Travis Fimmel was first a Calvin Klein model before he gained a role on the TV series The Beast. Now the 33 year-old Australian lands his breakout role as Ragnar Lothbrok, on The History Channel’s first scripted TV series Vikings.
We recently caught up with Fimmel at Wondercon at the Anaheim Convention Center, where we mentioned to him about how much of an antihero his main character is.
“It’s a great character, man,” Travis says, “I’m so lucky to have gotten the chance to play it. [Creator] Michael [Hirst] is an amazing writer and just trying to get that feel of, you can never judge a character, he’s always a good guy if you’re playing him, and it’s just so great that I get to do some bad ass stuff.”
Travis talks about the research he did for the role.
“I did a lot of research,” Fimmel recalls, “They gave me a lot of information. I actually only got a week before we went to Ireland, so we didn’t have a lot of time to prepare, but I was actually preparing for another martial arts film, so I was halfway fit already and we had great stunt coordinators who just said, ‘Get into it,’ and great choreographers. It’s some fun stuff, man. It’s like you don’t have to remember lines or anything.”
Fimmel also revealed the aspect of Ragnar he enjoyed most about.
“His craftiness, his street smarts, just his intelligence, a schemer,” Travis says, “I just love the street smarts of him. He wants to do something, he’s going to do whatever he can to do it, even though with some people hinder his ideas sometimes.”
Travis also talked about the hardships of filming Vikings.
“The weather,” Fimmel says, “The weather in Ireland is so severe. It just rained everyday pretty roughly. There wasn’t many good days at all, and there was a good day, we’re in the studio. But the greatest thing about the show is there’s so many exteriors. And on a show like this, you need that visual, but yeah, the weather was the hardest thing about everything.”
Fimmel was asked if the rough weather had any influence on how he played Ragnar.
“I shiver sometimes,” Travis replies, “No, you sort of get used to it, and we’re sort of dressed for that weather. The Vikings always had to be rugged-up. It’s funny with shows where people have got their shirts off all the time and you know they’re in the snow or something Jesus, this race wasn’t real smart, were they? But the costume designers and everything, the sets in that were amazing. You feel like you’re in it when you’re there. People love just visiting the set. It’s really cool stuff.”
We mentioned to Travis that the idea of playing a character from so long ago that invites a priest to his bed is a totally different way of viewing relationships.
“Some people are still like that though,” he points out, “I’ve seen some costumes out there way, but the only thing that you can grasp onto as an actor is people still got the same feelings.”
“The love, in that sense, you love your brothers, your family, you protect your family,” Fimmel adds, “All that stuff, that’s just a bit kinky, but you don’t know if we’re messing with him. It was serious, but I’m not sure if Lagertha was messing with him if she really got through with it or what. You test the relationships out of it and see what you can get.”
Fimmel talks about the relationship between Ragnar and his brothers in Vikings.
“It’s like I got two brothers,” he notes, “You love your brothers, but in a lot of ways, they really piss you off and there’s always that bit of an ego thing between brothers. You don’t know who’s better at stuff. It’s like fighting your brother when you’re a kid. It’s like seeing who’s tougher and all that stuff.”
“And we have different views on how things should be done and to be a good leader, you have to show a bit of authority over everybody,” Travis continues, “And it certainly causes some conflicts with Rollo and there’s huge conflicts come that, like I said out there, my favorite shows are all coming up. I haven’t seen them all, but from acting and reading the scripts, the best shows are for sure to come.”
Travis was asked what it was like working with The History Channel on such a new endeavor.
“Great,” Fimmel answers, “First scripted series. A couple of miniseries, The Hatfields & McCoys and The Bible. But, yeah, they’re great, man, so creative and being in Ireland, it’s such a creative environment. It had no suits telling us what to do all the time and Johan Renck is an amazing director.”
“He did the first three and really set the bar and set up the world for us,” he continues, “And yes, it’s not the normal trying to please what people think…a lot of shows, people try to please the audience, every show does that, but they try to people please too much and it doesn’t become original. And I feel like our show is very original.”
We asked Fimmel if the new venture made The History Channel more willing to go the extra mile to allow creativity for the series to flourish.
“Yeah, for sure, but it’s just the mentality of the people,” Travis says, “Like Derek, he said up on stage before about, ‘You heard about the Vikings,’ and he did whatever he could to get the show, and he got it. And they’re driven like that, they want to make good quality stuff and The History Channel is in the top five cable networks, I think, at the moment, so they’re doing great, and the company’s being amazing to all of us.”
