know, people would be talking to me and, you know, Tadhg Murphy, one of the actors, would come up and going, “Clive’s giving you the deadeye. You know, I think you should just move on. He’s not really listening. He’s looking right through you.” You know, and they were very good at kind of knowing – to give you that time and space to play that. But, you know, you have to go to a very dark place to play Rollo, I think, and it sometimes is tough. And, you know, he does do some questionable things, but you do have to find a way of loving the character you’re playing to be able to, you know, to access him. And I don’t think he’s a bad person, so to speak, I think he does very questionable things and I think many people – we do things we’re embarrassed about and we also often do things that we automatically regret and would wish we could, you know, change time and change history, but we can’t. And I like to think that he’s capable of greatness, he’s just in his brother’s shadow.
Q: You previously described yourself as a bit of a history nut. How much research did you put into the role before you started shooting?
Clive Standen: Well before I started shooting I mean we had a good period of time, you know, after we’d met with Michael for the first time as well and he set us on the right track. Like I said earlier, you know, there’s a lot that you think you know about Vikings and everyone, you know, thinks that they’ve read a book on Vikings or they’ve seen a film on Vikings and I had to really kind of completely, you know, like I said, wipe the slate clean and sort of start from scratch. And Michael is very good at giving us a shedload of revision and books to read to set us in the right direction. And then obviously as an actor you choose to run with that and do as much research as you want, or do as little research as you want. And I just all through filming, right up until, you know, the last day, I’d be annoying people on set and the crew just telling them about more stuff that I’d found out. I never stopped learning and I think that’s a good lesson in life is never stop learning and never stop, you know, questioning. And yes I’m still doing research now and I’m still finding out things. You know, just the other day I was finding out about how in Iceland they were – the way they used to use the moss that would collect the iron ores and they would put it in a kiln and burn the moss away and be left with raw iron so they could make weapons with it. And I’m always, I’m always learning and I’m just obsessed with just taking in new facts, new information, reading new books, watching documentaries and, you know, the more you’ve got there the more of an arsenal you’ve got if you ever need it for a scene. You know, there’s been some fantastic facts that we’ve learned through this about, you know, Vikings, for instance, would never throw their fingernails away because they believed that Ragnarok when Floki would come back as Floki, I’m getting mixed up with character, it’s Loki would come back, he would come on a boat made of human fingernails. So if you were throwing your fingernails away you were kind of helping Loki build his boat. So your Vikings would often, if they were to bite their fingernails or cut their fingernails, they would put them in this locket on their neck or they would throw them in the fire and make sure that they weren’t, you know, flicked idly on the floor. And if you watch closely you might see Gustaf doing something with his fingernails. But there’s, you know, there’s this plethora of stuff out there and it’s just such a massive world. And I think with Series 1 we really are just hitting the, you know, the tip of the iceberg of Michael Hirst vision for it. You know, there’s so many amazing characters in these sagas, you know, (Ivan) (Larongness), who hasn’t yet to make an appearance and, you know, there’s (Hospan) and, you know, you can go right up to the end, especially in Britain with Alfred the Great, there’s all sorts of stuff. And, you know, Michael has a massive, massive Bible that he calls, he calls it the Bible, the Viking Bible, of the, you know, the ideas and the storylines and where he wants to take the show over maybe five or six seasons, so we’ll see. But, you know, all I can say is that if you like Series 1, you know, we’re just getting started.
Q: So you said that during your training regimen you did a lot of rowing, but what was your diet like?
