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Vikings - Season 2 - Exclusive Interview with Star George Blagden

Season 2 of History Channel's hit series Vikings was an emotional hard hitting and adventurous ride. One of the most compelling characters of the season was monk turned Viking, Athelstan, played by George Blagden. Athelstan went on an emotional, and sometimes painful journey this season, and George sat down to discuss what it was like to portray the character, his thoughts about season two, and what he hopes to see in season 3!

Spoiler TV: Thanks for taking the time once again to chat about the season.

George Blagden: Not a problem at all!

STV: When do you guys start shooting again?

George Blagden: We start pre-production in about three weeks. We have about two weeks of pre-production then we start our first week of filming. So yeah, getting ready for it, getting ready to go back!

STV: Are you getting excited?

GB: Yeah very excited! It’s one of those things when you’re there, after you’re there for a month of two you’re just enjoying it. You don’t appreciate it as much, but then you’ve got four months till you get back on set and you think ‘Awe I wish I’d savored it a bit.’ But yeah very exciting.

STV: So in talking about the last season of Vikings, people have quite a few questions. Starting at the beginning of the season, people were curious in how you think Athelstan felt about the family drama between Ragnar and Lagertha, ultimately he chose to stay, but do you think he had any feelings about that considering how close he was with both of them?

GB: I think it was hard for Athelstan to watch Lagertha leave. Lagertha has been just as important as Ragnar to Athelstan in being able to feel welcomed into the Viking community. But Athelstan is still in a very difficult place at the start of Season 2 - he has recently recovered from the plague and dealing with hearing about the Borg/Lothbrok/Horik battle from afar. I don't think he was in any place to make free decisions about meandering around Scandinavia at that time.....well, he was, but he wouldn't have got very far!

STV: You did a fantastic job portraying Athelstan's crucifixion in episode 4. Can you explain the process of preparing for and filming that scene and how it affected you as an actor?

GB: I knew the event was going to take place, but I didn’t know when, or how he got that way until about two weeks before the episode when I got the script. We were going to be doing a very stylized filming of it. I knew from reading the scene I wasn’t going to get a methodical run through of the whole scene to kind of invest in the whole scene emotionally and physically. I knew that it would be very stop-start and I just buried myself further and tried to bring that emotional connection in bits essentially and in a stop-start way. I think you really need to wrap your head around it before you get up there and deliver.

I guess just thinking about it helped me prepare. I thought about it a lot and talked to the director about crucifixions and where they came from and researched what actually happened to the body scientifically when you’re up on the cross and you learn things like people died from suffocation and not nails or pins and yeah becoming a bit obsessed with crucifixions I guess.

STV: Did it affect you after you shot the scene? After everything was said and done or even seeing it for the first time, how did that really affect you?

GB: I was a bit sore! Yeah, I think after the day you try not to dwell on whether what you did was good or if what you did was the right way to do it and you kind of just forget about it and put it away. But I remember seeing it for the first time and remember the nature of the way it was filmed and put together. There were moments of it that I was less happy with than others for whatever reason and that illustrates actually as an actor you have little control over the end product and what’s being shown so you really need to make sure that every single take you’re delivering what you want to deliver instead of giving three different takes or three different versions that the director asks for, it’s about making sure that those versions are the ones that you want to portray for that character. I had mixed feelings about it but I’m glad about the reaction it got and I think it served it’s purpose!

STV: Do you think that Athelstan let others in Kattegat know about his crucifixion? Can you tell us more about how that affected his current religious identity and identity formation struggles?

GB: That’s a very good question, and I wonder if you could speak to Michael Hirst? No, I don't think he did let others know. And it hasn't really been dealt with at the end of Season 2. I suppose Ragnar is far too observant and curious not to have noticed the markings on Athelstan's hands, but the conversation about it hasn't happened, or certainly hasn't gone any further than discovering that Athelstan endured terrible suffering during his time in Wessex. In terms of how it affected his views and opinions on his former religious and Christian nature I think it really did truly affect him. And I hope people have seen how that affected him and being back in that Christian society throughout Season 2 really messed him up psychologically. Unfortunately, only Michael knows at this point how this will influence Athelstan going forward, but I'm sure it will be in a direction that none of us are expecting....!

