Vikings' Alexander Ludwig Talks Bjorn's Bear Fights (and What It'll Take to Earn Ragnar's Respect)

Kate Hahn
The Vikings Preview
History Channel

We caught up with tall, blonde and handsome Vikings star Alexander Ludwig while he was taking a quick break from shooting the Norse saga’s 20-episode Season 4 in Ireland. Ludwig plays Bjorn Ironside, the warrior and eldest son of Norse king Ragnar Lodbrok (Travis Fimmel). In the February 18 season premiere, Bjorn showed he has dad’s alpha DNA; he led the people in a loyalty chant of “Ragnar!” and ordered the arrest of Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård) for murder of Athelstan (George Blagden). We talked to Ludwig about a possible changing of the guard, Bjorn’s love life and how to win a bear fight.

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Is Bjorn ready to take over as king?
Not yet. You'll see him become ready this season. As the season continues, Bjorn sees his father go through internal turmoil. Bjorn’s pained by this, but realizes that if his father is incapable of leading the army, then he has to. He's got to step up. You're going to see a big change in power.

How does Ragnar deal with that?
At first, there's a little jealousy. Ragnar’s always looked out for Bjorn, taught him. Bjorn looks up to him. Eventually, Bjorn takes care of his father out of love. It’s beautiful. They have this incredible bond. Travis and I have the same thing. He looks out for me.

You and Travis always put in serious overtime rehearsing the Bjorn/Ragnar scenes. Was the process any different this year?
Travis and I worked harder than we've ever worked together. I stayed at his place in Ireland for three weeks. He makes this incredible spaghetti Bolognese. We’d go over notes, break the script down and try to find ways where we can show the arc behind what's just written.

What did you want to show about the father/son relationship?
I wanted to show similarities between our characters. They have similar aspirations. You are your father's son. Everybody wants to make their father proud.

In the season premiere, Bjorn learned that Þórunn (Gaia Weiss) had skipped town, leaving their daughter behind, and she’s unlikely to return. Will Bjorn fall in love again?
Bjorn's a big slut this year. You can quote me on that. [Laughs] He starts taking what he wants and any woman he wants. He becomes ruthless. I love that because nobody’s perfect and I want to show his flaws.

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Into the wild

Ragnar definitely sees Bjorn’s flaws. To prove himself to his father, Bjorn goes on a survival quest into the winter wilderness. One of the tests he will face–in Episode 3 airing March 3—is a showdown with a bear.  What was it like to shoot that?
We went to Sault Ste. Marie in Ontario, Canada. We were there for four days. It was a blizzard, as cold as you could imagine. We were taking snowmobiles to the set. The bear had a bigger resumé than anybody else on the set.  He could hit his mark better than I could. There were actually two bears. They would alternate, Whopper and Ursula. We basically had a clothesline separating myself from the bear. The bear was raised to believe that the clothesline was electric, but it absolutely was not. So all I'm doing is waiting for the bear to realize this, and they're going to have to rewrite the script because the bear actually wins the fight. [Laughs] No, I live for that stuff. It's so exciting. Never once did I feel nervous.

What advice would you give someone in a bear fight?
You're screwed. They're Kodiak bears. They're killing machines. But they're beautiful and incredible creatures.

PHOTOS: See More Scenes From Season 4 of Vikings

Between you and Leonardo DiCaprio, who is the better bear fighter?
I was like, “Oh, yeah, of course, The Revenant's going to come out before this!” The Revenant has the most epic bear fight scene in the history of the world ever. It was ridiculous. It was incredible. It's like, “Oh, damn it, Leo!” [Laughs]

But that’s not the worst thing that happens on Bjorn’s quest. We won’t give anything away, but we know there’s a really gruesome scene coming up in Episode 4.
There were arguments all over History Channel about keeping that part. A lot of people said that it would be too graphic. Luckily, we had a champion.  We had to keep it. It makes the story stronger.

Outsiders threaten Bjorn and Ragnar’s people every season. Who tries to raid the raiders this year?
Harald Fairhair (Peter Franzén) a Viking who comes out and says, “I want to be the king of kings. I want to take over what you have.” It's a pretty badass thing to do, and Bjorn takes that in and says, “Okay, buddy. We'll see about that.”

In the premiere, Bjorn was looking at a map of the Mediterranean he plundered from a house in Paris. Do the Vikings visit that part of the world this season?
In terms of our travels, you'll see us go to the Mediterranean, which is really exciting. We didn’t shoot there, but as much as I love Ireland, I’d love to go.

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How much does Bjorn age this season?
The season's so long. It's got to be like 15 years. I don't even know how many more kids Bjorn’s going to have!

What does Bjorn have to learn before he can become a leader as strong as his father?
He has to learn that in failure we learn the most, and you can't strive for perfection.

How has Vikings affected you or your career?
I signed on to Vikings because of Bjorn’s great arc. My character goes from being a boy to completely being a man. I feel like I've lived that, both as an actor and in my personal life. Vikings has been the best thing that has ever happened to me in terms of the calls I've been getting. I've read some exceptional scripts--I plan to do something when I'm done shooting this season.

What else can you tell us about Season 4?
The conflicts at the end of Season 3 will be resolved by the first 10 episodes. And then the next 10 get wild!

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