VIKINGS’ Alex Høgh Andersen Talks Ivar’s Quest For Power

In Vikings season five, Ivar the Boneless asserts his leadership over the Great Heathen Army, while Lagertha reigns as Queen of Kattegat. Ragnar’s sons are ripped apart following Ivar’s murder of his brother, Sigurd. In a recent press call, Alex Høgh Andersen previewed what is in store for Aslaug’s ruthless son.

Vikings returns on Wednesday, November 29 at 9 PM ET/PT with a two-hour season five premiere.

How do you think Ivar’s changed going into Season 5?

I don’t know if that much has changed. Of course [his] being part of the leading group of the Great Heathen Army has obviously matured him. You will see a way more mature Ivar as much as it is possible. But he is still the same determined young man. In the beginning well in Season 4 I would describe him as a boy. I think he’s becoming a young man eventually throughout Season 5 because there’s a lot of things happening. Then this whole responsibility of maybe leading a Great Heathen Army takes a toll on a human being. I think Ivar is really ready and up for the challenge but it is a challenge and he’s going to learn from the mistake that he’s going to make. But he’s still the same determined guy who will never let anyone stand in his way of his goals. He’s so progressive. And he’s not afraid of using violence to get his ways.

Ragnar told Ivar that he needs to use his anger differently. Do you think that Ivar is capable of doing that?

Yes. I think he’s capable of doing that. But as you probably know what happened at the end of Season 4, when we killed his dear brother Sigurd, he lost control of himself. He let his emotions take over. So yes you do have a point in the fact that he is challenged in terms of that. I think he understands that is his massive weakness. That he is too driven sometimes by his emotions and that they can take over and make him lose control. I think that is part of the reason why he is so much in remorse in the beginning of Season 5. He’s in remorse because he knows that the killing of his own brother created a wound between him and his brothers that I don’t think he will be able to ever heal again. Part of it is also him realizing that he lost control and he let everyone see it. He let everyone see his weakness and that he really struggles with. I think you will see him try his very best to control his emotions throughout the seasons.

How will Ivar’s relationship with his brothers change?

There was a riff already and I don’t think that he’s capable of healing it again. But in the beginning of Season 5 you will see him being genuinely sorry. He tells his brothers that. But is that again a way of him manipulating them and trying to make them feel sorry for him or bringing them in onto his team a little bit again to be able to control them or not making them be too hostile against him because I think he’s aware of the fact that he needs them to reach his goals. I think you will see a lot of discussions between the brothers, a lot of unspoken things, a lot of love and also hate. Those are the scenes that I think all of us, all of the brothers, really love to shoot because they’re very intense and there’s a lot of things happening there’s a lot of drama. But – do they still love each other or is that bridge burned? That’s the whole thing about it. It’s our greatest goal as actors to always keep the audience guessing and for me especially with Ivar because he is such an extreme character and manipulative. And he can easily become one-dimensional. So my main objective is to keep him balanced and to have scenes like in the beginning of Season 5 where he’s genuinely sorry for his actions and that he almost hates himself, right? I think that’s the key of this whole relationship.

Does achieving his goals mean that Ivar has to sacrifice what vulnerability he does have?

I mean he will always be vulnerable. He will always be three-dimensional. That is my main goal as an actor. I can never ever judge him. I can do my very best to make people understand him because the last thing we want is a one-dimensional character. Michael Hirst wrote this character so brilliantly that we can’t do that to him. He doesn’t deserve that as a character. He will always be vulnerable. As much as I love the crazy scenes where I’m killing a lot of Saxons and I’m yelling old Norseman, I’m crawling around as much as I love those crazy, crazy scenes they are a lot of fun. What my heart really longs for as an actor is the vulnerable scenes where he is maybe alone in a room and you can see that a lot of these scenes where you see them being on top and he’s quick, and he’s smart, and he’s intelligent, and manipulative and being Ivar you see that most of it is an act because he is so controlled on the outside. That is what people are when they are very broken on the inside and don’t want to show people. So he will always, always be vulnerable. And we will – and I will always do my best to show that. That is the most important thing of what I do with this character.

