“I think Bjorn is kind of a diamond in the rough," says Ludwig. "He’s really got a good heart. He can be vicious and he can be mean — he was known to be an incredible warrior — but deep down he does have a heart of gold.”
You might know Canadian actor Alexander Ludwig as Cato, the ill-fated brutish Career tribute in “The Hunger Games.” Now, he’s taking on another tough-guy role: bold and bestial Bjorn Lothbrok, son of young warrior Ragnar, in season two of History's “Vikings.”
Were you nervous about joining an already established cast? Yeah, it’s always a little intimidating when you’re joining a cast that’s been around, but they welcomed [me] with open arms and we got along super well. I had already met [Bjorn's mother and father on the show] back in Los Angeles, so when I got back to Ireland we were just reuniting. We got along famously.
You’re filming in Ireland? We’re filming in Dublin. I’d been to Dublin once before with my family but it was very short. It’s great because now I’m older and I get to really experience it by myself, which I love. We’re living there for, like, a full four or five months. It’s unbelievable.
Was moving to another country a bit of a culture shock? I always heard Ireland was great but the people there are just so giving and they will really go out of their way, even if they don’t know you, just to make sure you’re having a good time and you are taken care of. They’re really just a warm-hearted people, and that kind of just shocked me because I wasn’t expecting that. And they have a great music scene, which I love.
Let’s talk about your costumes — or maybe in your case, your lack thereof. For the most part I am clothed. [Laughs] It’s unbelievable what they’ve done with the costumes, and I give a lot of props to the costume department. They’ve gone above and beyond and researched exactly what [the characters] would look like back then, and a lot of the material they make it out of is how they actually made their [clothing] back then. It really just makes it so much easier as an actor; you don’t have to pretend to be a Viking at all. The sets are so exceptional and the clothing is so real you already feel you’re in it.
Did you know much about Vikings before joining the show? No, and I think that’s why “Vikings” is doing so well — it is a part of history that not a lot of people know about, so there’s very little to go off of. I think the reason people are loving “Vikings” too is whenever they hear about Vikings they hear about these bad people who raided and did all this raping and pillaging and whatnot, but when you see it from their perspective it’s definitely an interesting story. What this family went to do — [they] were real people and they went on to do unbelievable things. They really laid the foundation upon which our world was built.
What are the challenges of playing someone who’s so long gone? I think there’s a lot more freedom just because it was so long ago. There’s very little for me to go off of. I think the only pressure really came from the fact that the character’s already been established in the first season, so I took it upon myself to really ensure that there were certain fundamentals that I wanted to stay consistent with my character, like the depth of his character and his earnestness.
Bjorn was a very powerful Viking and he was able to command a lot of attention at a young age. I think a lot of that has to come from the fact that he was very sincere and he rarely smiled — when he did it really meant something. Everything he did had a purpose, and in that way he was also a very intellectual and loving person. I wanted to keep that depth to him, but also four years have gone by since you last saw him and a lot can change, so I wanted also to show that maturity to him now.
Who would win in a fight between Bjorn and Cato? Bjorn would win. He’s just so vicious. I think a lot of people were confused about why Vikings were so great and why they would always win their battles — the equipment they carried wasn’t nearly as good as what everybody else carried, but they were still able to prevail, and they had less people but they still were able to prevail. The reason is they didn’t fear death. To them, this was just the beginning, and once you died honorably you went on to another life.