In The History Channel's latest hit series, VIKINGS, the characters show no mercy. Based on an actual historical figure, Ragnar Lothbrok, the story follows his band of Viking brothers as he rises to become the King of his people. He is determined to discover and conquer new worlds across the seas. Ragnar and his army will kill anyone who stands in their path. But out of all of the bloodshed, one man is given the chance to survive: Athelstan the monk played by newcomer, George Blagden. The British-born actor gives a gripping performance to be remembered. Although he has appeared in acclaimed films such as WRATH OF THE TITANS and LES MISERABLES, I am sure this is the role that will put him on Hollywood's radar. George sat down with LATF to discuss in detail his character and this riveting new show. (Read the full feature in the April Issue #33 in LATF The Magazine)
Out of all the savage characters in VIKINGS, yours is the most innocent. What did you first think when you read the role of Athelstan?
GB: What I found really exciting is that Athelstan was seemingly the outsider; the one character who is so different to everyone else in the show and that he managed to integrate himself within their society. The character is so different from everyone else on the show. I’m definitely not the only person who’s not savage. I think that’s probably what people will take away from this show most over the first few weeks: how these people are not savage at all, and what Michael [Hirst, the creator], has tried to do in this series is show the real human aspect of the Vikings.
I would imagine it wasn't easy for you to relate to being a monk. Did you give yourself a history lesson on the time the show takes place in?
GB: I’m a big one for research and learning all about what your character’s background is and everything, so I actually asked if I could go to Lindisfarne Island off the coast of Northumberland in pre-production weeks, and I did. It was just amazing being there for a couple of days—to take in that landscape and to see the world in which Athelstan grew up. And, you may say I don’t have much of a connection or I might not be able to know really what it was like to be an Anglo-Saxon monk - but when I first got on set, Michael asked me, ‘Where did you go to school?’ and I said, ‘I went to boarding school at age 7,’ and he said, ‘That’s so perfect. Just bring so much of that part of yourself to the role because it’s very similar to how Athelstan grew up in this isolated community.
Are you religious? I’m sure not as much as Athelstan.
GB: That’s the point, right. Athelstan is so, so devout in his religion. The whole society at Lindisfarne is an all-male society. You are a servant of your faith and I think it’s very rare in the multicultural society we have nowadays to find examples of religion as devout as that and as extreme as what these Anglo-Saxon monks were doing—imprisoned, almost, on this island. And so it’s very hard to relate to in modern day society.
I'm curious about the dialect. Everyone seems to have a faint English accent. What was the direction for that?
GB: Well, for me, it was, ‘please use your own voice.’ I guess I was lucky in that respect; in that I didn’t have to do the hours of dialect training that everyone else did, because it’s a very specific dialogue that the Vikings are doing. It’s not quite modern Norwegian or Swedish or Scandinavian; it’s kind of what professors of ancient language that evolved into this sort of accent that Poll [Moussoulides], our dialogue coach, was training them on. I think the idea of it is just to make it sound non-Western. You’ll hear lots of characters speaking Old Norse, and I myself speak ancient Anglo-Saxon a couple of times in the show and so that was great. I mean, what kind of job do you get to do where you learn a new language?
Where do you shoot the show?
GB: We shot in Ireland in brand new studios in Ashford, which is about 40 km south of Dublin, and then the surrounding landscape around Ashford, which is the Wicklow Mountains, If you’ve not been, or don’t know about them, you have to look them up, because they’re just so dramatic and gorgeous. When I was told we were going to be filming in Ireland, I kind of thought, ‘Where are all of the Scandinavian fjords in Ireland? Why are we going to Ireland to film a TV show about Vikings?’ And then we got to the Wicklow Mountains, and I was quite wrong.
You don’t need any special effects for that.
GB: Yeah. It was amazing.
(SPOILER ALERT) When your character’s captured, his entire world is turned upside down. With all of the temptations, he remains devoted to his faith. Do you think or know if he will break out of his religious barrier?
GB: I will say that, like I said, Athelstan is the outsider in this community—this very daunting, strange, alien, pagan community—and he’s the only person in that society who sticks out like a sore thumb. In having to try and integrate in this society, he will have to change for survival, so yes; carry on watching is all I can say.
There is clearly a demand for these types of shows about moments in history. What do you hope for the future of VIKINGS?
GB: I hope to turn 30 and be on the set of Vikings in seven years from now [laughs]. No, I really hope that the show does well and that we get to go back to Ireland year after year, because it was like a five month summer camp filming that. It was just magical, with a fantastic group of people to work with, like the crew, which is so incredible. I think people, hopefully, will watch the show and the demand will be there, because like you said, historical fiction is something that I think people love because we don’t get a chance to run around with axes and shields in modern society nowadays. We can’t walk up Wilshire in Viking getup.
Some people do on Hollywood Boulevard.
GB: [laughs] I’m sure some people probably do.
But it’s a fantasy.
GB: Yeah, and I think that’s why people are drawn to historical fiction, because they get to experience other parts of history that they may not have otherwise thought of or learned about it.
By Pamela Price
Photos by LATF USA & Kevin Lynch /Jonathan Hession HISTORY Copyright 2011