Vikings creator Michael Hirst is glad Aussie actor Travis Fimmel is no try-hard.
Hirst was without a leading man a week out from shooting the pilot for Vikings when Fimmel’s audition reel arrived.
Making no real effort to sound or look like a Viking, Fimmel delivered his lines with a broad Australian accent while standing in the kitchen of his family’s farm in country Victoria.
The next day Fimmel was on his way to Ireland to audition in front of Hirst as Viking warrior Ragnar Lothbrok, who yearns to raid the rumoured riches of undiscovered England.
Hirst says there was no shortage of actors for the role. It’s just that most tried too hard to be a stereotypical Viking for the series, which returns to SBS One on March 24.
That was exactly the opposite of what the UK writer and executive producer was seeking.
“I wanted a particular type of character, I didn’t want cliche,” Hirst says, explaining his frustration at the audition process from his home in the UK.
“Most people who read for the role were kind of shouting and saying, `I am a Viking’ but I wanted someone who is thoughtful and intelligent.
“I didn’t see the Vikings just as brutes.”
Before Fimmel’s audition, Hirst had earmarked someone else for the role of Ragnar but rejected that actor (whom he doesn’t name) on the advice of his wife, Deborah.
Deborah said she would not watch the series with “him” in it. So a week before filming was to start, Hirst told the show’s US executives they were without a leading actor.
“Travis’s tape came in the very next day, I think, and he had filmed it in the kitchen of his house and he didn’t dress up like a Viking,” Hirst says.
“He didn’t pretend he wasn’t Australian. He just did the scene very quietly and myself and the director, who is a Swedish guy, we said, `We think maybe we found him.’
“Everyone loved what he did when he came over to Ireland and we cast him, although a lot of people were full of trepidation. But he is perfect.”
Fimmel is not the only Aussie with a leading role.
Alyssa Sutherland plays princess Aslaug, who is also Ragnar’s love interest.
Hirst has an affinity with Australian actors. He wrote Cate Blanchett’s first Oscar-nominated role in Elizabeth, which also starred Geoffrey Rush.
He also penned Elizabeth: The Golden Age, for which Blanchett was again nominated for Oscar.
Like Elizabeth, Hirst has chosen a character with more than one story to tell. That means there are plenty of directions Vikings can take if it continues to be a success.
“I chose a character who had, historically, many sons and his sons became almost as famous in Viking legend as Ragnar himself,” Hirst says.
“If we do well with Ragnar we get on to his sons, including the improbably named Ivor The Boneless.”
* Vikings season two starts on Monday, March 24 at 8.30pm on SBS One