Anyone who has been following the show for a while knows that your set is known for shenanigans among the cast members. With Travis gone if anyone has taken up the mantle of the chief merry prankster on set?

There was no big special prank thank God because I would probably have been scared away. But every day shooting with Travis is a prank in itself. So not that he is not phenomenal to work with and that he doesn’t take his job seriously he’s the quite opposite and he such a great actor to work with. It’s always fun when you’re around Travis. That has also translated to the entire crew. I mean every single day at work is so much fun. We are throwing food at each other and it’s horrible but it’s so great it’s so great. It’s a small family of 300 people and I love them to pieces. They’ve helped me with so much. The thing that I’ve achieved so far I could not have done without them. It’s also cheesy but it is so, so true. And part of it is because we were so good at keeping a light atmosphere on set which I think is very, very important because it’s such a dark show, it’s such an intense show and there’s – it’s some long days in the worst conditions when we’re shooting in January, February and I’m crawling in the woods and it’s snowing sideways, raining sideways. And I can’t feel limbs I mean well some would say that it’s forced method acting and it seems very, very organic. The reason why we look wild in those scenes are because we feel like it. So it’s all good I guess. But it’s very, very tough. And especially those days you need to just throw some food at each other. I mean you need to do that. But yes we’ve taken upon us to keep that atmosphere there and I think everybody has. And it’s just great so great.

Ivar is an interesting character because he is ambitious and motivated to succeed in a system that’s built not to generally respect or honor differently abled people. Will he continue to succeed despite his flaws and his weaknesses?

Well I think most of it is since he’s brilliant. He’s so smart. He’s so intelligent. People know that he has his flaws and he knows that he has his flaws. But when he shows up on the day of proving yourself, on the day of battle and where everybody’s life is at stakes, he’s the one organizing the whole thing. And he’s the one more or less at the end of Season 4 we see that he is the reason why they get through it. I think actions speak louder than words. Some of his actions are good and some of his actions are so very, very bad. But I think you also have to remember that this is in the Viking era where death is a way bigger part of life. It’s way more acceptable. I mean Vikings grew up only thinking about death right and how to die so they could get into Valhalla. So even though it sounds horrible in contemporary minds the fact of him killing his brothers is probably not that big back in the day’s right? Of course it’s horrible. But I mean people with no personal relation to him but only see him as this leader probably didn’t give a damn I mean because all they care about buy the end of the day is winning the next battle or dying in a tremendous beautiful Viking way. The Great Heathen Army and the troops of the Great Heathen Army understand that Ivar is probably the one that will get them there yes in the best way. I think that he understands that he is very, very confident. And especially after what happened in Season 4, at the end of Season 4 winning the battle against the Saxons there and trying to take over the Great Heathen Army. He just becomes more and more confident and rightfully so. That makes him very, very dangerous, very dangerous.

What can we expect from the relationship with Lagertha and Ivar?

I think it’s great because Lagertha is maybe the complete opposite of Ivar. She is such a great and perfect and humane character. It’s great to see those two characters clash together and see this wild and crazy guy who’s so determined and probably only thinks about himself against this power woman who’s all about the people. It’s great to see those two characters clash. Yes there’s going to be a massive power struggle. But this whole civil war as you can see it’s going to be very, very intense and it is Vikings fighting Vikings. I remember when we shot this stuff and when we read the scripts and, where this whole thing was going when we started to realize that there was going to be a civil war the biggest talk was like how are the audience going to take this because nobody really wants to see Vikings fighting against Vikings. They want to see Vikings against Saxons or whoever right? So it’s very, very interesting. It’s very interesting. I’m very excited to see how the audience is going to take this. But I mean we did our best and I have a great feeling about it. The stuff that we shot looks amazing. This season in particular is probably the biggest we’ve ever done. And some of the executives I’ve heard are very pleased so no pressure but we are happy as far as I’m concerned. So yes I can’t wait to see that stuff myself. I haven’t seen any of it.

Ivar is an antihero but also filling the void left by Ragnar. How do you approach making him sympathetic or likable or is that even possible?