STV: At the end of Season 2, quite a bit happens and we see that at the end Ragnar is now King. Do you think that will affect Athelstan and Ragnar’s relationship at all?

GB: Yes, I do. I haven’t seen a single letter of a single page of any script yet, so I have no idea what’s happening BUT just knowing the way that Michael writes, when a character has elevated himself to a position of power it affects their relationship throughout, we’ve seen it throughout the show. When people gain more power it directly affects those relationships that they have with the other characters. So yeah, I think knowing the way that Michael writes, I think it will affect their relationship, but I don’t know how!

STV: I’m sure you’ll find out soon.

GB:Yeah, I hope so!

STV: Do you think Athelstan's "life over-seas" with King Ecbert will have any effect as to how he will be treated by other members of the community upon return? We saw a little bit of that, Rollo says he wants to kill him, among other things, and do think that they’ll explore that a little bit more in Season 3?

GB:Yes, I think so, I think that will definitely be explored in Season 3. For example that scene at the end of season 2, where we’re all sat round the table, Athelstan is actually nursing a bit of a hangover in that scene, and we’re talking about what the Vikings are going to do, Athelstan makes a little point and everyone around the table including Lagertha is like “Oh be quiet.” I have to say I felt really frustrated about that scene. It was great to show but as an actor I felt really frustrated that the Viking characters didn’t really want to listen to Athelstan’s opinion, I feel like I want to stand up for Athelstan a lot. I think there will only be more of that in season 3.

I hope so. Athelstan is one of those characters who has an effect on everyone else. For Rollo, it was anger. For Floki, it was maybe jealousy. And for Ragnar, it was curiosity. The fact that we see Ragnar even considering to engage with the worship of a foreign god at the end of Season 2 is really powerful, and ultimately that was Athelstan's influence. I can't wait to see where Michael takes Ragnar with this this season.

STV: In talking about how Athelstan was treated by the others, how much of Floki's antagonism towards Athelstan was real, and how much of it was him playing up to Horik? Will we see any fallout in Season III? Athelstan's the best babysitter Kattegat's ever seen, so it would be a shame for Floki's daughter to miss out because dad's being ornery…

GB: It would be a shame, wouldn't it?! Only Mr. Skarsgard knows what is going on inside Floki's head. His character is unpredictable, like a lot of the other characters, so I'm afraid I can't really say whether the antagonism was real or not. But at least it makes viewers a little more happy to know that not even other cast members know what Floki will do next! We're all in the same boat! All I can say is that you should expect big things from Floki in Season 3.....for better or for worse.

That is a truly great question but I think you’ll have to ask Mr. Skarsgard because firstly he’s the only one who knows, and secondly having had that twist at the end of season 2 and discovering that a lot of Floki’s choices and decisions were to trick or allude Horik I don’t know what will happen when we go into season 3. All I can say is Floki is this brilliant enigma.

STV: Someone wanted to know, was it difficult or awkward for you to film the scene where you deliver Ecbert’s message to the rest of the Vikings and all the other cast members were hurling insults at you?

GB: Yes, it was very difficult! Basically that scene starts with me riding into their camp on a mule, a mule called Nelly, she was lovely. The director got me to ride across an open field of about 400 meters to the Viking camp and enter into the scene, and I don’t know if you’ve ever seen anyone riding a mule or know what it looks like but it’s like...they bounce very, very quickly. So you can’t look anything but a little silly when you’re riding on a mule and bouncing into a Viking camp. Everyone had headsets and I had a microphone and I was just quietly saying “Whoa, Nelly, whoa.” Everyone could hear and we had to go again because they couldn’t stop laughing. It was one of those very embarassing moments on set. So yeah, everyone was trying to kind of take the piss out of Athelstan.

Other characters that Ecbert sends as envoys probably had a lot more fear, especially after what happened to Aethelwulf, I don’t think Athelstan was very frightened. I think he was very much invested in being a mediator and wanting to work it out.

STV: At the end of the season we see Athelstan have a conversation with Ragnar about how he believes in both gods, the Christian God and the Viking gods, do you think that that’s true, that he does believe in both side of it? And how do you think he’ll try to overcome this or deal with this struggle?

