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With its blood and gore, gritty murderous plots and budding romances, the History Channel’s epic drama Vikings has been described as a Nordic Game of Thrones.
The Emmy-nominated TV show’s fifth series was first shown in early 2019, with the sixth season recently confirmed to be its last.
BT TV spoke exclusively to two of its young stars, Jack McEvoy (Helgi the Lean, above left), and Elijah Rowen (Asbjorn, above right) - who are also best friends in real life - about what’s next for the show.
From spin-offs and crossovers to storylines and time-travel, here’s everything the Irish actors had to say about starring in Vikings...
***SPOILERS for series 5 ahead***
1. How would you describe Vikings to those who haven’t seen it?
Jack: Vikings is a show based on an actual historical background… people will scrutinise and say “Oh you haven’t got this right”, but I think the work that the actors and performers put into their individual characters, Michael Hirst the writer, everyone, down to even the hair and make-up team, all the guys on set, everybody gets it down exactly the way it was.
People have this preconceived notion that the Vikings wore these horned helmets, but it was completely different to what most people think, so it really captures the essence of that.
Elijah: Vikings is a lot of gore, a lot of angry Nordic people, a lot of sex, a lot of dirt, and then a lot of beautiful cinematography to top it all off. It’s not for everybody, but it’s definitely interesting!
I’d say it’s pretty similar to a Nordic Game of Thrones. I know they certainly attempt to rival Game of Thrones... Vikings in certain elements is historically accurate, but it’s also a little trippier than Game of Thrones, you know? I think the Vikings themselves might have been into all sorts of funky plants that were hallucinogenic and stuff like that, so it’s a little trippy at times.
2. How would you describe your characters?
Jack: Well when I got cast as Helgi the Lean, I met the casting director who was telling me all how he was going to be played as this Romeo-esque character. I was at the epicentre of a lot of tension between two families: my own family and my wife’s family in the show, who don’t really get along but for the greater good try to cooperate.
I got the role and really had to cut down and get in decent shape, not Viking-esque big, large muscle, but they wanted a very lean young man to play this particular role. It wasn’t entirely easy, particularly when I had nude or shirtless scenes and when I needed a level of malnourishment as well, or a lot of hunger, to fit the storyline.
Basically me and Elijah’s characters are part of a crew who head to Iceland who find barren land and not a lot there, and that’s when tension rises. It’s like in the 21st century, when people get cranky when they get hungry.
Obviously for people who haven’t watched the show they’ll just think I’m another one of these Vikings, but Helgi in particular is a very sensitive soul. He’s not one of these blood and guts characters, going around with an axe in his hand, no he’s a little more deep-minded. He’s a very sensitive and understanding character. I’m one of the more down-to-earth characters!
Elijah: I would describe my character as a very angry little man. That’s pretty much it! I think he’s probably driven by a lot of hatred. The whole angle with the Icelandic storyline, which is where I come in and a couple of other new characters… it’s this group of people that have been brought to this new land, in hope of something really special and something new and bounty-full, and as he sees it, they’ve been robbed by the whole thing, they’ve been scammed.
My character, and my brother who Jack plays and our father, we represent the pessimists.
I think that’s sort of what I represent in full. I think you’ve got to try mining an understanding for that mindset, even though if that’s not you. Everybody has a pessimist in them and everybody has a side to them that can come out when they’re confronted with something that isn’t ideal, or not what they were expecting.
3. [SPOILERS AHEAD] Can you talk to me about the storyline where Elijah’s character Asbjorn murders Jack’s character Helgi’s wife, who turned out to be pregnant? Do you think Helgi can ever forgive his brother for this?
Jack: I don’t know if it’s in the writing but in that particular section of the script, he murders my wife and in turn, I get exiled as punishment as I’m part of that family. So that is a bit naff!
Helgi’s literally just the good guy, there’s literally not a bad bone in his body. He’s this guy trying to lead from the front, get everyone together, I guess he feels a lot of pressure because it is his blood family that are all against this new settlement and against the grain, so he’s almost embarrassed, but he feels like he can be the one to bridge everything together.
We will soon learn that Helgi trusts a little too much, forgives a little too much. That's the one downfall of the character, that he's just too nice a soul. That’s probably where he spirals downwards.