Yes is that even possible? [Laughs] Yes that’s a big struggle with Ivar and has always been. It’s a great thing you mention Ragnar because I like to think of it this way. Ragnar is an antihero. And he’s more of a hero then he’s anti. I think Ivar’s a bit more of the opposite. He is an antihero with an emphasis on anti. That’s a great thing about it because I love to challenge the audience. There’s nothing more interesting I find to make the audience guess all the time and sit down and actually think do we like this dude or do we root for him and do we not because that just challenges the audience. That’s the whole point of the art right to make people actually think and not to sit down and be relaxed. Bet yes he is – he’s quite a trouble to make him, make people feel sympathy for him. But so what I do is – and of course working with Michael all the time we have a great dialogue with him. And we’re both aware of the fact that we need him to have these small scenes once in a while where we see the real human where he is him and where he’s not acting, he’s not manipulating people. And we need to – we really need to have those. Because otherwise you will become one-dimensional and that’s the worst thing I know. But also the whole physicality of him, the visceral part of him is very important to me to keep in a crawling mode so to speak as much as possible because I’m a – I believe that every single time we see him crawl it’s a constant reminder of what he’s been through and what he’s dealing with on a daily basis.

I think it’s hard for people to fathom what he’s been through. It’s hard for me and I’m playing the dude. Every single time we have a chance where he can crawl or, he’s not just sitting in on a chair because if he’s sitting on a chair he looks like everybody else. But if I have the chance to either choreograph the scene in a way that makes it obvious that he’s crippled or you create a reminder that this is what he’s been through and what he’s dealing with I think that’s one way to keep him as being an antihero so to speak. But there’s still good in him there’s empathy in him – for him. But yes it’s a challenge. It is a challenge. But – on the outside he’s a controlled maniac but on the inside he’s a poor boy. So for me I’ve never had trouble having sympathy for him. And I think that if I ever lose that I think the audience will as well and the opposite way I will always have sympathy for him I think the audience will as well.

How much is Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ character, Bishop Heahmund, an adversary to Ivar?

Jonathan Rhys Meyers who plays Bishop Heahmund is just well Johnny, Johnny is phenomenal. So it’s a great, great pleasure working with him. He is outstanding. And he’s so intense. It was great to work with him. And what his character is, is really what Michael and I talked about when well when Michael told me about the idea of bringing him in and creating this kind of an archenemy to Ivar because if Ivar didn’t have someone who was as similar to him I think it would be kind of close to unbearable with me or close to a walk in the park for Ivar. He needs to have some enemy that is just as extreme but for a different cause but just as extreme and determinant and such a powerhouse as well. Johnny really, really brings that to the table. Having these two characters square off together is phenomenal and you’ll see a lot of scenes with these two together. I think what’s very interesting with the two characters is that they understand each other. You know that thing about you that even though it’s your biggest enemy and you hate him you do understand him because you are very similar and you come from the same place. You have the same ideas. You have the same goals. So there’s some mutual respect. And you’ll see that there’s mutual respect between these two guys. The dynamic between these two strong characters I think are going to be very interesting. I believe that some of the stuff that we shot when they were squaring off is going to be very, very good. And I have a great feeling about it. Johnny is just absolutely tremendous.

How did you get the role of Ivar?

So back in – back when we started oh when I took on Ivar – when we did the last audition I didn’t even audition for Ivar actually. I was auditioning for all of the other brothers until Frank Moiselle Casting Director poked me on the shoulder and told me that I should read for Ivar. After that, I was sitting trying to remember his scene for half an hour. I was sweating. I was sweating like I’ve never been before. Then we did it. When I got the part my agent well my agent called me and said that I’ve gotten the part. And I had to ask which one because I literally had no clue. So to take on Ivar was quite a thing in the beginning. I mean and just the fact that he’s so – he’s such a complicated character. I mean – there’s tons to the character. I’m so privileged to have been able to work with him on a daily basis. He’s a gift really. Of course there’s a lot of research in terms of understanding his disease. It’s a very authentic show and it takes pride in being authentic. So I need to when I’m portraying a character that suffers from a real-life disease I need to be as authentic as well. And that is – has been since day one in the back of my head with every single thing that I do. Not that long ago we started shooting Season 6 where I was like we had to change it because he wouldn’t be able to do that physically whatever happened in that scene.