GB: I think the scene that Michael wrote, the scene that you’re referencing is after that scene we were talking about previously and Ragnar walks Athelstan back out of the camp to safety and I explain how I feel. I think that scene was that first time really that Michael made sense to me Athelstan’s turmoil. The way that he wrote it, the language he used, when I got it I thought, “Wow, yes this is exactly what Athelstan is going though.” It perfectly summarised his inner turmoil and his conflict. So yeah I really do think that is the way Athelstan feels, I don’t think he was saying it just to please Ragnar or anything, I think that is really how he felt. Whether he continues to feel that way, I don’t know, you’ll have to see what Michael wants.

STV: Michael Hirst has said that Athelstan will eventually be "born again." How do you feel about this, and would you shave your tonsure again?

GB: I don't know what to feel about this! As ever, Mr. Hirst has been extremely cryptic and very unhelpful! All I will say is that so far, I have trusted everything that Michael has decided to do with Athelstan and tried my very best to make sure that realise his vision and make him come to life. I will only continue to try to do that, wherever Michael decides to take him.

STV: What's up with Athelstan's hallucinations? (and are they really hallucinations?)

GB: I liked to think of them as a form of PTSD that Athelstan was suffering from after his experience of being crucified. His mind has been shattered and he is attempting to piece it back together bit by bit, but without much luck. Let's see if it repairs itself in Season 3…

STV: What is it about Athelstan and aligning himself with powerful men? First he gets captured by Ragnar and then becomes one of his closest and most trusted friends, then he gets captured by Ecbert and becomes his confidant….?

GB: To be honest, I don't know! Maybe it's just his face...? No, I'm kidding! I think that Athelstan's power is his knowledge. The fact that he's travelled and learned things about several different cultures is attractive to powerful men like Ragnar and Ecbert who desire their own political expansion. Athelstan is unique, I suppose, because he offers valuable insights into many different cultures in a level of detail that makes him more than the average "medieval tourist". He's actually a very clever man.

STV: How would you describe Athelstan's relationship with Aethelwulf? They seemed pretty amiable by the time Princess Kwenthrith came along, but then Aethelwulf volunteered the monk as an emissary and didn't seem too bothered by the idea that he could be killed. Thoughts?

GB: I think his relationship with Aethelwulf is an interesting one. I think Aethelwulf isn't privy to the huge service that Athelstan is providing for Ecbert in translating Caesar's texts, and therefore maybe believes his purpose is somewhat redundant. Seeing Athelstan as an extra mouth to feed, Aethelwulf wouldn't have much regard for his welfare, which is why he seemingly doesn't care about the outcome of sending him as emissary. It's interesting. Again, knowledge is power!

STV: Be honest: do you think Athelstan ever got to use Ecbert's snazzy baths?

GB: No. Absolutely not. Don't be ridiculous!

STV: In the show, a couple characters mention that Athelstan "betrayed" them. Are we going to hear more about this supposed betrayal? (Like what he supposedly did?) I think Ragnar knows it was a load of rubbish from Horik, but has that been made clear to the other characters (like Rollo)? Does Athelstan even know what he was accused of?

GB: I think Athelstan put the pieces together in that scene where he was tending to Rollo in Ecbert's barn. When Rollo explained that he had betrayed them, Athelstan knew what Horik had said on his return to Kattegat to serve his own needs. Like I said, Athelstan is quite smart! And this is why Ecbert then knows in the scene where they agree a treaty that Horik maybe has differing views to Ragnar or Lagertha. But as always, Athelstan has been that character who is misunderstood by a lot of the other characters and I think this will continue.....I mean, he barely understands himself, so why should other people understand him?

STV: It's unclear whether Floki will ever accept Athelstan as a true Viking, but do you think he ever did even before his stint in Europe?

GB: Like I said, ask Gustaf! Let's hope Floki and Athelstan have something to resolve this in Season 3…

STV: Do you think Athelstan's story line will include a long-term significant other? (everyone else seems to have coupled off, poor Athelstan!)

GB: We will have to wait and see......maybe.

STV: You do an excellent job speaking in various languages in the show. Is working with different languages something you enjoy as an actor?

GB: Absolutely. I actually had my first audition recently that was completely in French, and I loved it. I think it's something that allows to move in a different direction in your work, opens up new channels of creativity. But I think what they do with language on the show is amazing. These language barriers really represent what it would have been like to meet a foreign race back then. Utterly confusing!

