I spoke with the lovely and talented Jessalyn Gilsig about her role as Siggy Haraldson on Vikings. The first season is already coming to a close Sunday night on the History Channel. It seems like the series just began, but the good news is that it will be returning for a second season. It was an honor to speak with Jessalyn about Siggy and working on Vikings. She also produced and stars in Somewhere Slow, so don’t miss that when it comes out. I don’t know about you, but I would love to see her in the next installment of American Horror Story. She’s already worked with Ryan Murphy on Glee and Nip/Tuck. Do not miss the season finale of Vikings on Sunday, April 28th, at 10/9c.
Lena: What an episode (“Sacrifice”) of Vikings on Sunday night. It just stinks that you only have one episode left.
Jessalyn Gilsig: It was a good one, wasn’t it! It was a really different one. Even I feel that way, all that work and we are almost done.
Lena: Vikings truly has everything – an amazing cast, superb writing, and brilliant visuals. In “Sacrifice” they chose not to show the actual sacrificing but just the blood and in the end the chilling visual of the sacrifices that were left out. What is your take on Michael’s (Hirst) vision of the show?
Jessalyn Gilsig: I feel that “Sacrifice” is a really good illustration of what Michael really wanted us to do, which was to completely humanize these people. Instead of looking at them from a distance and just making assumptions about them being barbaric just because they are different therefore they are less human or have less compassion or less commitment to their relationships. He really wanted us to be inside these people. I remember when we were filming the human sacrifice, the director said to us, this is euphoric, this is the ultimate gift to the gods and just as other religions have these beliefs of what their god wants from them, we believe that this is a moment when we are actually connecting with our god in the deepest and most profound way that we can and we live for a moment like this. There had to be a feeling that there was nothing about this that was barbaric, not even for the ones that were being sacrificed, but part of our life story, which makes complete sense to us, whether or not it is ritual that exists in modern life today.
Lena: What were some of the scenes or visuals that really stuck with you?
Jessalyn Gilsig: When we filmed where Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) and the Earl (Gabriel Byrne) had their dual in an area called Luggala, which a lot of people from Ireland were familiar with but I have never been to. It was such a beautiful location that was untouched by man; you can’t see a cell phone tower, electrical lines, or anything. It just feels like it’s the pocket of earth that no one has made an imprint on yet. When you get to a location like that and everyone is in their wardrobe and there is livestock all around you, the setting overshadows the crew in the sense that the production was so big that the gear really got lost in the setting. I was really lucky in my role too because I had my marriage with the Earl and one of the things that I like so much about our story was that we had this great hall where we would hold the court and that had all the ceremonies with the people, but then we had our bedroom, which was just a couple that had been married for years and the things that they keep in their bedroom, and how they get ready for bed, what they talk about before they go to bed. I loved that I had that sense of place and sense of home, that dual experience of playing this queen-like character, when she’s sitting on the thrown, then also the normal everyday mundane thing that everybody’s got to climb into bed and kiss your husband goodnight and roll over and go to sleep.
Lena: I think one of the most defining episodes for your character was “Burial of the Dead.” Siggy had to watch her husband die at the hands of Ragnar. You were incredible in that scene. Even when the fight was going on the shots of you, in the crowd, were some of the strongest. Can you talk about what Siggy went through, in that episode, and your dynamic character throughout the series?
Jessalyn Gilsig: Thank you. I was helped by my wardrobe. I had great, great outfits. What was so interesting for me about that scene, and challenging, was that I think Siggy knows that he’s not going to win. I think she knows that he knows that he’s not going to win. That’s why she brings the knife. It doesn’t call into question her love, or even her belief in him, but our fates are written. The Seer (John Kavanagh) has told us, and even though he tells me that The Seer says he’s going to win, she just knows that as much as she wants that to be the reality, that it isn’t the reality. It’s such a beautiful character because for me I feel like I’m just so lucky because, especially working with Gabriel, there was really a marriage with so much history and so much pain, but also so much joy. The most joy that a couple could have, having a beautiful family with success and security and then slowly all of that had been shaved away over time and let us really know that we were vulnerable. Siggy, I don’t even think that her husband would expect any less, knows that she has to go on. She’s not going to throw herself on the funeral pyre. They were in a political collaboration, she and the Earl, and that political ambition doesn’t die with him.
Lena: Siggy had a little something going on with Rollo (Clive Standen) prior to the Earl’s death. Can you discuss that and if you think it’s wise for her to team up with unstable Rollo?
Jessalyn Gilsig: [Laughing.] Yeah, time will tell. We talked about that a lot, Michael and I. Why does she do that? First of all, the Earl is impotent and Siggy is a human being with desires and yearnings, and in her is still a feeling that there is another chapter. The Earl is really backing out on that feeling and is not connected to that ambition anymore and I think in Rollo, I think there is a mutual attraction. I think even more than that, that there is a feeling of trying to suss out can she find in him the qualities that she had in her husband. Is there a way that she can make another political marriage and move back into what she considers her rightful place, sitting in that throne?
Lena: Just when I thought Vikings couldn’t get any better, they brought in Donal Logue as King Horik.
Jessalyn Gilsig: Yes! Amazing, right!
Lena: Can you talk about being part of such a phenomenal cast and what it was like working with everyone?
