Travis Fimmel (center) stars as Ragnar Lothbrok in History Channel's… (History )
Before History Channel's "Vikings" premiered in early March, leading man Travis Fimmel may have been best known for his modeling days--and Calvin Klein underwear ads.
Many Chicagoans probably remember the blue-eyed Aussie for starring with Patrick Swayze in A&E's Chicago-set and filmed "The Beast" in 2009. Before that, he appeared in the short-lived WB series "Tarzan" in 2003, and has continued to star in independent movies.
But with the ratings success of "Vikings"--History announced Friday it was renewing the show for a 10-episode Season 2--Fimmel has turned his ax-wielding hero Ragnar Lothbrok into something of a breakout role.
"It was an amazing experience, mate," he told me over the phone. "I'm so happy that I'm at this point in my career."
Based on a Viking legend (and possible historical figure from what I read), Ragnar Lothbrok is warrior and adventurer, a farmer and father, husband, brother and a rebel, too. He dreams of exploring beyond the traditional Norse raiding routes decided by the local chieftain, Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne).
That desire, and Ragnar's unsanctioned raiding voyages West to Northumbria (modern Britain), have brought him in direct conflict with the Earl, who in recent episodes attacked Ragnar's farm and neighbors and severely injured our hero.
In "Burial of the Dead," debuting at 9 p.m. CT April 7 on History (watch the preview below), Ragnar is still recovering from his wounds but challenges the Earl to a fight after he learns that the leader tortured his brother, Rollo (Clive Standen), to learn Ragnar's whereabouts. The episode kicks off the final four of the nine-episode season, which Fimmel said were his favorites.
"I feel like the show just gets better and better and better. There's so much drama in the last four episodes. I was excited to read the next script and the next and the next," he said, giving props to his co-star: "It gets very intense between Ragnar and the Earl and I really enjoyed doing those scenes. Gabriel Byrne is just amazing in his role. He's such a great actor. He's so great to work with."
Fimmel, who still goes home to Australia to work on his family's farm, talked about the aspects of his character with which he most identifies, his favorite Viking weapon (the ax, of course!) and the time he spent in Chicago.
You filmed "The Beast" in Chicago. Do you have any special memories of being here?
I love Chicago, mate. It's my favorite city actually in the States. Except for the weather is pretty drastic, but I had a great experience there in working with Patrick [Swayze] that I'll never forget.
Do you remember going to any special places that you hung out or anything?
Oh mate, I went to a lot of places in that city. I love the beach and all that stuff, mate. I lived on Wabash and the river and it was beautiful. The people cycle there.
Well Ireland's a far distance, and different.
Yeah, but it's just as cold thought. It's a beautiful country, mate. I've never seen such a place so green. It's great landscape.
Is it easy to get into the role being surrounded by all that nature?
For sure, mate. We were on the boats all the time. They actually built three boats for us, and we were just rowing up the rivers in the morning when it was very misty. It just felt very authentic. And all the set decoration and the costumes were so realistic and it really put you in the character.
It's got the adventure, the fun, the banter, the drama, the love stuff. So it's got a bit for everybody.
What part of all that do you like the most?
My favorite moments have to be the boat stuff. The action for sure. [Laughs.] Yeah, you don't have to remember any lines, mate.
You just have to beat the hell out of things.
I've told that joke so many times, mate.
Tell me about how the role came to you.
I actually put myself on tape and sent it to Ireland. I was pretty late in the process and they still hadn't found Ragnar so I was very lucky. Luckily they liked the tape and I was over there within a week.
So no time to prepare really.
Not a great deal of time but the writer, Michael Hirst, is amazing--a very intelligent man. He did so much research and made that available to me, too, so it really helped.
What qualities of Ragnar's did you most identify with?
I'm a farmer, too. I grew up on a farm in Australia and I still work there. And I don't know, I came to the city to try to make something of myself. I think Ragnar's all about making his children proud and I guess a lot of the stuff that I do is to make my future children proud. Be successful and make something of myself.