Clive Standen: What’s so great about our cast is we’re very eclectic. You know, I think, you know, when you’re approaching a drama based on Vikings if you have, you know, if you’re kind of taking that train of thought where you think Vikings are all just kind of raping, pillaging, you know, mass murderers then it would be very easy to cast, you know, very alpha male type actors that, you know, are more concerned about pumping iron than acting. And, you know, that would be a very unhappy place on set and I think what’s so great about our cast and the way we all gelled as a family is we are so eclectic and I think that shows in the characters, you know, ranging from Floki, and Rollo, and (Dragna) and Torstein, and, you know, Leif and Arne. You know, they’re all so different and, you know, it’s exciting to be a part of that to have, you know, to have living, breathing characters, three-dimensional characters, rather than, you know, just murdering barbarians that don’t seem to have, you know, any backstory or, you know, any layers. So I mean, but I haven’t been to a gym myself in two years. Anyway I strongly believe that you should – everything that comes from, you know, physicality should be something that’s enjoyed and something that’s, you know, that you, you know, if it’s cardio, for instance, you know, you don’t go running on a running machine, you get out there and you run, you know, and you play sports and you rock climb, or whatever it is you do, the diving for me. But I do have, you know, kettle bells, and I have resistance bands, and I have a Power Plate, which I use now and again. And so I think it’s – but with Vikings it was very much that. It was onset we’ve had resistance bands and things. We’d – it was – we’d having rowing machines. We would row, we would do – I mean most – we’d do handstands, or I would do handstand pushups, because it’s obviously about your shoulders and the strength in your shoulders for the rowing and things. But we didn’t really have any kind of, you know, massive chaos training regime that some shows adopt because it was, you know, it was about creating real people rather than, you know, bodybuilders. Yes I did eat like a Viking. I was – yes we – it was very funny when we first arrived and Ashford Studios, it’s a brand new studio, it’s all solar powered and wind powered and it’s all state-of-the-art and we were the first people to film there. But the canteen, you know, they kind of – they did fill it up with lots of chips and all sorts of food that was the kind of food that was great for the crew out in the cold, but the kind of thing that would send you to sleep. So yes we very quickly got the menu changed a lot sooner, lots of protein and lots of chicken and things like that. So we ate a lot, but we ate very healthily because it was all about just keeping that kind of, you know, sinewy kind of, you know, tough, you know, hard, weathered body.
Q: Do you have a particular favorite moment or scene that stands out in your mind?
Clive Standen: Many, I mean the whole experience it was – I mean week in, week out we’d have something that was a challenge or just a joy to be a part of. I mean a lot of the boat stuff was fantastic. We, because like I said earlier, we had to learn to do it, so you get a great, you know, sense of pride out of actually kind of being able to feel that you can sail it yourself and we all had different jobs on the boat, you know, manning the rigging, you know, rowing, you know actually sailing the boat. And some of those scenes you’re just going out in the open ocean and the lakes. And we had one particular scene where the mist was rising off the sea, rising off the lake, and it was like being in Apocalypse Now or something. It was – you could have been sailing down, you know, Cambodia or something like that with the amount of mist so you couldn’t see what was in the trees. We also had a load of night shoots, which were a lot of fun to film, grueling and tough. Me and Travis had a really – I mean he’s a bit of a practical joker and we were always, you know, one upping each other and it was a lot of fun filming with Travis. And we made this stupid pact that we had a night shoot on the boat on what they call a gimbal, which is we have a real long boat that we can sail and man in the oceans and the lakes, but we also have one on a gimbal, which a hydraulic machine that can throw the boat from left to right, backwards and forwards to simulate waves. And they have gigantic what looked like skate ramps attached to the side of it, maybe four or five on each side, with diggers and dumper trucks full of water that which on queue would dump the water, which would cascade onto the ramps and fire onto the boat and drench you. I mean it was at 2:00, 3:00, 4:00, 5:00, 6:00 in the morning. It was ice cold and the water was ice cold. And Travis and I made a pact that we got offered if we would wear wetsuits underneath our costumes to keep us warm and we decided that we were going to be real Vikings and we didn’t need wetsuits. And we thought we would get through the whole night shoot with wearing just like one thin layer of leather. So that was fun and grueling and tough, but it was a big bonding time for me and Travis, I think, because we were in it together. And after you’ve done take one and you can hear that click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click of the dumper truck about to dump the water on you and you know what’s going to come and holding onto a rope trying to seem like you’re a seafaring tough Viking and getting thrown halfway across the boat. And the gimbal itself is about 10 foot up in the air as well and outside of the boat is just concrete, so if you go overboard you’re going to know about it. But it was fun and there were days like that all of the time where you just feel like, you know, it’s tough, it’s grueling, but you get, you know, you get up at 4:00 in the morning, you get home at 9:00 at night and you’ve achieved something and you feel exhausted, but you wouldn’t give up your place for anything in the world. You know, and we have that motto that if, you know, if you’re going to complain about something, if you’re having a bad day then you signed onto the wrong job because you know what’s going to come with the show and it’s fun, you know, but if you’re not cutout for it then shut up.
Q: You described Rollo as being a sociopath, but also spoke of enjoying having to play the character because he is so multifaceted. Did you draw any influence from any other television shows or movies to help you kind of craft that character?