Elijah: I think my character reached the boiling point and I think he just really cracked up. I guess when everything has gone to s**t in your view, people are capable of extreme actions, and I think that’s what’s happened to old Asbjorn.
Helgi the Lean is certainly one of the good guys. I think Jack certainly plays it as if he could just continually forgive and forgive, and he does that quite beautifully.
I think the viewers will think “Wow” when they’re watching it, like Helgi is again going to somehow forgive. My character gets away with a lot and I get away with a lot in real life too, so it’s familiar territory. I’m very good at worming my way out of things. It’ll probably all catch up on me one day, and it has before, but I’m pretty decent at it. I’ve probably done a lot of dreadful things to my brothers too, but I don’t think it will ever come to that!
4. What’s next for your character in Vikings?
Jack: I guess for my character it’s just a really terrible tale of a man who had it all. His wife was pregnant at the time of her murder, so his whole world has just collapsed around him. When I played those scenes out, in the moment, I tried to visualise how much anguish and trauma was going on in his mind.
I really tried to - I guess outside of it all - look to some of the future as well, he still feels a responsibility and slight burden of making this work, even though his whole scenario has gone completely AWOL.
I guess it’s about him still trying to at least act like he’s perfectly comfortable in complete abandon, and he has to mine an understanding of the future, and obviously not just his loved ones. That’s all very complex.
Elijah: There are a lot of characters getting taken out and people assuming who it may or may not have been. I’m very much in the thick of it all, so stay tuned to see who’s killing who, let’s put it that way!
5. What did you make of the recent news that Vikings’ sixth season will be its last?
Jack: Well I guess I could see it coming in some way. It’s had a decent run, but I think they’ve told a lot of tales around that particular era, they’ve done the time jumps, they’ve done a lot of things to get more out of it and keep progressing the story. But all great tales must come to an end and I guess they will certainly try to go out with a big bang.
Elijah: If you’ve been in a series a little while and can see how the story’s progressing, you get pretty good at foresighting the end point, and I certainly had an inkling. I think it’s all building up, but you know it’s been a pretty big build-up so far, and that’s gotta be it.
Of course I know how my character ends. Filming the scene didn’t necessarily mean it was the end for him. The thing is with series, it’s like the rules will be broken if they want to break them anyway, whether somebody dies or rides off into the sunset, or sometimes people disappear and there’s no explanation. So in terms of the characters, whether they disappear or not, or they die or they don’t die, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have or haven’t, you know.
6. Would you be up for a Vikings spin-off?
Jack: Absolutely. I heard rumours of something potentially happening but again you read a lot of things online. I haven’t heard anything from the people actually involved but absolutely. There's a real sense of community spirit with home-grown Irish crew members, a lot of Irish actors, and then of course a lot of international actors who flew in and fit right in with that Irish close-knit family vibe. I think that’s why the show really excelled in that capacity, you know?
Elijah: Oh certainly, I think they should make a spin-off of me specifically! I think something with me and my brother would be an interesting concept. I’d love to get involved in that, and mine an understanding of the character and his situation further.
Here’s what I would like: I was given the worst axe in the whole show, I was given a tiny little axe that looked like you couldn’t even kill something with it if you tried, so I would like the character to be given two axes, both much, much better, and I’d like to be able to take out a bunch of much bigger Vikings in a war. I would like two axes, that’s what I’d like to see for my character. If any writers are reading this, that’s what I’m asking for.
I think there should be a Vikings spin-off centred on my character!
- Elijah Rowen
7. If your Vikings character could time-travel or crossover with another TV show, what would it be?
Jack: Getting away from a TV show but more the wider film universe, I’d love to see how my character would adapt to a Star Wars universe! I think he possesses a lot of qualities... obviously he would be on the rebel side, he wouldn’t be a Sith Lord! There are different types of Jedi Knight, the combat and then the more deep-minded ones, I think with the right training, Helgi would suit a psychic Jedi role!
Elijah: I’d like to see my guy go into Game of Thrones and have a little one-on-one with Jon Snow!
I think I’d win! Even if I didn’t win the axe/sword fight, I think my character would be very good at fighting mentally, so I think I’d take Jon Snow out that way.