Katheryn Winnick on playing Lagertha in Vikings and her plans to direct
Vikings Season 5B has just arrived on Showmax, with new episodes landing first on Showmax every Thursday, express from the US.
Katheryn Winnick is currently at #89 on IMDB’s Starmeter, thanks largely to her Critics Choice-nominated performance as Lagertha in Vikings, HISTORY’s breakthrough drama.
She plays the first wife of the [spoiler alert] late Ragnar Lothbrok and starts season five as Queen of Kattegat. Entertainment Weekly declared her role as a shield-maiden who fights alongside the men as possibly the “most exciting feminist character on TV.”
HISTORY have renewed Vikings for a sixth season, where Katheryn will be making her directorial debut. We caught up with the actress and director, who’s also the founder of three martial arts schools, to find out more.
How does your character grow over season five?
I begin season five as Queen of Kattegat, dealing with the responsibilities and pressures of ruling a major seaport. With that comes much conflict, mostly with the sons of Ragnar, specifically Ivar. Many adversaries are trying to usurp Lagertha, not just Ivar, but also King Harald and others who want to overthrow her. So it’s an interesting season because, although she is in a position of strength, she is also struggling to keep the reign of power.
Lagertha seems fearless. What do you think her biggest fear is?
Self-failure. She’s had a lot of responsibility and expectations, whether it’s being a young wife with Ragnar, dealing with the pressures of motherhood, or being a second wife in seasons two and three. She’s at the stage where she’s not relying on anybody else anymore. Obviously, she has been betrayed many times, not only by her ex-husband, but also by other people close to her and that is evident in season five. I don’t think she trusts many people. She has to rely primarily on herself. For her to not follow her own instincts is probably her biggest fear, I would think, in season five.
After five seasons, do you feel you know everything about Lagertha?
Lagertha is always transforming and making emotional shifts, so I am always finding new layers to explore. After five seasons I still feel inspired by her. Lagertha is very different from when we first started the show. She has grown and matured into a powerful woman. It takes a great deal of self-assurance and self-confidence to rule a place like Kattagat and she’s not going to put up with anything. Not at this stage.
After you killed Aslaug, the mother of Ragnar’s sons, how did your relationship to Ragnar’s sons develop?
Of course, that brings a lot of tension with the sons. The Seer prophesied that one day Lagertha will be killed by a son of Ragnar so there’s always that additional tension as well. She has a relationship with each son, and it’s a very different relationship with each of them. Obviously, with Björn, she has a bond that is unlike with the others because he is her flesh and blood. But with Ivar, there’s tension. With Ubbe, of course, there’s a different relationship. Lagertha sees the physical similarities between Ubbe and Ragnar. A season or two back I told Michael Hirst [creator and writer of the series] that we needed to add a line that references this fact. He took my suggestion and there is a scene with Ubbe, it’s a small scene, where my character says, “You look like Ragnar.” I had to say it… he looks like a younger Travis Fimmel. It ended up being an extra layer, a dynamic between Lagertha and Ubbe that wasn’t necessarily on the page, but you will see it unfold as season five progresses.
Does it happen a lot that you add something which is not in the script?
I’m lucky to have a close relationship with Michael Hirst. We sit down for dinners, usually right before we start a new block, and he listens to any suggestions we have. It’s a very collaborative environment. I have much admiration for Michael, who writes every single episode of a series. He has it all in his head and he writes entirely on his own. He is a master; he’s absolutely brilliant.
If you had to fight alongside just one viking – someone who would have your back – who would it be?
I’d fight beside Lagertha! There are just so many good fighters to pick from. Ivar is a mastermind in terms of strategy, while Ubbe is very strong. We have a new character joining season five, named Bishop Heahmund, who Jonathan Rhys Meyers portrays. He plays a bishop warrior. I have to say that I had a lot of fun working with him. He’s a very talented actor and his character is a powerful and skilled fighter. But Björn, of course, Björn.
How are you feeling about directing in season six?
It’s very exciting. This will be my directorial debut. I’ve been preparing for about a year. Being on set every day, I am learning from and working with the crew, the incredible talent, and with various heads of departments. Having been on the show as an actor for so long, I have had a chance to observe it all on a more intimate level and that has helped prepare me for directing. I started learning about how things work behind the scenes and I shadowed Canadian director Helen Shaver, who comes back every year. She is an award-winning female director who is fantastic and I learned a great deal from her. I also flew to Canada and spent time in the editing room, which was such a valuable experience – to see all of our rushes and dailies actually manifest into a cut version of an episode.