Vikings is about to premiere season six on The History Channel, and after last season’s tumultuous events in Kattegat, mostly at the hands of Ragnar’s youngest son Ivar, we were keen to catch up with the actor behind so much of the madness and spectacle leading into this new season.
Below, Alex Høgh Andersen shared his thoughts on love, betrayal, and the humanity inside Vikings’ mad, bad, and maybe misunderstood brother Ivar…
So let me start out with, it’s always good to start out by calling your interviewee a bastard. So let me do that.
Actually, I’m just echoing something you said. You once called Ivar a bastard, but you said that it’s important as an actor that you not judge him too much. So I was wondering: how do you do that? How do you make peace with a character like Ivar, especially considering the events of the second half of season five?
When you think about Ivar in season five, it’s going to be a tough job, I know that. I had a tough job doing it, shooting season five, absolutely. But it’s your first job as an actor to never touch their character. There are no good or bad characters. Because, the bad characters do not think they are bad. And Ivar is especially one of those characters. If he believes in his cause, I have to believe in it too. I feel sorry for him, first and foremost. But I see through all of his bullcrap. Absolutely. All this dumb stuff that he does, the tyranny, the burning of people alive, all that stuff. I know that that comes from fear, and from fear of not being loved.
So what he does instead is the only thing that he understands, which is causing fear. I see through that, every single time. I understand that he’s a little boy on the inside and he’s probably more crippled on the inside than he is on the outside. I always remember that. It’s important for me to in every single scene to have just a little piece of that. Even though, in some scenes, it’s almost impossible to show that, that vulnerability to him, or that three-dimensional character that I absolutely believe that he is. But I try, and I hope I’ve succeeded.
What do you think his relationship to love is? Because we have the mother who smothered him in it, and the absent father, a Viking culture which rejects him. So what do you think his relationship is to love?
To love? Well, it’s a troubled one. I think he absolutely, truly wants to be loved. And I also think that was part of what made him so blind in season five, beginning when he met the dear Freydis, because he never really understood love or never really experienced true love. And he absolutely felt that he got that from her. So what happens to his character? He just listened to everything she had to say. I believe that she played a big part in making him go even more crazy than what he’d usually do when he was ruling, absolutely. I think she really planted that seed of him believing, truly believing that he was a god, because that’s what she did. And when you are falling completely in love with a girl that tells you that, you can’t do anything but accept it and believe in it. Truly. So he really wants to be loved. Absolutely. But he has a really tough time doing it. And you’ll see him struggle with that in season six as well. But he will get closer to… I don’t think he’ll get closer to finding it, in a way, but I think he will get closer to understanding what it really is. And what that first true love did to him, in both good ways and bad ways. Absolutely.
Excellent. That would be good to see. Because, one of my other questions was, what do you think he’s learned from losing Kattegat?
Some would say that it’s kind of a big hit on his self-esteem and his belief in himself, his powers, his ideas and his talents. And I really liked that. Because I thought he was a little too much in season five actually. He was completely losing it and sometimes it was a little hard to protect him, and defending him. I think that’s what I’ve really tried and that’s the great thing about his arc in seasons six. In season six, he’s really thinking about what happened to him. So he’s processing that whole experience. And I think that he started looking in, way more than he usually did in the past. So that’s great to have him actually become as a human being growing. Because he actually received some kind of assistance that he didn’t expect, from within. Yeah. I guess that’s an answer.
Do you think his murder of Freydis is going to weigh heavily on him or is he going to walk away fairly easily from this? And I ask you this, having seen the first five episodes of season six.
Five episodes of season six? Oh, my god. I think he hated… You’ve seen more than I have…. He needed to clarify it. Absolutely. She did betray him in the worst way possible, but I mean, it’s so hard for him. He’s had such a horrible time. Finally, he finds some kind of true love. Yeah, she’s probably just as crazy as he is, but, my god, and then she betrays him. I mean, he’s really, really hurt. I think he’s a broken, broken young man in season six. And he’s really processing that entire experience. And I don’t think he’ll ever get over that. I don’t think he’ll ever get over it.
So I know that you and Marco Ilsø [who plays Ivar’s conflicted brother Hvitserk] room together when you’re shooting Vikings, which is most of the year. And you two have had to do a lot of really ugly work in season five. It was really nasty there for a while. So how did spending all that time together impact both of your acting and living together?
It was fun! It’s great to have someone… Well, first and foremost, it’s the greatest, the best job in the world we both have. That said, it’s a tough job, it has to be tough, otherwise it’s not really fun. I don’t think so, at least. And sharing it with the good pal of yours is just the icing on the cake, I have to say. And living together, that gives us an upper hand. We can, you know, talk about the scenes, we can talk about the characters. We can, you know, read the scripts together. We can do all sorts of stuff that will prepare us for the next day when we have to shoot. Absolutely.
Is it easy to let go of that ugliness, though? The minute that the director calls, “Cut.”
(chuckles) We’re pretending for a living. We’ve been doing this during this for so long. I’ve killed a few people, let’s just say, a few people on this show. Marco, too. You know you get used to it. So, it’s a weird sentence: “You get used to killing people and doing ugly stuff.” But, yeah. It’s what you do and, after the first three months of doing that, it’s just another day at the office. And, it has to be, that feeling of a regular day at work, because otherwise you would get too emotional about it, to psyched about it, and you can’t sleep at night because you think you might be seeing it all the time, and stuff like that. You need to neutralize it in a way, in order to be calm and collected.
