I met and spoke to Clive Standen, Rollo on HISTORY’s Vikings, which returns on HISTORY with a second series.
KK: Hi Clive, how are you doing today?
CS: I’m doing really well, it’s really nice to be promoting the show in the UK.
How’s it been – how’s the reception of the show so far in the UK?
It’s been fantastic, I mean, it’s very strange for me, like, when we go to Comic Con in San Diego – I think it’s the 6th biggest watched show of the year in America right now – so we get get people dressed up as Vikings, and reciting old Norse back to us… it’s fantastic. But people still don’t know where to watch the show in the UK, so I get back here and people go “I’ve heard about Vikings but I don’t know where to watch it”, so finally The History Channel have got the rights to season 2, because before it was stuck on Amazon Prime somewhere, so it’s really exciting to be able to show it here.
You play quite an interesting character on the show, often the villain, but not all the time. Rollo has a very tough relationship with his brother Ragnar, and he seems to define himself with that relationship. How do you see him, and how do you feel about Rollo?
Well I don’t think he’s a villain… In season 1, him and his brother Ragnar – they’re the ones who go west, and they discover Lindisfarm, and they decide from the get go that everyone’s gonna be equal. And then when they get back it seems that some people are more equal than others, and Ragnar very quickly starts going up the chain of Viking command, and his fame rises in Viking society and Rollo very much feels like he’s stuck in the shadow of his brother. But having said that, Earl Haraldson, Gabriel Byrne’s character, very quickly sees there’s a weakness there, and he tries to bribe him with his daughter and the ships, and Rollo stills stays true to his brother, and stands up in court and lies for his brother… Then Ragnar is hiding out and Haraldson wants to find his whereabouts, and Rollo doesn’t betray his brother, he even gets to the point where his own face is mutilated because he won’t divulge the whereabouts of Ragnar. But at the end of the season, I think, he’s put up with too much, and we meet this character Jarlborg, who has his own territory and his own army, and he offers him so much that Rollo can’t turn it down… to be king for a day, to be the general of his own army, to have his own band of berserkers and to fight against his brother, and I think he just wants to break out and prove to his brother that he is equal. And that’s where we pick him up at the beginning of season 2, very quickly in the first minute of the season premiere, the two brothers are facing each other in battle and there’s only going to be one outcome, and that is war. The knock-on effects of Rollo’s actions towards his brother are gonna have a major impact on every character in Vikings, and some of them won’t come out of it alive. So I don’t know how Rollo’s gonna deal with that in the future. The only spoiler I can give you is that he won’t die in that battle, but maybe a little part of him does.
What about the softer side of him we see, with his relationship with his relationship with Sigyn, Earl Haraldson’s wife?
It’s an interesting relationship because Sigyn is the character who’s had everything and lost it all because of Ragnar, and she wants it back. Whereas Rollo is a character who’s never had it, but he’s dreamt about it all his life, and he doesn’t really know how to achieve it on his own. So you put those two together and it’s almost like Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, it’s like he doesn’t really want to do anything untoward but she will do whatever it takes to get him there for her own doing. It’s very much a marriage of convenience, but as the relationship goes on Rollo realises that she may be the only person that’s ever shown him any love and attention and looks at him with any worth, and looks at him as more than just that fierce warrior that everyone knows him as. Everyone respects him, everyone accepts the fact that he was born to raid and fight. But he wants to be more than that, he believes he’s capable of great things, and she’s the only one that sees that in him, so I think he falls for her. But as far as she’s concerned it is still a marriage of convenience, she’s taking him for a ride. And that’s heartbreaking for me to play, and then I think it’s heartbreaking to see that this man is being written off by the one person he’s chosen to fall for. It’s the wrong person. And that in season 2 will play out. But yeah, as in real life it’s a real relationship, and there’s moments of trust and moments of love in there, it’s just all gone a bit FUBAR.
Speaking of, what about his passion, or rather unexpressed passion for Lagertha?
That’s another one, it’s very hard to talk about that because when we’re on season 3 you’ll learn more about that relationship. The little nuggets that Michael Hirst writes in the beginning of season 1, they weren’t put there just for a red herring, they’re there for a reason, and then you start to learn more about where that relationship came from in season 3. All I can say is that he’s always been usurped by his brother, Ragnar has very much been the man that’s the cat who’s got the cream in more senses than one. [Rollo] holds a flame for Lagertha and there’s a reason for that. I think she’s very much his first love, and it’s hard to get over that one person. But I can’t talk about that much because that’s not a season 2 question…
We’ll build up to that, I’m sure, there’s progress to be made. What is the one thing, do you think, that Rollo would want to change about himself?
