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Alyssa Sutherland of Vikings

Loving Her Job

Apr 06, 2015 Web Exclusive
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It’s probably hard to find someone who loves going to work more than Alyssa Sutherland, and she has all the reason in the world to be so pumped. The Australian actress and model stars in History Channel’s award-winning series, Vikings, as Princess Aslaug, Ragnar Lothbrok’s wife and the most powerful woman in their village.

Now in its third season, Vikings delivers both heart-pounding entertainment and insight into the Viking culture on a weekly basis. It is this latter offering, which has especially captivated Sutherland. A relative neophyte in all matters Viking prior to landing the role of Aslaug, Sutherland has become fascinated by the Medieval people and jumps at the opportunity to share what she loves most about portraying a legendary Viking princess.

You can read our review of Season Three here. Vikings airs Thursdays at 10/9 Central on the History Channel.

Zach Hollwedel (Under the Radar): Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. Vikings is a tremendously entertaining show, and Princess Aslaug is a fascinating and complex character. Before we get to her, though, I’m curious-how much did you know about the historical Vikings before joining the cast?

Alyssa Sutherland: I didn’t know anything, really. From what I learned, what I thought I knew was completely false [laughs]. And it was, in fact. I sort of came into it thinking, you know, they were wearing horned helmets and were just an incredibly aggressive culture without that much to explore and better their community. I didn’t know that was also part of what they were doinghaving a thirst for knowledge and wanting to know more about the world around them. I didn’t know any of that, and of course the horned helmets are not a thing, either. So yeah, I really had to start from scratch. I think a lot of us sort of came into it really not knowing a lot about Viking culture, and it’s been really cool to learn about that. Not many acting gigs really have you learning about a different time period and, you know, what people believed in and how it was different to modern day. It’s really cool to be a part of.

Does [showrunner] Michael Hirst ask his cast to study the Viking age at all during production?

You know, I came on later. I think maybe at the beginning of the seasonof the first seasonthere was more of that. But because I came on right at the end of that first season, I wasn’t really a part of the show establishing itself and kind of going through and setting the scene, so I don’t really think I can speak to that. I think maybe some of the other regulars on the show that started out in that very first episode would have a better idea. But, what I will say, is that any question you have about anything, Michael is more than willing to talk to you and answer. I tend to use the scripts the most to inform what is going on with my character. There are wonderful details all throughout. In particular, I love the scenes where we’re dealing with specific Viking ritualsthe human sacrificing in the first season and then the blood eagle in the second season. I felt those episodes were just such compelling TV to watch. And they’re kind of my favorite, and I think the real stand out in the show, and what we do so well. I’m just totally into that aspect of it. Then we get to telling stories; the characters get to tell stories, like the Viking stories at the hall, I love that well. And the Paganist beliefs. As I said, it’s a nice part of being on this show, in comparison to another show you could be on, where there’s all of this extra stuff we’re dealing with.

It is fascinating when you get a glimpse of the culture through those scenes and others, which you mentioned. Princess Aslaug is, of course, based on an actual historical figure, one who really did marry Ragnar, but a lot of fans actually rebelled against her when she first appeared on Vikings, blaming her for Ragnar and Lagartha’s breakup. Did the reactions to Aslaugand to you, as an actor portraying such a contentious charactersurprise you?

I mean, yes and no. I tend to not read a lot of that stuff, because I don’t ever want to walk into a scene and try to…I don’t think about how this will affect the fans. I try to walk into a scene and think about serving my character. So, I try not to let what peoples’ opinions are filter in, because then I think I would be doing a disservice to Aslaug. I mean, I know that there were fans that were certainly upset with me coming onto the scene. But honestly, that’s what drama is. That’s what makes it entertaining for people to watch. If we all had such good relationships, there would be nothing interesting in it. That conflict and that tension is what makes people come back and watch week after week, because they want to know what’s going to happen and will there be a resolution and, if so, what will that be. As I said, if everyone just kept these perfect, loving relationships all throughout, I don’t think it would be that interesting to watch. So, you know, sometimes you have to be the bad guy, and that’s fine. That’s sort of all there is to it. If we didn’t have tension between characters, I don’t think we’d have a show. I think that’s part of being on a dramatic TV show.

Well said. And speaking of tension between characterswell, maybe not tension, per seand without giving away any spoilers for fans who might not be up to date on the most recent episode, Aslaug and Siggy have a really interesting power dynamic between them. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on those characters’ relationship.

