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Exclusive Vikings interview: Alexander Ludwig on the beautiful flaws of Bjorn Ironside

Vikings Season 6a Bjorn
Vikings Season 6a Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) in thought. Pic credit: History

Good cliffhangers make you wonder what else hangs in the balance. The Season 6 midseason finale of HISTORY’s Vikings ended in such a way as Ivar the Boneless (Alex Høgh Andersen) led the Rus army into Norway against his half-brother Bjorn Ironside (Alexander Ludwig).

Both are sons of Ragnar Lothbrok and each has magnified traits of their father, including his flaws. But Ivar and Bjorn have each made their own share of mistakes as rulers and this season.

One that many fans have waited for–with Bjorn becoming a king–crashed and burned, making him even more relatable and human while Ivar went from proclaiming his divinity to finding the ability to love his fellow man by serving another ruler, Prince Oleg (Daniel Koslovsky), who has less empathy than him.

In addition to the Rus taking King Harald’s kingdom, Ivar fought another battle with Bjorn, one played out in their minds, which may or may not have ended with Bjorn taking a deadly blow.

We’ll find out exactly what happened when the final episodes of Vikings resume. But still, Bjorn’s journey including his ferocious ability on the battlefield, his quest to see the world in the Mediterranean, and the endless quest for approval that he never got from his father make him one of the more fascinating characters on the show.

He experienced massive tragedy from losing his oldest child, the murder of his mother and was defeated for crown to rule over all of Norway.

Monsters & Critics: I’ve been assured in speaking with Michael Hirst recently that this is not the last we’ve seen of Bjorn, and that even though it was shocking to see it, that Season 6B will show that not all is what it seemed. But talk about the last page of that script when you read it. 

Alexander Ludwig: That was an amazing experience. This whole season for my character has been truly, as an actor, one of the greatest experiences. It will probably forever be one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had to dive deep and show so much of my character.

That ending is simply tragic, Michael and I had gone back and forth about what should happen in this moment.

One of the great things about Michael is that he’s collaborative, but one of the things I like about this season is the unexpectedness of it, how characters are being killed in ways that as a fellow audience member, I was totally blindsided by. I was really excited to do that and it’s an excellent piece of material that he gave us to work with.

M&C: It seems like Bjorn has always been at odds with Ivar, and last season there was this physical struggle for Kattegat. Here it’s different. We get these intense scenes of you and Alex on the beach. What were some of the symbolic things you wanted to say between brothers there?

AL: There’s always been this inner need that Bjorn had since a young boy and stuck with him as a king to make his father proud in life and in death.

Ivar uses that same ideology to justify his actions. So I believe that scene on the beach is a really important one because it’s reflective of how they think internally.

It never happens obviously, but it did in so many ways in their own minds, which is why it was a really important one to have before the tragedy commences. It was one of my favorite scenes to film. 

M&C: What’s it been like to play a character that’s not only beloved on the page, from character to character, but also amongst Vikings fans and yet is so deeply flawed and continually tested?

AL: That’s a wonderful question and I thank you for that, I really appreciate it. It’s truly the greatest gift as an actor. Getting an arc like this is unheard of.

I’ve never could have expected to have gotten this far and I would get to show so much. It was promised to me when I signed on but I never knew if we’d get here. It’s incredibly fulfilling and I learned a lot of myself as a human being through the process of exploring Bjorn’s emotions. I feel when the show does end, we’ll reach a full circle of finality we had always hoped to achieve. 

Vikings Polygamy
Vikings Season 6A, Episode 609 Ingrid )Lucy Martin), Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) and Gunnhild (Ragga Ragnars). Pic credit: History

M&C: Fan reaction can be so passionate about the women who stand beside him (and who he lays next to), and this season we explored the polygamy part of the Viking culture. Talk about portraying some of those gray aspects and doing things that fans aren’t comfortable seeing, but being true to the honesty of the character. 

AL: I am so grateful for the fans of the show and I think Michael draws a lot from them in more ways than we like to admit. That being said, we are makingshow about Vikings, so whether or not people are comfortable with the subject matter is out of our control. Our main objective is to portray what it was actually like.

What I love about Bjorn as a character is that he is flawed like we all are and we all make mistakes. If you dig deep into why does what he does, my understanding of polygamy back then was that it was an agreement or at least an understanding from the other people involved. At least that’s how we portray it on the show.

With Bjorn, I think so much of his validation, because he never got it from his father, comes from the women. That’s why he’s consistently drawn to seek that outside of his relationship, which I love about him because that’s so human.