Jessalyn Gilsig: It was really great to be on location, to be away from L.A. and from everything that was familiar. It’s really an international cast. There were lots of people coming from all different walks of life and all converging in Ireland. I think that created a feeling that we were really just serving the story. No one was really thinking about the result of how this will play and how this will play for me, but rather so many elements were so foreign that we really just wanted to do the best job that we could for Michael. I think everybody was happy to set the bar really high. We would come in and not really think about how we looked or how we were coming off. It was almost like coming in and reenacting an incredible novel, or something. You know that on the set when the feeling goes out that everybody is prepared and everybody is making choices about their characters. Everybody is interested in making the scene the very best that it can be and nobody is going to go home until we got it right. That is just infectious. Luckily for us, I think it translated into the production as well.
Lena: Did Gabriel offer you any parting words?
Jessalyn Gilsig: Gabriel, for me, was such a gift. For me it was also when I got the job I didn’t feel, I felt like it reminded me of the kind of things that I did before I moved to Hollywood. I worked in classical theatre and regional theatre. Since then I’ve done a lot of television and one of the last things was Terri (Schuester) on Glee. Although, I didn’t necessarily feel like, it didn’t mean that I didn’t want the job, but I knew that it would be hard for people. I didn’t want anybody to watch the show and say, why did Terri Schuester just walk into…? [Laughing.] Why is she there? I knew I had to give myself over to the production both physically and mentally. Maybe Gabriel had the same kind of feeling because some people would recognize me and I just didn’t want to be that weak link that made people say, Yeah, I liked it but it was just weird that girl from Glee was there.
Lena: I had a lot of people say that they hate your character, Terri, from Glee because she is so mean on the show. [Laughing.]
Jessalyn Gilsig: I’m not going to say that Siggy is going to win any popularity contests but I think Siggy is certainly more sophisticated than Terri. Hopefully, that will buy her a few more fans. [Laughing.]
Lena: With History toting the tagline – “No one will see this coming.” – referring to the finale, I’m excited and terrified to watch it on Sunday night.
Jessalyn Gilsig: Yes, you should be. In fact, it was really hard for us to film and you will see why when you see it on Sunday. It was shocking when we read it. It was personally one of the most intense things that I have ever filmed. It was really good. Michael gave us such a deep foundation that when he kind of brings in this earthquake, so to speak, the loss is so great.
Lena: Wow! Do you think that the viewers are going to enjoy it, or are we going to be up all night screaming WHY at our televisions?
Jessalyn Gilsig: [Laughing.] I can’t believe with this show, which is such a new world that has never been created before with characters with such complex storylines with so many intricate connections – I just feel that there is this fan base that it’s almost like as soon as it airs people said oh yes, I know this, this is familiar to me and this is how my brain works. No one has ever sort of understood the level of storytelling that my brain can handle, and the way that the fans have understood the show and all of its complexities, I feel like when next week happens the discussions will be fascinating because everybody gets it. People are talking about it like they are talking about literature, or something. I don’t know what the reaction is going to be, but I know that everything that I’ve read that the fans have been talking about that they will have such interesting thoughts on the why and many of them will be right.
Lena: The fans are so vested in the show and the characters.
Jessalyn Gilsig: I feel it. As an actor, you always want to respect your audience. That is the most important thing and there is a lot that you try to bring to the storytelling without in any way indicating anything because you are trying to connect about the human connection, you are not trying to tell people who this person is, but you are trying to play this person in such a way that people can relate. This show has the patience, I feel like, to allow us all to do that and to do that layering. It would be one thing if we were in the third season; I feel that after the first episode aired people understood much of the dynamics and were relating individually to each different character. It’s really exciting. Television is so exciting right now. I feel like it’s the greatest storytelling that is out there right now. I feel like our television show is just a nine-hour movie.
Lena: It is, especially with Michael Hirst at the helm. Since you’ve worked with Ryan Murphy on Glee and Nip/Tuck, are we ever going to see you on American Horror Story?
Jessalyn Gilsig: [Laughing.] I’ve been asked that a couple of times. I feel like I should because then it would be my hat trick. I don’t know. I never know when Ryan is going to call, and I’m always happy when he does. We will see what happens. I love the show, though. He’s the perfect example of a guy who is right on the vanguard on what television could be before anybody realized it. He can really do these series where it is a full experience. It’s really exciting.
Lena: Do you have a release date for Somewhere Slow?
Jessalyn Gilsig: I think it is going to be in the fall of 2013. We are doing a few more festivals and then we are gearing up for our theatrical and our video release, our VOD and Netflix. It’s probably going to be in the fall.
Lena: Very cool. I was looking it up but I couldn’t find any info on when it was coming out, or if it was going to be a limited release.
Jessalyn Gilsig: We are looking at a limited release and VOD. I’ll definitely let you know when. I’m so excited to share it. It’s such a labor of love. It’s been doing really well. We’ve been getting such great responses at the festivals, and we are just trying to build that momentum for when we come out. I’m so proud of it, not so much because of my appearance in it, but really because of all the talent that is behind it. I just want people to see everybody’s work and have them get the recognition that they deserve.
Lena: That’s another great cast.
Jessalyn Gilsig: Yeah. Isn’t it a beautiful cast? They were amazing. The thing with actors is that we all just want to be working and we all want to be stretched, so what I learned from that film was that if we could not waste anyone’s time and make sure that we were fully prepared and that we got everybody out with a precision and an efficiency to what we were doing, we could get these amazingly talented people. David Constabile is such a good example. Without him I don’t think there is a film. He just came in and embodied this character that only he could. He was so generous with his talent. We got really lucky in every department that way. The woman that did the makeup, because I have a skin condition in the film, she made that her passion – to focus on that and make that her responsibility.