In season 4, the Vikings return to Kattegat and are forced to deal with the fallout from Ragnar’s injuries and the murder of Athelstan. As Floki’s wife, Helga stands in the eye of the storm and has to decide where her loyalties lie. OHSOGRAY recently participated in a press call with Maude Hirst, who talked about Helga’s journey and some of the trials she will face.
Vikings season 4 premieres tonight at 10/9c on History.
Is Helga 100% behind Floki in all his decisions, or does she have doubts about what he’s doing, and does she think maybe he’s just a little bit crazy?
Interesting question. I think up until the end of season three, up to obviously, what you guys have seen, I think she genuinely was 100% behind him, and I think it’s so complex, and he’s definitely – he does struggle with mental health. In real life, dealing with some dude that is problematic, and I think she really wants to be 100% behind him but until the very end of three, actually, it’s even too much for her, and she does have a switching moment that she questions what he’s doing and how far he’s willing to push himself and the people around him. That’s going to be continued to explore this next season. Whether she does stay loyal or not is to be revealed.
There’s definitely – them as a couple, there’s something very – this spiritual connecting from them both, I think, and ever since they’ve been together there is definitely a bond there. I definitely think that in time, especially by the end of three, that he did push it so far that for her, it was quite scary, and she always thought that he was on the right side of crazy, and I think he pushed even her limits, but she is still loyal, definitely, or maybe the wrong word to use, but she’s definitely still loyal to him but she did waiver, I think, in her understanding of him.
Can you talk a bit about how the relationship with Ragnar and Helga evolve this season?
The first few episodes is exactly that, it gets explored. It’s was really interesting, and I think it comes out of the blue, but they do have a bond. I think their two characters, they have a real love for Floki, and they’re the only two people I think that could understand the love for him, and so I think they bond over this understanding. I think he understands what I’ve been through, really, more than any of the other characters because he sees Floki’s whole journey as well, they have a real male love, I think. So he reaches out for me and it’s been great to explore that both as the character, and working with Travis is amazing.
How much input have you had on Helga’s journey? Do you get to provide your two cents on what you want to see happen for her?
Now, four years in, you feel very connected to your characters, and you all want to have your say. I think there are definitely parts of me that come out in her, and I definitely had a say in the past, but no. I mean, we have to also respect the writing and just go where the characters are taken, so I guess tiny bits of me and my ideas come through but generally speaking, Helga gets taken in a way that’s interesting.
Helga has to deal with a lot of erratic behavior from Floki. Is that challenging for you to play?
Absolutely. As I read the script, especially in season three when he really did push me and kept pushing me, it’s hard because if you imagine, Helga loves Floki so much and so she just wants to keep him down to reality and stop him going completely off the rails and so she’s trying everything. I think one of the only things that keep him grounded is the fact that she manages to stay clam through it all, because I think lots of other characters probably would’ve walked away so much sooner. I think it’s interesting generally just with mental health, that people actually need people to stay close to them, and it’s very helpful when somebody has a calming influence. Yes, I think it does show Helga’s strength, but it has been difficult, I think on her journey, to keep that levelheaded, especially when he admitted that he murdered Athelstan, and that was quite a shocking moment for Helga to go through, but yes, it’s been really interesting to go through her journey.
She definitely did flip slightly at the end of three and find her internal strength. [….] Sometimes that would be her internal strength and the fact that she doesn’t flip out and she doesn’t get angry, and that would be instincts that I would have maybe even as a person compared to where Helga goes. I think she does internalize things, and she deals with things silently and doesn’t repress them so much, but certainly allows him to get rid of his – he externalizes everything, and I think she takes that and internalizes it and then tries to create a calmer environment for him to be in, to keep the whole relationship together, because I think she does have an undying love for him. Yes, so I think for her it’s that, it’s trying to digest it all before reacting straight away in an aggressive way.
What kind of a change should we expect from Helga’s character this season?
I don’t want to give too much away from this season, but definitely, I will say that there are dynamic changes. I think it started to change at the very end of three, as I already said, that when she eventually flips and says to Floki, “Enough!” I think what that did and what continues into season four is make Floki realize that actually, it’s always until this point being that Helga looked like she was more dependent on Floki, and that dynamic is going to switch because he realizes, I think, that actually together, they’re a lot stronger than he can possibly be by himself. He can’t really deal with his own emotions, so I think having me as his prop to lean on and as a partner is very important to him, so that definitely adjusts our dynamic going forward.
There’s a huge moment for Helga this season that bonds her with Ragnar, can you talk a bit about that?
I don’t want to obviously give too much away before anybody else gets to see any of that stuff because that’s a huge turning point for Helga this season, but I definitely think that, yes absolutely, that for him, it will bring back all those memories of the pain that he went through but actually wasn’t present, […], and going through that as an actor but just imagining quite how horrendous that was, that would be for anybody to go through. I think it would bond any human with somebody else who understood quite how horrendous that would be.
What was Helga’s view on the murder of Athelstan, and why did she react so strongly that Floki did this act?
I think for Helga – firstly, just human to human, I think she’s a very empathetic human being, and she had just bonded with Athelstan over the years, so just on a personal level, the idea that somebody who had been part of us and been present with us for years and years and years, he was capable of doing it and not having any regret – it didn’t seem to me at that time. I also think – I also am very aware of what the consequences of that would be and so the protection of both Floki and Helga and Angrboda at that time is obviously at risk because knowing that he’s killed Athelstan, there’s going to be consequences. I think the main reaction then is just I know that something terrible is coming our way after that realization.
