Katheryn Winnick (center) plays a real-life shieldmaiden in "Vikings."
Credit: History Channel
The mental image that comes to mind when you hear “Vikings” is usually bearded oafs drinking from skull cups in between fits of plundering. “People think they were just barbarians with horns on their heads,” says Katheryn Winnick, one of the stars of “The Vikings,” a new nine-episode docu-drama that airs Sundays on The History Channel. “That’s completely wrong. They were civilized, intelligent, sophisticated.”
The show is the latest from Michael Hirst, known for his way of turning history into highly watchable, often sexy trash, as he did in the “Elizabeth” films, “The Tudors” and “The Borgias.” His new show tells of Ragnar Lothbak (Travis Fimmel), a real-life Viking badass. But the women have meaty roles, too, specifically Lagertha (Winnick), wife of Ragnar, and Siggy (Jessalyn Gilsig), the Lady Macbeth to Gabriel Byrne’s evil lord. Lagertha, is a “shieldmaiden” — a female warrior — and spends the earliest episodes at home as her husband sails on an illegal mission. But that means organizing the community and fending off ne’er-do-wells in Ragnar’s stead. “What’s great about her relationship with Ragnar was that they were partners,” Winnick says. “It was true love.”
For Gilsig, best known as Terri Schuester on “Glee,” it was a chance to play evil again, this time alongside her TV husband.
“This was a team effort,” she says of the two characters. “This is a couple that has come to the highest position, and now they have to figure out how to keep it. You have to do that by identifying your enemies and any threat you have, and eliminating them.”
The secret to playing a villain is believing the character is right, Gilsig says. “Your job as an actor is to always make sense to yourself. Even a serial killer makes sense to themselves.”