Well, that’s a tough question, because I think there’s just so much – as human beings, there’s so much that we want to change, we’re always trying to better ourselves. I do believe that some people are capable of changing more in one day than other people are in a whole lifetime, and he [Rollo] is definitely one of those people. Every time he falls – and it’s a lot of times he falls – he always tries to learn from his mistakes. He picks himself up and he dusts himself down and he thinks “what did I do wrong?” Innately, he just wants to be loved. He wants to be acknowledged and in that respect he’ll do whatever it takes to find that. When we worked on season 1, in the very first three episodes, we had a director called Johan Renck who came to work with us, and he gave me this old Viking proverb, which was “everybody wants to be loved, but if they can’t be loved they want to be admired, and if they can’t be admired then they’re willing to be feared, and if they can’t be feared they’ll be hated”, because everyone wants to exist and everyone wants to be known for something. In Viking society your name is everything. It’s all about fame, and it’s not fame like we talk about nowadays, with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, it’s real fame, it’s about achieving something in your life and being known for it. Because the day of your death and the length of your life was fated when you were born, so Odin was always going to take you away when he knows when he’s gonna take you away, but what you do on this Earth in that time is up to you, and you want to prove to Odin that you’re worthy of being at his table in Valhalla, whether that’d be dying ferociously and courageously in battle or taking Ragnar’s route, which is his thirst for knowledge and wisdom and trying to give his people new lands and new climates to harvest their crops. So yeah, Rollo’s always trying to better himself and change himself. It’s very hard to choose one thing.
Now, a tough question: if you as a person, as Clive, were a Viking, where do you think you’d fit in in Viking society? Would you be a warrior? Would you be a leader? A priest? A blacksmith?
Well, you can’t really avoid being a warrior in Viking society, everyone has to fight. When you’re born in a climate like that it’s harsh, it’s a land where it’s kill or be killed, you can’t help but have that in your mentality, you’ve got to check behind every door because there’s probably someone out there to stab you in the back, so you’re born a warrior as a Viking, whether that means going out and raiding and battling, or actually just in your everyday life. I think my work ethic is quite a strong one, I kinda want to get out there and do stuff. I hate jobs where you sit around twiddling your thumbs wasting the day away, I want to get out there and help and do stuff… So I think I’d very much be like Ragnar and be a farmer, and get out there and work the land, because I feel like if you get to the end of the day and you’re absolutely shattered but you can’t wait to get up again and do it all again then that’s a good day.
What does it feel like when you get the script and you see what Rollo is up to – because personally whenever I watch it, he’ll make the wrong decision and it’s like “you were just about to redeem yourself, Rollo!” Do you feel like that when you read the script, do you get these moments?
Yeah, and it’s tough, ’cause everyone wants to be liked, and that’s the thing, every actor wants their character to be liked, but you just have to commit. And you know what I always do – sometimes I make those decisions, and as an actor, they almost backfire on me, or they have a completely different outcome, certainly in front of the viewer, when they’ll certainly interpret what I said and go “oh, I love him more for that” and I’m like “whoa, I didn’t see that coming”. So you just have to commit to the writing, you have no control over it. My job is to see the character’s life, another person’s life, through my eyes. And I can’t judge him, I have to just commit to “this is what he would’ve done” or “this is what I might have done in those circumstances”. Everyone has those circumstances, and everyone is capable of the most horrific thing under the right or wrong circumstances. If I kidnapped your children and threaten to mutilate them and murder them, you probably would be capable of stabbing me in the eye right now. You’ve gotta just commit to it, and it’s up to the audience and the viewers to judge, and sometimes they judge him in the most surprising ways.
That’s good though! Sort of as a last question, and this is something for you to think about: if Rollo had a theme song, what would that theme song be? Have you thought about this?
This is such a good question, and I want to answer it so well, I don’t want to just rush into it. I mean, the most obvious one would be something like an AC/DC song, but I always try to find something a little bit more niche…
Take your time, take a minute.
I’m very aware that anything I say, there’s probably going to be some weird Viking videos that’ll turn up on YouTube… I should just say something ridiculously non-sequitur, like Wang Chung’s Dance Hall Days or something like that… Oh I don’t know, it’s a great question though. Um… What song, what song… [beat] Hurt, by Johnny Cash, the Nine Inch Nails song that Johnny Cash covered.
Okay, yeah. I can see that. Alright, cool. And do you have any other projects in the works? What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on one now actually, this is my day off, I’m going back to filming tomorrow. I’m doing a movie for Sony called Patient Zero, with Stanley Tucci, Natalie Dormer and Matt Smith, and Jon Bradley – two Game of Thrones actors, actually, it’s really strange, Vikings and Game of Thrones all being thrown in the same film… It’s an apocalyptic – well, it’s 2017 – it’s a pandemic thriller about a rabies virus that gets out of hand and it could be the next evolution of mankind, so scientists are trying to find patient zero to cure it. So that’s what I’m filming at the moment, and then Everest I did in between seasons 2 and 3, which is starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Josh Brolin and Jason Clarke and Kiera Knightley, and a host of other people that are far more famous than I… that comes out in September/October time this year.