Clive Standen: Not so to speak. I mean I had lot of conversations with Johan, the director at the beginning, about different characters that he’d seen that he, you know, there’s certain things that (Michael) ((inaudible)) does in shame, which inspired me. But no, I mean I did a lot of research on sociopaths, and psychopaths, and behavioral things. I can’t think of any character that I based it on. I mean are you looking for an answer, which is kind of he’s half Hans Solo, he’s half this, but no I can’t think of anyone that I, you know, it’s, you know, I think I – just certain places. And, yes, there was conversations that we had, you know, Johan and myself, but there was one thing that we, I think I’ve just talked about it. But there was one thing that we – I put on my mirror so I could see it every morning before I got into costume, which I think sums Rollo up quite well, which is everybody wants to be loved, and if they can’t be loved then they want to be admired, and if they can’t be admired then they’re willing to be feared, and if they can’t be feared then they’ll be hated. And I think that’s kind of quite a prominent thing that kind of stuck out to me that I kind of put in my – put on my mirror to kind of remind me of each day.
Q: Was there instant chemistry when you began working with the cast or did it take a bit of time for it all to gel?
Clive Standen: No there weren’t – they put us all up in a hotel together, which is in the middle of nowhere. I mean we were filming in the Wicklow mountains and Dublin, you know, is the biggest city around there, but they put us nowhere near Dublin City Center, so we were stuck for about two weeks kind of literally living out of each other’s rooms and having our kind of communal space in the hotel where we’d all kind of get to know each other. And we, you know, to be fair we all really hit it off. We’re all kind of a very similar age and we all come from different backgrounds and, like I said, we’re all very eclectic. You know, on paper we shouldn’t all get on, but yes there is no competition, there’s no, you know, there’s no bad thoughts. And, you know, I’ve been really privileged to be a part of this cast with these guys because they really are a band of brothers to me now and, you know, I’m including (Alysa) and Katheryn in that as well. We, you know, it’s quite special. I’ve done shows before where, you know, you do turn up to work and you love your job, but you don’t necessarily have to get on with everybody, but it’s not the case in Vikings. And I think hopefully that chemistry comes across onscreen because, you know, we are, you know, Travis is a very good leading man. He’s a very good, you know, he’s very good at playing practical jokes and if that’s what needs be to kind of lighten the atmosphere. I’ve got many stories, but I’ll leave him to tell them to you, it’s not my place. And, you know, and Gabriel, as well, is a very inspiring actor to work with and very easy to work with, very accommodating and very kind. And I’ve never really had the experience I’ve had on any other show really. And that’s to be said that, you know, this show is a show that I am – I would be excited about watching even if I wasn’t in it.
Q: Can you talk about filming in Ireland?
Clive Standen: Ireland is the most amazing and incredible place to film. It really is very similar to the, you know, the Norwegian fjords, the lakes that they’ve got there, and the vistas are just incredible. But it’s not just, I mean the landscape is fantastic, but what’s so special about filming in Ireland is the crew and it really is. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. The crew that I worked with in Ireland, and I was very lucky enough to work with quite a lot of them on Camelot as well, which was also filmed in Ireland, they’ve done five years of Tudors together; they’ve done a season of Camelot together; they’ve done Vikings together. They’re like a family and they’re very good at bringing, you know, the kind of foreign actors in and making us feel a part of that family. And they’re brilliant at what they do. I mean, you know, when you’ve done seven years of all working together on different period dramas, you know, they really know what they’re doing. And when you get out there in the field and are on the top of a mountain or, you know, on the front of the seafront, they’re just so well gelled together that it makes your job a privilege and, you know, so easy running.
Clive’s closing remarks:
Clive Standen: Well I’m really proud of the show. Like I said, it’s – I would be – from the beginning it was a very long process for me to become a part of the Vikings. I really chased this job. When I was working on Camelot I was lucky enough to find out from Morgan O’Sullivan, who was one of the executive producers on Camelot, that Michael was working on this and he’d been working on it for a very long time. It was a bit of a pet project of his. And at that time they were looking for a collaborator and they were looking at different channels and networks to go into partnership with, but I was lucky enough to read the first two scripts and even at that point, which is a long, long time ago, way before we were into pre-production, it was special and Michael is a very special writer. And I think when History came onboard as the channel there’s no better channel for this to be on. I mean they really have built – spent a long time building up a core audience that expects, you know, some kind of historical accuracy and they have that to uphold. And I think with this script to draw on, especially after the Hatfield and McCoy’s, which I thought was excellent, they really are the best channel to have this show on. It’s visceral, it’s gritty, it’s epic on scale and I think sort of maybe when you first start watching it you probably won’t even know what you’re looking at, but you won’t be able to stop looking at it and it’s exciting. And I don’t think this is a story that’s ever been told before and I can’t wait for people to see it. And I hope that people enjoy it because I really want to come back and do some more.