Over the past week, we labeled Alex Høgh Andersen as one of the breakout stars of the year in our CarterMatt Awards for a reason — even within a span of a few short episodes, he’s brought a lot of dimension to the character of Ivar the Boneless on History’s “Vikings.” In many ways, he’s ruthless and terrifying, yet we also know that there is this other side that exists within the character where he has a certain degree of vulnerability buried underneath all of that anger.
We were very excited to speak with Andersen about this role, his preparation for it, and a general array of topics pertaining to the show. Take a look at our interview with Andersen below, and know that the next new episode of “Vikings” is going to be coming your way on History this Wednesday night.
CarterMatt – The first thing I want to know is just what these past several months have been like for you, joining this show and becoming a part of this family that’s been around for the past several years.
Alex Høgh Andersen – The cast and the crew, they’ve really been so helpful. It wasn’t really that hard to come in. Yeah, I was starstruck when I came in and worked with Travis [Fimmel] for the first time. I was like a little boy! (Laughs.) I was watching the show while I was auditioning for the part. The first scene that I had with Travis, I think it was the one on the thrones in episode 11, which was a huge scene for my character, as well.
Travis helped out a lot, and it was really great to work with him in these first three episodes of season 4B. Just observing him work is a learning experience, as well.
When you first found about about this character, what about him immediately appealed to you?
I was auditioning for three older brothers. I didn’t get much of a description or anything about him. It was during the last six-hour audition that [casting director] Frank Moiselle came down to me and told me ‘can you read for Ivar?’. I was feeling like — I won’t say the word — but I was sitting there reading the scene for half an hour, and then I got up in front of [showrunner] Michael Hirst, [executive producer] Morgan O’Sullivan, all of the big guns were there. I did the scene that I just learned, and I screwed up the first couple of times but on the third time I got it right. I really didn’t know anything about Ivar until I got the part out of nowhere.
It wasn’t until my agent told me that I got the part that [I knew], and I had to ask ‘which one’ because I really didn’t know. The first three weeks of preparing to shoot, I was calling around in my hotel room, trying to figure out what his mannerisms were and picking up a lot from Travis just by watching the show. I had researched a little bit about the character and read a lot of theories about where his name came from. I’m glad that Michael Hirst went with the Osteogenesis Imperfecta. You gotta go with the solution that brings the most to the table drama-wise.
I’m just very fortunate to play this part, and it’s so challenging — but every time it’s challenging, it’s fun.
Obviously, any sort of role like this requires a great deal of physical preparation, and for this show I like to think that there’s a specific ‘Vikings’ sort of boot camp where people go to train. For you, was there any particular sort of preparation that you had to undergo given your character’s disability?
The way I approached this whole thing was trying to figure out how I was going to compensate for the fact that I wasn’t able to choreograph my own scenes, since I wasn’t able to walk. That was a huge challenge acting-wise. You can’t just walk from this spot to that spot, or do what you think is the right thing to do. Working with Travis and this whole trip to Wessex, every time we started rehearsing a scene, the first thing we talked about was ‘where’s Alex going to be,’ and I was off trying to find a good spot.
The biggest challenge is to not over-compensate with your acting, since you’re really only able to act from your waist up. So, you tell yourself ‘I need to act more,’ but you really need to act less. You’re still in front of a camera, so you can’t do big arm movements and you can’t act too much with your face. What I’ve been trying to do with him is that less is more, and I’ve been trying to keep it to the eyes. I think that’s what’s interesting, also with the disease since it colors the whites of his eyes.
What did you and Travis do to quickly establish some of the chemistry that you’ve forged on the show? I know you guys haven’t know each other that long, but the way you communicate is as though you have.
I was really thrown into this whole thing, so I was just trying to get to know this guy personally. Then, it’s the exact same thing that’s going on in-character. It was almost a natural thing going on, since I was really trying to get to know this guy just like Ivar is trying to get to know who his father is, and looking up to him just like I’m looking up to Travis. There was a funny natural thing about the relationship.
Travis and I also talked a lot about keeping things light. We had the same idea about how the whole thing is going on. There was a lot of heavy stuff that they were talking about but we tried to keep it light in tone — we had these fun moments, and there’s nothing better than those father / son relationship moments that everyone can relate to. We were trying to keep it light, and that’s a great contrast to what the series does. It just doubles the amount of drama acting. In general, ‘Vikings’ is a very slow show, it’s very tense and it’s very dark. We wanted a fresh break from all of that, and a fresh moment where some people who could relate like it was something that would happen in the 21st century.