You said there are parts of you that you find in Helga or you’ve been able to infuse in the character. What exactly is that?
I think Helga and I are both – I feel very empathetic towards people. I’m fascinated with how human beings work. I try and always look for the positive in people rather than jump to conclusions. I think Helga’s quite like that and quite an observer. She has relationships with people but it’s almost silent. She bonds with people without having to – it’s not necessarily about big dialogue moments, but I think the empathy through both of them is what connects us. I definitely think we differ in some ways. I’m not sure I would’ve been able to bite my tongue as much as Helga has done here throughout the years, especially when Floki, last season, properly lost it. I think I would’ve been slightly more vocal, but yes, we definitely are similar in a few ways.
Shooting the series is always physically challenging, but was there anything in particular this year that you had to go through that was a little worse than previous seasons?
Just with the corsets and extended season this year, it’s just been through all the months of the year, and Irish weather is so unpredictable, so instead of it – we normally filmed over the summer which had its problems anyway, but this – we’ve been coming through the winter here as well, so just weather here is crazy and having whole days outside and on boats. When you’re out in a boat, you’re out for a whole day, and that really just means all you have to cover you is just your costume, really. Yes, it’s hard, it’s freezing cold. That’s mainly the problem, it’s weather in Dublin, really.
How are the female characters serving as a bridge to a more modern culture for the Vikings?
I think the show in general is so interesting because there are so many pretty strong female characters, but they’re completely different from each other. I think Floki and Helga’s relationship is interesting because it has always been on a very level playing field. They are both complete and equal in their relationship. Going forward from this, I think the women just become stronger. The Vikings generally, were hugely forward-thinking with how they treated the women. The women could own land. I think that goes on to history. Christianity came in and actually changed that, so I’m interested to see if the series continues, where that would go.
Why is she still loyal to Floki?
I think they have a real fundamental bond. They both connect in a real spiritual level, and they have ever since they met. I think that’s something that she can’t walk away from and something that keeps pulling her back. I think there is a lot of love there. I know that his internal craziness has no relation to their relationship. I think it’s in his own head. I don’t think he’s ever necessarily treated Helga badly, and I think she feels almost as she can fix him by being there, she makes him better. I don’t know how far he’d have to go to push her away, but it’s definitely a complex relationship, but I think fundamentally, there’s just a lot of love between them.
What special consideration has been given to portraying mental illness on the show? Also, I don’t want to get too personal, but have there been any personal experiences of your own caring for someone with a mental illness?
I think mental illness is more around us in a lot of people than we even know, so I would say probably personally, I have, even if it’s not direct, big situation that I’ve been through, and definitely friends, family that were going through depression or things like that. I definitely have – I think in the show, obviously, it been just us characters and how he does that is his own character development, but of course, it’s a very delicate subject matter, so people really do want to portray it truthfully in, I guess, by the research that they do, but also just making it as human as possible and trying to understand how people can get into those places. Yes, I think everybody would’ve done their research and especially Gustaf playing it would’ve wanted to portray it, and I think he does quite brilliantly.
Did you ever see Helga as an outsider herself, and that’s part of the reason she might have been attracted to Floki?
Yes, absolutely. I think that’s why and how they met, actually. I don’t know if you remember back in the first season where they first met. We were just in the hut, in the middle of the woods that later became our home, but to have found that place, and Helga’s definitely a bit of an outsider. That’s, I think, one of the bonds that they have over the years that they are both just a bit different from everybody else. All the other female ladies in the show are different to Helga and it’s what connects them together, I think, is that they see something in each other, even if it’s not discussed, that’s different from the rest of them.
As you continue to explore the character, is there anything you found that you’re surprised to learn about yourself as an actress?
I think going through all the ups and downs that I have, and suddenly on a day being able to portray it. It’s always terrifying when you read a script, and you’re confronted with something that in life, you haven’t actually gone through and wanting to do it such justice especially when it’s things about children and what real people go through and how much their lives would be affected by it, so you need to probably really do your research and try and get into the places. Yes, it is. It’s always shocking and then when you do it, you feel it so much, and it’s amazing that humans can understand other humans like that and get into a different headspace.
We’ve seen the fan base for Vikings grow and leap some bounds over the years. What do you feel is about the series that it resonates well with viewers?
I think it brings two different things. It brings the family aspect of Vikings which is never been seen before, and I think it still has the fighting and it still has all the brutality of what the life that would’ve been but also humanizes all the people, and it’s a world that I don’t think has really been discovered that much. I think that and also think each of the characters has a lot of complexity and growth every season, and I hope that all the fans have seen that and grown to love each of the characters and wanted to continue following their journeys.
One of the things your father does amazingly well is create strong, complex female characters. At the beginning of season four, the ladies are all separated and off on their own journeys. Are they going to come back together at some point?
I don’t want to give any spoilers away but there are a lot of unexpected friendships this year and not necessarily just with the women but just throughout the whole cast, actually. There are a lot of friendships that crop up that you’re not really expecting. Do all the women get back together this year? I don’t really want to give any more than that away. I’m sorry that really doesn’t answer your question that well, but I don’t want to say too much. [Laughter]
Any final closing remarks from you?
Just thank you so much to all the fans that keep watching and keep supporting the show because it wouldn’t be made, we wouldn’t be doing what we did without everybody watching, and I’m glad everybody invests as much as they do because we all invest in our characters a lot, so thank you so much.