Dork Shelf sat down with Clive Standen to chat about his love of Vikings, how he feels HISTORY’s Vikings tells a great story, and what’s next for his career.
Did you know Vikings wouldn’t dare to drop their nail clippings on the ground? Lest the trickster god Loki recruit them for his longboat. A longboat made completely of human fingernails. And the Vikings just could not have that and so instead they would burn them, or keep them in precious lockets? Did you know these Vikings believed the wind, when it blew on your face, was the product of an eagle perched on the great tree Yggdrasil who flapped its wings to produce everything from a summer breeze to a gale force burst? Or, that the morning dew on shimmering grass was but sweat from the horses of the fighting gods? Did you know that? I do, and do you know why? Clive Standen told me.
And Clive Standen is fucking serious about Vikings.
History Come To Life
“I’m a bit of a history buff,” says the Vikings star. That might be a bit of an understatement given that Standen not only did “hundreds of hours of research” to aid in his portrayal of one Rollo, brother to possibly-to-be-usurped Ragnar Lothbrok. “I’m quite possibly the best person to be in your Viking trivia team.” Standen quips.
The British actor actually travelled to Iceland to visit the ancient grave of the man he portrays. Fittingly, and ice storm hit during his stay and Standen reflects poetically on how he and his professional guides swapped stories to pass the time, not unlike the era of the Vikings when, “They would turn you away unless you had a good story to tell.”
It’s true that hundreds of years later, a good a story is still worth its weight.
He’s fascinated by the idea of how the illiterate Vikings were written about. Quite misrepresented as raping marauding savages, he might say. I mean, they killed a WHOLE bunch of folks, but one interesting thing is victors often write the history; however, the Vikings are an exception to this rule. The HISTORY show, in Standen’s mind, is a way to have a closer look at a misunderstood people who are often portrayed as murderous brutes — “They did do some terrible things, though” Standen was quick to add. I mean, his character Rollo rapes and murders.
One Man’s Imagination
Standen’s passion about working on a show in the world of warring gods, sea voyages, and conquering of new lands has him in his own personal Valhalla. “It’s not like Game of Thrones where it’s one man’s imagination put through novels. This was a culture that believed in these things.” Vikings is different form GoT in that Vikings is a historical fantasy and GoT is simply fantasy. However, both series share the similarity they are both conceived and written by the same man; to date, all the episodes of Vikings have been written solely by series creator Michael Hirst.
Clive leans in and speaks, clear and booming and yet on the cusp of breathlessness, in his British lilt. He impresses upon me with the upmost importance that the Vikings were subject to Christian propaganda. “Do you know where the saying ‘Cut your nose to spite your face’ comes from?” he asks me with — and I swear to god — a twinkle in his eye.
“It’s from the Vikings! But of course it isn’t.” he goes on, “There’s a story about the nuns who lived in a nunnery […] Mother Superior saw these bearded Viking crazies coming from the sea ready to rape all the nuns and she said to the nuns if you want to protect your virginity and stay virginal for god then you need to but the end of your nose off and split your lip. So when these Vikings clap their eyes on you they’ll be so appalled that you’ll keep your virginity intact. So when the Vikings slammed down the door of this nunnery they saw these grotesque women that had cut their face to pieces. So they didn’t touch them and instead they burnt the nunnery and burnt all these nuns alive. Hence, they cut their noses to spite their faces.”
“It’s obviously not true because who would know if everyone was burned? Who was to tell the story?” We laugh.
“Drama is built on conflict” he goes on to commend Vikings series creator Michael Hirst in his “Hitchonian writing” with what Standen regards as different from other cable shows that have too much sex and violence that doesn’t move the story forward. He points to the episode “The Blood Eagle” wherein the blood is offstage, “Use the audience’s imagination against them.”
Vikings returns in 2017 to the HISTORY Channel, and the Irish-Canadian co-production isn’t the only connection Standen has to the Great White North. “I’m Canadian now, I’ve got my Social Security Number and everything.” Standen is living and filming in Toronto, the new series Taken based on series of films with Liam Neeson.
Maybe for those of us living in The Six, we should start a Viking trivia club for him to join?