The story follows Ragnar Lothbrok, a character based on an actual historical figure, as he rises from Viking warrior to eventual king. Staring Gabriel Byrne, George Blagden, Travis Fimmel, Jessalyn Gilsig, Gustaf Skarsgard, Clive Standen and Katheryn Winnick, the series promises an intriguing storyline, and judging from what we’ve seen so far, incredible locations and a top notch cast.
The series has an epic feel to it, and I was lucky enough to talk with George Blagden (fresh off his success as Grantaire in the recent film adaptation of Les Miserábles) about his character, the Anglo Saxon monk Athelstan captured by Ragnar on his first raid to England.
George shares some insights into his character and the series, what it was like to film in Ireland, and what it was like to make the transition from the big screen adaptation Les Miserábles to the Viking battle scenes! He also share his thoughts on working on historical pieces, and what it’s been like to interact with fans of these spectacular dramas.
Thanks so much first of all, for taking the time out of your schedule to talk about your upcoming project, Vikings.
It’s my pleasure.
You’ve done what seems like a few period pieces, with Wrath of the Titans, Les Mis, and now Vikings, do you have any interest in history or was there anything that drew you to this project in particular?
I seem to be drawn to historical fiction, with Les Mis and Wrath of the Titans, it’s all I’ve done so far really and I think being able to play roles you don’t get to experience in modern life, especially set in historical fact, well really it’s historical fiction based on factual information. You feel like you have a responsibility to portray accuracy. And this is a period of history you don’t necessarily see being portrayed too often which is really exciting. Whether it’s Vikings or student revolt in 19th century France its really exciting.
Tell us a little about your character. Without giving too much away, was there a favorite scene that you enjoyed filming?
My character has a very exciting arc, it’s very exciting the journey my character goes on, and one of the interesting things about him is, without giving too much away he goes on an incredible journey. What we were trying to achieve is that he would be unrecognizable. We really wanted the audience, you know if they make it to they end, to go back to the first few episodes and say, “Is that the same character?”
Vikings kind of seems to have that sort of epic, serialized drama sort of feel to it, which is very popular in TV these days, with shows like Game of the Thrones. Are you a fan of these types of shows?
I’m still a boy at heart, we want to run around with swords! I love Game of Thrones though I haven’t had time to catch up on season 2 yet; I need to get to that! There were definitely moments where I was standing there on set [on Vikings] thinking, “This is really cool, I’m in the middle of a big battle scene, I’m doing what I want to do.”
Was it easy to transition from shooting Les Mis which is a very different kind of project, to shooting Vikings, which although still a period piece, probably had a lot less singing?
All of the past year has been kind of new to me, Les Mis was my first big studio production and Vikings my first TV production but its all really acting for camera. I guess you sometimes, but not all the time, have more time on film to show what you’re trying to show. I was incredibly happy with how often we see Grantaire in Les Mis but he’s still a minor character. Athelstan has more focus in Vikings. And I’m not promising anything but you might see Athelstan sing…but I’m not promising anything.
Your fans would probably enjoy that!
It’s a bit different though. You don’t get that 50 piece orchestra behind you!
In Les Mis, you were really able to bring a lot of emotion into your character with a relatively short amount of screen time, which was extremely impressive and incredible to watch. Was there anything you learned in filming Les Mis that you were able to carry over into your work on Vikings?
I learned that you can never over-think the importance of detail in your work. Making sure there is meaning in everything you do makes your character much more real and it means that if the camera glides over you for a couple of seconds, it will pick up on the subtle details of your work. Very important for screen acting and something I have always had a passion for. Subtle detail in you work!
There’s been kind of resurgence in popularity for historical shows and films, what do you think the draw is there?
I think we are often made to learn history very young, at least in my schooling experience and for me at least at a young age it’s not that exciting. These drama, and I’m just talking from my own experience, kind of make you say, “Why don’t I watch something entertaining and learn something?”
You filmed in Ireland over the summer, did you get any spare time, was there anything you liked to do when you weren’t filming?
I’d never been to Ireland. I mean once when I was 16 but it is just…to be perfectly honest I thought how are they going to film big Viking battle scenes? I had no idea this area is just picturesque and on my days off I would drive around and explore the area. So no really crazy stories for a normal 23 year old to have, just really a lot of exploring this really beautiful area. We were near the ocean and I did get close with some of my Irish cast mates. The Irish love to swim in the ocean and it was no lie beyond freezing. So yeah some of my Irish cast mates I got close with they would go swimming in the sea and I would join them and it’s quite invigorating.
