Alexander Ludwig knew he'd have to bring the muscle playing a young warrior in History's "Vikings," but he didn't expect to use them when the cameras stopped rolling.
Ludwig joined the cast in Season 2 as Bjorn Ironside, the now teenage son of Ragnar Lothbrok, the show's main character played by Travis Fimmel. In the history-based series airing at 9 p.m. Thursdays, Ragnar is a visionary Viking leader who leads his people to faraway lands, but grows to view his sons as rivals.
That father-son rivalry, Ludwig said, turned playful off camera between the actors.
"Just before a take we'd start wrestling and see who could take the other," he said of Fimmel, whom he called "a dingo." "At the start he was able to take me. I think by the end of the shoot we were pretty even."
Ludwig got close with many cast members on the shoot in Ireland. But it wasn't all fun and games, he said. As an actor who never thought he'd do TV, he considers "Vikings" to be one of the smartest career choices he's made to date. The 21-year-old has starred in "The Hunger Games" and the recent "Lone Survivor," among other films.
Ludwig said he's "grown so much as an actor" by getting to play a character over several episodes. His character sees tremendous growth this season as well. As Season 2 began, Bjorn moved away with his mother, Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), who left Ragnar after marital indiscretions. By the second episode, four years have passed and when they meet again later in the season, the reunion won't be all roses. Bjorn's strength and eventual fighting prowess will inspire jealousy in his father.
"Ragnar was really the first pioneer of exploring other lands, but then Bjorn Ironside really took it to another level," Ludwig said. "The story's just begun, because what Ragnar's son did was incredible."
In coming episodes, viewers will get to see Ludwig in action as Bjorn learns to fight from his dad and his warrior uncle, Rollo (Clive Standen), as well as battle rival clans. (See the exclusive Episode 5 clip above.) Ludwig enjoyed training for the fight scenes, but said it was different from the fighting he's done in other productions.
"It's very much a schoolyard brawl. You can practice as much as you want but as soon as the director says 'action,' you're fighting 30 other guys," he said. "It's a shit show and you're just trying not to get hit."
Ludwig talked more about "Vikings," onset antics with other cast members and what "The Hunger Games" has done for him.
Let's talk about this new role of yours. How has it been playing older Bjorn?
It was amazing. The season premiere did exceptionally well for us. We were really happy about that. It looks like we'll probably do it again and it's been a great role for me. Just as an actor, I never thought I would ever do a TV show. Movies have always been where my heart is, but the truth is there's been such exceptional content on television.
It was the best choice I've ever made in my career because I still have grown so much as an actor being able to tell a story over time. It's been great and "Vikings" is such an intelligent show. We have a great writer and show runner in Michael Hirst. He did "The Tudors." He's a spectacular writer and it's a very character-driven show, which is what really attracted me to it in the first place.
Talking about doing a role over time and getting to live with this character: He's going to change a lot, isn't he?
Absolutely. I think the fans and the audience can really expect a lot to come of this character. ... When they first offered me the role I spoke with Michael and our historian. It's very interesting if you look at what this family did. Arguably the son of Ragnar Lothbrok—all his sons—went on to do even greater things than he did. ... And I hope that we'll be able to show that in the near future. It looks like we are going to so I'm very excited about that.
Is there a possibility that as the show goes on maybe Ragnar, Travis's character, is sort of less in the picture and it becomes more about the sons?
I never want really want to speak on behalf of any of the writers or anything, but I will say if you look at the history, the show is about Vikings and right now you're really getting the great story of Ragnar. I love Travis so much and I love what he's done with the character. I've learned so much from him. But I think you can definitely expect the show to really—it can twist on you any way. I talked to Michael, there are no limits to what he's planning on doing and nobody is safe. And all he's really trying to do is tell the story of how the Vikings lived. So as of right now it's really about Ragnar and his family. I think a lot is going to change in the next couple of seasons.