There’s a question I get a lot from interviews, which is ‘what is it like to act like a Viking?’ — my answer is every single time, it’s not about being a Viking. I’m portraying a human being, and the things that Ivar goes through could easily happen in the 21st season. It’s the same emotion in the father / son relationship. Our main goal was to make it relatable.
You went into this a little bit, as we have these two characters who don’t quite know each other that well, and yet there’s this interesting dynamic between the two. Ivar’s got this father who, despite his misgivings, is out to empower Ivar and make him feel still like a warrior. What do you make of that?
Ivar has this thing that Ragnar lacks, and that is that fury and that ruthlessness. [Ragnar lacking that] led to him sitting down and making a deal with the Christians that would destroy an entire settlement. Ivar would never do that, as he was schooled by Floki, he would never sit down and make a deal with the Christians. There’s just no stopping him in that way, and he’s very similar to Ragnar in that he’s very smart, he’s very manipulative, and he’s always the one that sees through people and plays them.
Ivar, who is at this point in the story still so young, is going through a lot of anger issues. He’s still a very sad kid who’s trying to compensate every day of his life. Ragnar understands that, but he also sees the potential in him. So this whole thing of bringing Ivar to Wessex with him, he’s giving him the torch and telling him that he’s the next heir. He could do great things in spite of his disease.
We talk about how ruthless this guy is, but here I am just talking to you and you seem like such a nice guy! How do you get into the proper place to channel some of Ivar’s more ruthless qualities on the show? Does it take you a lot of time to get into that on the day?
No, I’m not that kind of the guy who does any method acting. (Laughs.) I’m literally just pretending. Yeah, some of the stuff I’ve been doing, and a lot of stuff that I’m going to be doing in season 5, is very epic and I had to bring myself into it, just get my mindset into it. A lot of this stuff hasn’t been that tough to get into because I understand Ivar a lot. I see straight through what he does, tormenting his brothers and being provocative all the time. It’s about this poor guy, and I see that and I feel for him. I can’t possibly imagine how it would have been to be a cripple in Viking culture — it’s probably the biggest struggle in the world — I don’t think any normal person could put themselves into his spot, but I tried, and I think I have a good understanding of what he’s went through.
As I said before, he’s not that hard to relate to how he’s feeling and his mindset.
At the end of this past episode, Ragnar and Ivar basically surrendered to King Ecbert, and have almost this Trojan Horse sort of strategy going on. What do you think Ivar makes about this plan, given that they are just two people?
I think that Ivar doesn’t quite understand where his dad is going [with this], but I also think that he trusts him 100%. I think he’s definitely questioning him, but he’s doing it in his own head. I think Ivar understands that Ragnar has a deeper purpose than what Ivar would understand, and he accepts that. Ivar has a lovely line where he says ‘one day being with my father is worth a lifetime of pity,’ and that is really what this is all about — just him spending time with his dad.
That’s the great thing about Ragnar as well. He doesn’t act differently in front of Ivar. He’s talks to him like he’s a normal man, and that is exactly what Ivar’s been looking for in not being pitied. This whole trip for him is about becoming a man and learning more as a human being.
I know you can’t give much away, but is there any particular scenes coming up that you’re excited for people to see, or at least ones you can speak out?
The next two episodes are going to be very interesting story-wise, and also acting-wise I cannot wait to see it. There’s a lot with two of the best actors on the show in Linus Roache and Travis Fimmel. They have really, really great chemistry and are outstanding together. They love working together and they’ve worked really hard to work together for a long time. Now, they can finally do it.
Also, the end of the season’s going to be epic — we broke the record for the most amount of extras. ‘Braveheart’ had it before, and now ‘Vikings’ has it with more than 600 extras, where we shot some very epic stuff. Then, with season 5 the budget’s just getting bigger and bigger. We’ve shot some crazy stuff.
A very special thanks for Alex for his time and being so open with us about his role on the show. If you are interested in getting some other news pertaining to “Vikings,” whether it be reviews, previews, or other coverage, all you have to do is head over to the link here. (Photo: History.)