Katheryn Winnick plays a warrior in History’s “Vikings,” and she’s kind a warrior in her real life, too.
Back at home in Los Angeles last week after nearly a year of filming in Ireland, the Canadian actress ignored her jetlag and happily chatted about the journey of her character, Lagertha, in the current super-sized Season 4.
Once the wife of now-King Ragnar Lothbrok, Lagertha has created her own legend in the Viking world by gaining and losing the earldom of Hedeby and joining on raids far and wide.
This season, she brutally avenged betrayals against her—most recently on the day of her wedding to her co-earl, Kalf (Ben Robson). She’s now the only ruler of Hedeby—and she isn’t married.
“Hey, Kalf got a kiss at the end,” Winnick joked, “So he got something.”
Despite being pregnant with Kalf’s child, Lagertha isn’t slowing down. She’s trained a force of shield maidens and warriors to join Ragnar’s latest raid of Paris, which begins in “The Profit and the Loss,” airing at 10/9c March 31 on History.
Winnick suggested fans watch for Lagertha’s pregnancy armor created by “Vikings” costume designer Joan Bergin.
“She’s wearing this armor that protects her belly but still is flexible enough to allow her to move,” she said. “And, of course, is fashionable as well.”
Winnick talked about Lagertha’s bloody wedding day, why she’s fighting while pregnant and what is was like to chop off a male body part.
I have to apologize first of all because I maybe was a bit sexist watching this season because I really thought Kalf was playing Lagertha and not the other way around.
Oh, that’s hilarious. No, Lagertha is a smart cookie. She’s definitely two steps ahead of Kalf all the time. I don’t think she ever really trusted him. She cared for him but she made a promise to him and the arrangement was that, “I’m happy to do this but one day I will kill you. And if you accept those terms then let us be together.” It was something like that. He accepted it.
Why did she pick their wedding day?
That’s a good question. I asked Michael Hirst, who writes every episode. I’m not sure that she ever knew when she was going to kill him.
I think it was bittersweet for her, also, just because she is carrying his child and he is the father of her child that she wanted so dearly. That was one of the reasons why she and Ragnar broke up, because she couldn’t bear another child or his child. So it’s complicated definitely.
I think the anticipation of the wedding and actually going through with it, maybe she would have asked herself if she was sure this is the moment to do it or she should go through with the wedding or not. If she gets married—which she didn’t—she would put her earldom at risk really.
I think she just thought that this is the right moment to kill him.
When I talked with Ben he said despite betraying Lagertha, Kalf really did love her. Do you think that she really loved him, too?
I think love is a tricky word. think she really loved Ragnar, yes. I think she cares for Kalf. She helped groom him to be her second in command. I think that she cares for him. That’s why I wanted to add in the kiss after I killed him. And they said OK. There was still a connection [between the two] but that’s what she had to do. She promised herself.
I do think that it’s true what Ben said. I think Kalf wanted to win her over and to impress her. He did take her earldom so he betrayed her. He took her earldom and I don’t think Lagertha will ever forget.
Do you think she knows that he was working with Erlendur like when they plotted to kill Bjorn?
She has an idea, yes. Intuition or she heard something. He’s her son so she’s not going to take that lightly.
In “What Might Have Been” (Ep. 406 airing 3/24), she tells Erlendur he can go to Paris with her. How will that relationship work going forward?
It’s tricky with Erlendur just because he also was the one that helped set up Einar. He is King Horik’s son, so he does have some power and status and an army. I don’t feel that she would ever really trust Erlendur either, but it’s true—keep your enemies close. She does invite him on to share her boat with a lot of shield maidens. I think that’s the case, she’s keeping her enemy close to keep a good watch on him.
The scene when she tells his son to keep enemies close, she’s basically telling Erlendur that.
Exactly. I think there’s a lot of foreshadowing in that, too, in the sense where she’s talking about Kalf. She’s giving him the life lessons: “You’re going to get betrayed one day. People are going to hurt you, so keep your friends close and keep your enemies close, too.”
Can you answer Ragnar’s question that he asks Lagertha in “What Might Have Been”? Why is she endangering her unborn child by going to Paris?
It’s a good question and it’s something that I struggled with. Michael Hirst said that’s what women did. The Viking women were mobile. They fought pregnant. They moved around. That’s what they did. There were many women that came to term when they were either invading another settlement or discovering new lands.
I think Lagertha is also testing the gods. She remembers what the Seer said: She’ll never have another child. She’s also a very smart, ambitious woman. She wants to go to Paris and she’s not going to be a stay-at-home mom at this stage of her life. She’s ambitious and she believes that she needs to be there to fulfill her bigger plan of helping the Viking community. Maybe she’s keeping an eye on Ragnar, too, making sure he’s OK and ruling properly.
She has her own ambitions. She wants to go to Paris. Yeah, she’s pregnant, let’s see what happens.
Her pregnancy is not an issue for her.
Yeah, exactly. It’s interesting because we had to figure out maternity wear for Lagertha. How do we come up with maternity armor? And there was one amazing piece that Joan Bergin designed, which Lagertha wears not at full term but she’s a good six months pregnant.
How was it fighting in the maternity armor and with a pregnancy belly—if you wore one?
It definitely was hard labor fighting with it, but Viking women were tough. They’re hearty women.
And Katheryn’s tough too, right?
Yeah, I’m not going to be on bed rest.
You had another fun scene earlier this season getting your revenge on Einar. Tell me about filming that scene where Lagertha makes sure all parts of him are dead.
[Laughs.] Oh my gosh, I couldn’t stop laughing. The prosthetic department came up with different sizes of—I don’t know what the appropriate word is—his wiener. I don’t know how to say that lightly. I was laughing with the actor who plays Einar and I’m like, “Well, this should be a character choice.” Because Einar’s ego is so big, we go from the smaller size. They gave us all these different sizes and shapes. It was just so funny. But of course none of it probably made it on screen here.
I think the U.S. version stays on Lagertha’s face. No prosthetics.
Yeah, but we had a few options. On the actual shoot day I ended throwing it to the other Vikings. But I don’t know if they showed that either.
How do you think all the events of the ninth century that are portrayed on your show are still relevant today?
Michael Hirst is an incredible writer and he talks about real human interactions and stories. Basically he’s able to share stories and talk about relevant issues even if it is with historical reference. If it’s betrayal, if it’s infidelity, if it’s fertility —every character has their own arc and these stories are relevant to viewers now. It just happens to be set in the Viking time. I think a lot of people are very curious of the Lothbroks. They’re the original power couple and family. They want to know what happens with Rollo and the invasion of Paris is really interesting. It’s such a rich world.
How does the arrival of the Danish brothers affect Lagertha?
The Danish brothers are such great characters and additions to the show. You’ll see how complex they are. The Finn actors playing them are some of my favorite people on set. They’re just such great fun. It’s nice to have them on the show. They bring a different element and a ruthless side of the Vikings. … I think that there are going to be some scenes with Lagertha as their relationship gets developed even further.
Queen Aslaug seems to be devising her own little plots this season, possibly against Ragnar. Will she and Lagertha cross paths?
Auslaug has her own ambitions and you will see a different side of her come out. I think it’s been touched upon of her being one that sees things and has visions and has powers. Does Lagertha really trust her? I don’t know how much I can say actually. That gets explored even more.
More Katheryn Winnick and Lagertha at History