What types of things did you have to do to prepare for this role? I know for Les Mis you read the book, was there anything to help you prepare for playing a monk?
Michael Hirst is the writer, he did the Tudors, and I did research into Anglo Saxon monks, I visited the monastery that you see in the first two episodes. I also visited a Viking Center in the UK, in York, and I got to talk to kind of Viking historians. They seemed kind of furious because every attempt to portray Vikings doesn’t really do them justice, show their community, and usually get the period of history wrong. In talking to them about the show they seemed very excited for the show and what we are trying to do. It’s important to find that balance between historical fact and entertainment.
My best research, for me, I went to a boarding school from the age of 7, and I told my agent, that’s really the best research I could have done because being a monk, it was very much like a boarding school. These monks were in the same place for years and couldn’t leave and to me it was very similar. I looked into the gospels they had written and what they were trying to achieve. These monks were stuck there, I don’t think we have that kind of dedication anymore, well maybe with artists if you’re working on something for years, but it’s still very different and I admired that kind of dedication.
Did you feel you were able to bring a lot more of yourself into the character because it wasn’t such and established well-known character like Grantaire in Les Mis?
When I got on set of Vikings the director and Michael Hirst asked me to put a lot of myself into the role. Sometimes you go into a casting session and they see you and say yeah we want George and they want you to put a lot of yourself into the character. I mean with Grantaire, I’m not a complete drunken womanizer in real life…I’m really a geek.
Fan Reaction to Les Mis has been pretty incredible; you have over 7,000 followers on twitter, were you expecting that kind of reaction?
Surprised is a complete understatement. I was overwhelmed! I was a massive fan of Les Mis, I played one of the beggars in one of my first roles. When they said they were making to movie I said to my agent I need to be involved and I got to audition. I didn’t realize the extent, but I was really joining a family that’s been around for 28 years and it was such a gift to be able to work with such talented people.
You do a lot to keep in touch with fans and reply to them, does it get overwhelming?
It’s funny, on Christmas Eve I had like 700 followers, I maybe got like 2-3 tweets a day and I thought well I will reply to everyone and then between Christmas and new years day I gained like 4,000 or 5,000 new followers and I was just amazed. And I’ve kind of kept that mindset to reply to people, but sometimes I don’t always see what people are tweeting me and yeah you kind of realize you’ve spent an hour of your day on twitter! But I’m so appreciative of the fans and I like having a chat.
Based off twitter reaction, people seem very excited about Vikings, do you enjoy being able to use social media to spread the word and find out what fans are thinking about the show? It must be very exciting
It’s really great to see everyone’s reactions, and yeah that’s why I like using twitter, I get to keep up with not only what people are saying about my work but being able to spread the word about others work, and also being able to keep up with all the other stuff that’s happening in our industry and being able to make connections in that way is really great.
How do you find the time to reply to everyone?
You know you do ten minutes here and ten minutes there. But it adds up!
You’re in LA now for 5 weeks, are you promoting the show?
Yeah lots more interviews planned and it’s kind of exciting it’s my first go at promoting things, I mean I did a few Les Mis premieres but it was literally my first time and I think a lot of people were wondering “Who is that guy?” and it’s really great to be able to be here and promote the show.
You’ve done movies, stage, and now TV, is there one you prefer over the other?
I’d love to be able to continue to do all three, the actors I respect the most in the industry have the ability to do all the 3, like Mr. Eddie Redmayne, and you know if I could kind of have that balance in ten years time I would be really happy. My training is all classical theatre training.
Do you have any other upcoming projects? Is there anything you would really like to do that you haven’t had a chance to do yet? Do you have a favorite musical you would love to be involved in?
I would have loved to been apart of Once, I was lucky enough to see it in New York and its just an amazing production. I actually auditioned for it in the West End, I thought that they had casted it and then found out that they hadn’t. I went out and bought a guitar cause I had left mine abroad and learned all the songs and I auditioned but yeah, they wanted a year commitment, which I couldn’t do because we don’t know about Vikings yet so that was disappointing.
So is there potential for Vikings to continue?
Well I mean it really depends on you guys, we can’t really say yes or no, it depends if people watch, but it wasn’t really planned to be a one season series, so you never know.
Do you have any upcoming projects besides Vikings?
No not at the moment, I’m looking for a job! I’m out here promoting the show but also doing a few auditions as well and yeah its all up in the air, which is exciting, I quite like that about our industry.
Tune in to Vikings on the History Channel on March 3 at 10pm and continue to check back for recaps, reviews and more! And check out the trailer below!