I’m so limited in my acting because of his disease. I just can’t, go and do this or do that or anything because he first of all he can’t walk. And second of all if you’ve been crippled for your entire life you’re also used to the fact that, you would just sit down and you would get people, other people to do stuff for you. So it was – it’s been quite frustrating actually in the beginning to not be able to choreograph your scenes. And also the technique of acting is a bit different because you have to compensate with your upper body acting wise now that you can’t use your full body. So what happened was just naturally and organically we just became about his eyes. And so I – and me being a fan of less is more and trying to act as much with the eyes instead of the entire body I think that’s a bit more interesting in some cases. That’s what we’ve been trying to do with this character me and the directors. And it’s a learning experience. It really, really is. It’s tough to be so limited but such a learning experience. And I’m very grateful for it actually.

At Comic-Con this year, Vikings held a mock funeral for Ragnar. Was it as cathartic for the cast as it was for the fans in attendance since they never had that moment on the show?

It was absolutely amazing. I’m so happy you bring that up because at this stage all I’ve been doing until Comic Con was working on this thing nonstop because Season 5 was 20 episodes. So we shot that for 11 months straight almost. I never had the proper interaction with the audience I’m so familiar with and that’s nothing compared to meeting people in real life. And it was just an extraordinary, extraordinary experience to see how happy people were and how much they loved the show. It was very, very overwhelming. It’s a day that I will definitely never forget. I was a nervous wreck sitting at the panel, trying to sound clever, and smart, and charming and intelligent in English is a challenge alone for me. To see 2,000, 3,000 people showing up just to the panel alone was just crazy. And then we went to the funeral oh my God that was almost even worse. It was phenomenal. It was such a phenomenal experience. And people were so nice, and happy and appreciative. And I was even more appreciative of that day and for all the people that showed up. It was a great experience. And what it really does is it makes all the hard work that we do all the crawling through mud in February it makes all that stuff worth it. And it was just great. You really feel – I really felt alive that day really felt alive. It was extraordinary.

How does Floki’s departure affect Ivar?

Floki has always been I probably think Ivar’s only friend. And in terms of everything that’s happening in the beginning of Season 5 the aftermath of Ivar killing Sigurd he really needs that support and that friend in Floki. So it is the absolutely worst timing when Floki decides to leave. I think that is really, really, really for the worst for Ivar. And imagine losing a friend in the moment you that you need him the most and especially everything that’s going on I think it makes him more cold, and determinate, and hard. And that’s not, that’s rough on everybody else. But it is very much also rough on Ivar because I don’t think that, that is what Ivar wants but that is his way of surviving 100% sure of that. And it’s a very, very tough, tough loss.

Does Ivar view Floki’s departure as an abandonment? Will Ivar’s relationship with Ubbe grow?

If you take Floki first. I think it’s – I think he feels both ways. I think he feels abandoned but I – again that’s something that he’s used to right? It’s just another damn person that he loves that left him. So it just adds to this horrible, horrible line of damaging. Floki is also a friend. Ivar understands why he needs to do what he needs to do. He really wants him to stay but he also understands him. And I think he takes it as a sign that now he’s on his own and now it’s only it’s the Ivar show from now on up in his head.

While that brings me on to Ubbe because that doesn’t bode well for Ubbe. That is the great thing about what Jordan and I have talked about when went through these scenes and tried out what was their relationship we were pretty agreeing on the fact that we both thought Jordan’s character Ubbe was – has always been the bigger brother the more concerned bigger brother who is taking care of his little brothers and especially Ivar.

So we created this thing that Ubbe has always been Ivar’s legs in a way. There’s a great line in Season 5 where we actually got that line in. It was just great. But so I think also that Ubbe feels very betrayed. He also feels that he failed in terms of helping upbringing this kid and not creating a monster out of him and seeing him become one a very hurt monster – just really hurts him. And I don’t think you can ever settle down with that. I think he feels very disappointed in himself and in Ivar. He has his own goals and ambitions of course. So to see your younger brother just full on ahead and take over and don’t care who was in his way I mean that’s got to hurt as well. So there is some very interesting dynamic between especially Ubbe and Ivar.