STV: Will we ever see Athelstan merchandise in the History Channel shop?

GB: Uh, I think it's there already...?

STV: There seems to be a pattern in the type of work you choose: what draws you to historical fiction/makes it so appealing?

GB: Firstly, don't be fooled into thinking I get to choose my work! Yes, if you're Brad Pitt, then maybe you have 20 different film offers to flick through and choose how you are going to spend your time. But I am very much starting out in this industry, and when you're at this level, you audition for things and usually you work in the projects that people want to hire you for. Yes, ok, you can be picky/fussy or decide not to audition for certain projects and really put all your effort into auditioning for things that you want to be in. But ultimately, I just want to work. I had a secret policy with myself when I left drama school that, for the time being, I would audition for everything that came my way because I was very lucky to be getting the auditions in the first place. I have auditioned for some absolutely amazing pieces of work, but also auditioned for some work that didn't inspire me artistically but that would pay my rent. And sometimes you learn more about the craft of being an actor when auditioning for things that don't particularly inspire you. I've enjoyed all of them, for whatever reason.

STV: That’s fine! Going along with talking about season 3, I know you can’t say much and you don’t know much, but do you have a wish list? Anything you want to see?

GB: Oh yes, firstly I’d like to ride a horse and keep riding a horse rather than be demoted to a mule. I’d like to be wearing the Viking outfit again rather than the monk outfit. Although they are very lovely and beautifully designed and made by our production team, they are essentially sacks with ropes around them.

STV: Did you get to keep anything from set?

GB: No! Definitely not! We wouldn’t be allowed to do that! No seriously, I don’t think I actually did.

STV: Who do you think you’ve bonded most with on the set?

GB: Season 2 introduced a lot of new characters, and it made the tight family of cast that we had on season 1 even bigger. Some people would think that introducing more characters maybe bonds with people weren’t as strong but it was just more family and more people. It just made us closer to everyone. Obviously, I think whenever I’m on set with Travis there’s just something that enables a really good working environment and working relationship. I think we work really well together, even though he’s completely bonkers. I’m quite close with Jefferson Hall as well, he plays Thorstein, we’re quite close on set. And Gustaf.

STV: What has been the most rewarding part of working on Vikings? We’re two seasons in and for you personally what has been the most rewarding part?

GB: I think the most rewarding part is being able to stay with a character for that length of time. I think in our industry it’s a very unique situation. Firstly if you’re working on a film project you’ll only be working for a few months at most but it’s not an extended time. If you’re working on a film that’s a franchise it’s kind of like a tv series maybe, but it’s not for the same amount of time every year. So generally speaking in film you only get to stay with a character for a few months and then you move on.. Theatre, you may stay with a character for a year, two years, or three years maybe. But it’s always the same show you’re doing every night, it’s always the same story you’re telling. In TV you get to be with a character for, well I’ve been with Athelstan for two years, and the story keeps progressing. You become very close to your character, very attached. So that part has been very rewarding, being able to have that freedom and given that time.

STV: What has been your favorite version of Athelstan to play? You’ve gone through probably the most change of anyone in the series.

GB: Yeah, I think the start of Athelstan, the very devout monk we saw at the beginning of season one, Michael cast me as the monk in the start of season one and I think in an interview he said I was more convincing as the monk than as a viking. But I just had so much fun being a Viking, the stunt training and getting to go on the raids that I think that has been the most fun version of Athelstan to do so far, and literally let my hair down, it was quite fun. So the whole character has been fun, especially season two and having these philosophical discussion with Ecbert about different religions. A lot of the other characters on Vikings don’t get to do as much as Athelstan does so I’ve loved every second of it, such good fun.

STV: One last question for you, can you talk about anything you have coming up?

GB: Oh no, I’m afraid I can’t! Vikings season three! That will be the rest of this year!

STV: Well thank you very much and good luck on filming season three!

GB: Thank you so much, speak again soon!

About the Author - Trina
Trina is a contributer for Spoiler TV who reviews Vikings, Game of Thrones, Sherlock and Mad Men. She is a European History major living in the united States. She is an avid TV watcher and keeps up on most shows. When not writing she spends her time reading, working on a thesis, and running.

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