Yeah, I’m so glad you asked about it. It’s rare that I’m asked that question. I love that you did, so thank you. You know, me and Jessalyn [Gilsig, who plays Siggy] have spoken about their relationship, and the fact that Siggy used to run the town with her husband, Earl Haraldson, and has very definite opinions about how things should run and should be taken care of. I like the fact that Aslaug has things to learn. That’s one of the things that makes her interesting to me, is that she doesn’t just have all the answers. I like that she kind of messes up and has to learn. We spoke about the dynamic between Aslaug and Siggy and the fact that, when the men leave, Aslaug is pretty much in charge and just is a little bit unsure of how to take it. There was a scene wherewell, I don’t know if you can write about this; it might spoil some stuff for international viewers.

I can cut it if we get to spoiler territory.

Okay. It’s not a spoiler for anyone who has been watching in the U.S., because it’s been on TV in the U.S. There was a scene where two boys were pulled inthey drowned and were caught in a fishing net. There was a really quick moment that we decided to put into that scene of Aslaug kind of standing back and not really knowing what to do in that situation, and Siggy kind of giving her, “Alright, come on, you’ve got to step up and be in charge and take care of these women who lost their sons” and actually take some responsibility and be a part of it. It was a very brief moment that we had, but we spoke about all kind of moments like that, and the fact that Aslaug would look to Siggy a little bit as a mentor, I guess. But then with that, comes that Siggy wants that for herself, and that really kinds of creates this interesting tension underneath. There was a moment about kind of like working together and Aslaug looking to Siggy for some answers. At the same time, there’s this underlying tension that we had, because Aslaug is pretty aware of the fact that she just walked in and gained a throne. And then whatever jealousy might be involved with Siggy. We sort of like that there would be that underneath everything that was going on. So yeah, thank you for asking that question; that was an important thing to talk about and try to communicate to viewers.

Since Aslaug got to Kattegat, it’s been a really interesting dynamic, so I’ve been eager to ask you about it.

Yeah, it’s been a really interesting dynamic. The bit between those characters, I’ve really liked that story, because of those women and where they’re at in their lives, and who has what power and what they’re doing with it. That interaction. I really like that. Early in Season Two, we had a really cool scene where we sort of sat down and said, “Yeah, we’ll be friends,” but underneath all of that was, “okay, alright, friends…sure.”

Can we talk about The Wanderer for a second?


Introduced this season, he’s a mysterious character at the center of some very strange and portentous events occurring in Kattegat. Can you talk at all about the genesis of his character and story arc?

Yeah, I think he sort of comes in, and we really leave it up to the viewer to decide who he is and what his story is. It could go one of…there are a few options for his character, and I think the audience would watch him and sort of take away what they want from it. But, there is a theory that this man is a god. He has these abilities; he really healed my son and took away his pain, which is a really big thing for Aslaug. Ivar is about two years old at this point, and this kid screams day in and day out. If you finally have somebody that can ease the pain of your child, that’s massive for Aslaug, and lends itself to the theory that he might be a god. Who is the man that has the power to do this? Is that what really happened? Is that what the Vikings really believed happened? I like that all those questions are left a little bit open-ended, and that the audience can make up their minds about who this man was and the impact that he had on their lives.

This season in particular seems to be more heavily geared toward omens and the spiritual and metaphysical events going on in the Viking community and experience.

Absolutely. I really like the way the show does it. We’re talking about their Pagan beliefs and their gods and what they thought their gods were doing and what they were capable of. I think the stance that we take is not that this is absolutely what happened, but we’re showing what these people believed in…. And there is a wonderful comparison to Christianity at the time. Again, I think it’s one of the things that the show does so well, and why Michael is so brilliant as a writer. He’s really showing you the differences between the two, and also the similarities, because there were similarities. As I said, I feel like I’m repeating myself-I apologize-that the audience can take what they want from that, because at the same time, we’re dealing with Athelstan and his crucifixion and stigmata and all of that. Again, that’s what people really believed in, but did it really happen, or was it just something that they used to explain things at the time?

Alyssa, Under the Radar is foremostly a music magazine, and with the SXSW festival currently underway, I just have to askare you a music aficionado? What are some of your favorite bands currently?

[Laughs] I am so not hip. That’s the worst question.

Oh no! [Laughs]

You’re exposing my lack of any kind of music. You know, I’m so terrible with music and bands’ names and songs’ names. I was saying just the other day, I didn’t even know who Mumford and Sons were until a few months ago. I’d heard their songs and I was like, “Oh, this is Mumford and Sons! Yeah, I totally like these guys.” I am so pathetic [laughs]; I am so pathetic. Off the top of my head, I can tell you that I like Musethey’re one of my favoriteand I like Mumford and Sons. Honestly, I’ll Shazam something when I hear it and download it, and then forget what it is.


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