Travis talks about his favorite things he’s learned about ancient Viking culture.
“Not using knives and forks, the raping stuff,” Fimmel jokes, “But I always ask for permission. I make sure I get a ‘yes’, and I call it ‘making love with a sinister face,’ it’s not anything like that. But, no, we play around as kids, and now I’m an adult getting a bit of cash for it, so it’s good not to grow up. I hate being serious about stuff. I hate it.”
Fimmel talks about how Ragnar has already changed over the course of the first season.
“He’s sort of got no choice but to change because of some of the conflicts, but maybe his ego gets…it’s never going to be enough for Ragnar,” Travis explains, “That’s the way it is with a lot of successful people, I feel. They got to sacrifice a lot, but there’s an ego involved. It’s like with people, they rob a bank, they make a million, but they got that thing, ‘I can make more than that.’”
“You get away with it once, just retire, do whatever, but I always get frustrated when he’s come back for more,” he adds, “Especially in our world, Ragnar does really well for himself, especially coming up, but it’s still not enough. He could live a rich life and live wonderfully, but he still, he’s just got that thing in him where he wants to fight and wants posterity and wants to be known, wants to prove everybody wrong, so it’s so great to play a character like that, where there’s never enough.’
Brought up was a scene in the pilot regarding a fortune teller.
“I love that, yeah,” Travis replies, “They actually cut it a bit different. I see my son out of the room when we did it, but they cut it a bit different, like, ‘Oh, get out of here, kid.’ Because, yeah, the bloody fortune teller’s a bloody deceiver, never gives you an answer, it’s so frustrating. And the scenes coming up with the Earl, he never gives you an answer. It’s so annoying. At least, we don’t pay him.”
We asked Travis to talk about some of the cool Viking traditions he learned about.
“Actually, none can come to my head right now,” Fimmel answers, “I should have an answer for that, but I don’t, I’m sorry.”
Fimmel was asked if he found it a pain maintaining his facial hair for Vikings.
“Oh, I’m happier, geez,” Travis replies, “No, I don’t mind it. I’ve always had a beard when I was younger on a farm, takes so long to grow though. If I cut it, I couldn’t grow it back quick enough, but it takes me a long time to grow a beard. That’s how creative The History Channel and MGM in that area. Normally, I got to be clean-shaven for shows, but our show’s just so creative from every aspect of the show, that’s why it’s doing so good.”
We commented on one particular scene where Ragnar gets dirty and how it seems Travis just revels in it.
“I’m like, ‘More dirt, more dirt,’” Fimmel says, “I roll around on the ground, but people always play around with you. But, no, the makeup, everybody, there’s such a creative team and I think that’s why the show’s doing so good. Even the suits don’t wear suits, you know what I mean.”
Fimmel was asked what music he listens to during his time in the makeup chair.
“The makeup artists love Van Morrison,” Travis answers, “I love Van Morrison. It got a bit tiring after how many days, 100 days of listening to the same album, but Van Morrison, I love.”
Also asked was whether, like many Australians, Travis enjoyed listening to the band Silverchair.
“Yeah, I don’t mind Silverchair,” Fimmel says, “It’s fun. TIme for them come our with an album, right? They do good work. They’re very popular in Australia.”
Fimmel was asked what it was like to work with actor Gabriel Byrne, who plays Ragnar’s rival Earl Haraldson.”
“Brilliant,” Travis says of him, “He’s such a gifted person and really elevates the scenes. Some of my favorite scenes are with him , he’s just so present, and he just makes you such a better actor. It’s such a great thing to be in a world of great actors and I was lucky enough to work with Gabriel, a great experience, and such a nice guy, humble, and he’s a legend over there. But, yeah, he’s such a nice guy and always there to give you advice. He was a privilege to work with.”
We asked Travis about the kind of craft service you get filming on a series like Vikings.
“Actually, there have big vans with food, it’s great,” he says, “There’s always, you can get meat and potatoes if you want it, and that’s all I eat, and great desserts. It’s amazing. My favorite part about any job is the free food.”
“It was amazing,” Fimmel continues, “And there’s so much physical stuff on the show, you do get hungry. But I had the stupid girdle costume thing, whatever they wear when they fight, but they’re so tight, I couldn’t eat that much all the time. It’s so tight and it takes like twenty minutes to put it on, so I didn’t eat as much as I wanted to. But it’s great, it’s free food, it’s brilliant.”