Just because we’re portraying humans from such a long time ago, it’s a thing that people and families deal with all the time. If we are unable to validate ourselves, we seek it externally. That is Bjorn’s main character flaw. He feels that he has never lived up to the man his father was and tragically may never will. 

M&C: Bjorn has always been at the epicenter of strong women, starting with Lagertha as his mother, but also in his many relationships, whether it was Astrid, Torvi, Gunnhild and now Ingrid. Talk about working off the energies of Josefin (Asplund), Georgia (Hirst), Ragga (Ragnars) and Lucy (Martin) collectively in what they gave you for Bjorn’s storyline but also being a part of their individual stories too. 

AL: I grew up in a family with three very strong powerful women, with my mother and two sisters and I always felt comfortable around women. It’s possibly because of how I grew up, and not only on set but we’ve created great friendships that have lasted through today.

I’m so grateful because every single of one of those incredible women were so on board to make this the best show they possibly could and they brought everything they possibly could to what we were given.

M&C: Because of Bjorn’s wandering eye, you’ve also had to breach the discomfort of doing love scenes with them too.

Every one of them were remarkable in so many different ways to work with. 

So specifically when you were working with scenes like the polygamy scenes, and the lovemaking scenes in general, something that I’ve always done and am surprised to hear that others don’t, is despite everything, the art of it, is making sure that everyone on the set is comfortable.

If you’re not comfortable, not only is that just terrible off set, but nobody is going to give their best performance.

It’s a hard conversation to have, but I would talk to every single one of them, go through step by step of what my ideas were and I hear what they felt was right, and we’d come to something that we felt was mutually beneficial for our characters.

What I love about Vikings is that there is no fight sequence or lovemaking, that doesn’t serve a purpose. It’s not there just to be there. It’s there to add something to the show.

Bjorn Grieving
Vikings Season 6A Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) grieves at Lagertha’s funeral. Pic Credit: History

M&C: Both of Bjorn’s parents perish in poetic and powerful ways, have you discussed your potential send off down the road with Michael in a similar way?

AL: One of many things I have to attribute to Michael is his willingness to be collaborative and he knows the importance of these characters not to just himself, but to us, and to fans all around.

He does run by his ideas with us and wants to make this the best show it can be. I call them our storytime ideas, where I go out with Michael and he’d take me through what his plan was. It was my favorite dinners because I get to hear where the show was going, we’d have great chats and I’d get to learn more about their history. 

As an actor who has been playing this role for years and years, I could not be happier with the way it turns out with Bjorn’s ultimate finality.

I’ll also say that one thing I’ve really enjoyed about this season and the show as a whole, for the most part, everyone’s death has been unexpected, certainly not the way I as an audience member would have expected it to go and that I really like.

Bjorn’s death, when it does comes, is so tragic but will serve a purpose and people will feel like the character had done everything it possibly could for the show.  

M&C: Every season brings a major development for a character and in turn, a new challenge for an actor. What was your biggest challenge this season in portraying Bjorn and have we seen it yet?

AL: You’ve seen a lot of it, for sure. Mostly when you’re presented with the challenge that I was, where we went into uncharted territory and I’m showing the most loss that my character has experienced, from losing his mother, his son and the crown of Norway. That’s something that we haven’t seen Bjorn have to face.

So the kind of depths I had to go to do that character justice can be quite dark and emotionally exhausting and to stay in that consistently in a day, or multiple days and even weeks at a time was the biggest struggle.

It wasn’t an obstacle I had to get over, because I knew this was how it was going to be and I was excited for it, but it was certainly trying.

By the end of it, you’re just really f***ed, so wrecked. But I was also embracing it with open arms because I knew it was a side of Bjorn no one had ever seen but it was a side I always wanted to show. 

M&C: Many were rooting for Bjorn to have this great run of the king of Norway that never happened. What would you tell Bjorn fans to smile proudly about him because but we’ve still been able to celebrate this complex character?

AL: One thing I’ll say is that we don’t know quite yet, if he’s done or if he’s achieved that level of fame to make his father proud. The greatest thing about Bjorn is that, despite his flaws, he has a heart of gold and he does care about his people.

Once he does reach his finality that his inner needs to make his father proud is finally lifted from him and that to me is the ultimate conclusion for him.

Catch Alexander Ludwig in Bad Boys for Life in theaters now and see what happens to Bjorn when Season 6B begins. The remaining 10 episodes of Vikings will air on HISTORY at later date to be announced in 2020.

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