So why did Ivar treat his only loyal brother so poorly during season five? Was he trying to drive Hvitserk away, or does he just think that he couldn’t drive him away because Hvitserk was so weak?
I would love to give you an answer, but that is one of those things that I don’t really… can’t answer because I have no idea. I tried to understand it because I thought he was pretty smart. If you’re Ivar. But if you’re smart you’ll hold your friends or family close, and your enemies even closer. And he did none of that, he pushed everyone away. And that is ridiculous; it’s stupid. They’ve had their differences, but I absolutely think, I believe that they should have stayed together way more. But again, Ivar had issues with him. Hvitserk almost didn’t jump into the boat and went with Ubbe, in the beginning of season five. I don’t think he ever had an idea of him, being able to trust him. Maybe that’s why.
Yeah. I also wondered if maybe he was trying to test his love, like he couldn’t believe that Hvitserk would choose him. So he was constantly trying to drive him away as if to prove to himself that he really wasn’t lovable, after all.
Yeah. He’s always sensitive about that.
What has playing Ivar taught you about disability in general?
Oh, I had a lot of respect for people before I went into this part. Having trouble with, working through in everyday life with a disease like that. But, after working on that part, I have tremendous amounts of respect for people suffering from such horrible diseases. I’ve learned how hard life is. And how much you need to not take things for granted when you’re a capable person. Or fully capable person. If that’s the right way to say it. I am amazed by people, and what they’re able to accomplish, even though they have major disadvantages. I mean, look at people that did Paralympics. Some of them have no legs and they’re running just as fast as people with legs.
It’s amazing. It has taught me a lot about mental power. Power of being strong and tough within, in your head, and how that can make your entire body stronger. And how those things, your mental and physical and your psychological health, how those two things just go hand in hand. I need to keep both of those things healthy in order to live fully. I am amazed by people suffering from diseases like that, because if that one part doesn’t work correctly, I can imagine your head will start having a tough time, too. Just because those things, as I said before, goes hand in hand. It takes a lot. It takes a lot. And I have crazy amounts of respect for people dealing with issues like that on a regular basis.
Which of Ragnar’s sons do you personally identify with, in terms of your own temperament?
Ragnar’s sons? (pained moan)
Because I’m assuming it’s not Ivar…
Well I see a lot of myself in Ivar. I understand every single one of the brothers. You need to as an actor: you need to be able to understand your characters and yourself. I understand some of the stuff that he’s going through. I understand loneliness, I understand having trouble feeling love, issues with women, whatever, blah blah blah. I understand a lot of the issues that he’s going through. And then I understand the stuff that Hvitserk is going through. I understand [redacted] need to go to Iceland, you know, go on his own path, stuff like that. I identify with every single one of them.
I know you’re a photographer. What does spending so much time on a set taught you about the camera and photography? What kind of opportunities has being there given you as a photographer?
Every single opportunity I could ask for. Showing up to sets is amazing. I mean the art department, the extras covered in blood and mud, and beautiful costumes and makeup from head to toe. How am I not able… Of course, I can take a phenomenal photo of that. It’s too easy. I’m not even needed…the surroundings are so perfect. It’s been a gift, truly a gift for a photographer to be on a set like that. I don’t think I was ever allowed to take photos on set. I know they have a very strict policy regarding that, but I didn’t give a damn. And they ended up liking a lot of my photos. I was just asked by production if they could get some of my photos for PR. (laughs)
Oh, that’s great.
It’s been exciting. It’s been a pleasure. I’ve got the most beautiful people on the set that are thankful, very glad, about taking photos for their Instagram. So, I’ve been a constant provider of that.
And I know you left school to play Ivar. Once you’ve left him behind, do you think you’re going to return to school, or are you going to continue to seek out new roles? What do you think your next step is?
I’m working on a new feature, a big Netflix Danish feature right now in Prague. So, life is too good right now, and the opportunities are too cool right now to go back to school. But I’m still a student of life. I’m still a student of my craft. Keep working is also a part of studying. But I might, if I get tired of shooting all the time, I might go back to school and study film. I don’t know. Maybe.
Do you think you’d go back to Copenhagen, or do you think you’d go out somewhere else?
Right now, I’ve got my base in Copenhagen, I’ll probably have a base in Copenhagen all the time. For the rest of my life, probably. I love Copenhagen, I love the quietness. I love the chill ride, we have here. I hate the weather, but I love the people. I got everything here and I’m not a big LA guy. I’ve been there a couple of times; it’s a cool spot. I could easily work there for four or five months, if I was shooting. Honestly, love that. No worries. But I think that I’m based in Denmark. I’m a very foggy person and I like the privacy that I can keep here in Denmark.
One last question. What life lessons have you learned by playing Ivar? What has he taught you about you?
Many, many lessons. Hard work pays off. Blah, blah, blah. Trusting yourself. Know that you can’t do everything by yourself. You need to ask for help, and help is great. Help is good. I’m learning that you will not get anywhere great on your own. You will lift this project with everyone’s work by being warm to each other. Oh, I really like that. So, yeah. You need to be warm. You need to work together. Help each other out. Absolutely. And Ireland’s been down to get the best project.
Yeah. Ireland’s a great place to learn that. They are a very warm people, aren’t they?
Well, because it’s so cold. They need to be. (laughs)
That’s very true. Thank you so much for your time.
My pleasure. Season six is going to be fun. The second part of season six obviously at the end, is going to be crazy. You got stuff to work with.
Vikings season 6 premieres in the UK on the 5th of December. Read our fan plea for season six here.