Bradley Freegard And Johannes Haukur Johannesson Talk Vikings: Valhalla – Exclusive Interview
Netflix’s “Vikings” spinoff series “Vikings: Valhalla” is full of characters based on important historical figures that lived almost one thousand years ago. Two of those figures are King Canute and Olaf Haraldson, men who were key figures during the Viking Age. In the show, Canute, the King of Denmark, and Olaf, a devout Christian determined to convert the Vikings, join forces to take on the English, even as they both use the war to pursue their own interests, which include power and wealth.
Bradley Freegard and Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson’s compelling performances as Canute and Olaf, respectively, bring color and tension to the world of “Vikings: Valhalla.” Freegard portrays Canute as a wise leader with a gift for bringing the fractious Vikings together. Considered and patient, his ambitions take him from Scandinavia to England and back. Meanwhile, Jóhannesson depicts Olaf as a man who believes his devotion to Christianity excuses a deep intolerance and questionable behavior. Something of a villain, he nonetheless heralds the coming of major changes to the world of the Vikings.
Freegard and Jóhannesson sat down with Looper for an exclusive conversation about how they developed their historical characters for “Vikings: Valhalla,” the rousing oratory of King Canute, Olaf’s dubious motivations, and the fun of filming the show’s exciting battle scenes.
Taking it scene by scene
You’re both playing historical figures. Did that influence how you developed the characters?
Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson: Well, yeah, I’m sure it must have. Ultimately, you are focusing on the story you’re telling within the show and the script you’ve got, but it is tempting to look up everything that has been written about the characters. In a way, that’s always going to sort of bleed in some way or another. Right, Bradley?
Bradley Freegard: Yeah, absolutely. You have to do your due diligence and make sure that you have a fair grounding and understanding of the historical character. But at the end of the day, you walk in on set and you can only do one scene at a time so you have to make sure that you are in the moment and paying attention to what you’re doing setup by setup, scene by scene, and hopefully developing the character true to the scripts.
King Canute's rousing speeches
Bradley, King Canute gives a lot of speeches to bring the factions within the Vikings together or to call out the English king. It can be very theatrical. Did you enjoy that aspect of the character?
Freegard: Yeah, I did. In “Vikings: Valhalla,” Canute, it’s one of his great powers really is that he is a good orator and he has the ability to deliver a speech and to bring people together, to motivate and to get people on side to his way of thinking and get the job done.
Jóhannesson: We in the cast, we loved hearing Bradley deliver speeches because whenever he has a speech, we have to listen to it 20, 30 times each time. Between takes, you would have people doing imitations of Bradley and having fun with it. It was great fun. [Laughs]
You always delivered 100%, Bradley, in any setup. Even when the camera wasn’t on Bradley, he would still be theatrical. “Friends, now it is our time to make history.”
Freegard: So you’re saying that people would do impressions of me. It wasn’t people.
Jóhannesson: All the time. You didn’t know that? [Laughs]
Freegard: Jóhannes. It was just Jóhannes. [Laughs]
Olaf's intolerance and the fun of big action sequences
Jóhannes, your character is this devout Christian. He can really seem intolerant a lot of the time, but…
Jóhannesson: Very much so. Yeah.
…he still agrees to fight with the pagans. How did you understand his different motivations?
Jóhannesson: I suspect him of not loving Jesus enough.[Laughs] I have a suspicion he might be using Christianity as a tool to gain power and control over people, to a certain extent. I think there’s also some true belief in him, but there’s also doubt and the sheer manipulation and using Christianity as a tool of manipulation.
The action in the show is remarkable and there’s so much variety to it. You’re on horseback, you’re in boats. What were those scenes like to film?
Freegard: Great fun. They’re as fun to film as they are to watch I would hope. We have some amazing sets being built, both in studio and on location. It’s a privilege to be on them and to work around them.
Jóhannesson: It’s other people who really have the job of making all of that work and then we show up and we are there for the ride and we try and deliver the characters and the story, but it is great fun and versatile. One day, you’ll be on a boat, and then the next day, you’re on a horse, and it’s very enjoyable, the whole thing.
This interview was edited for clarity.
The eight-episode first season of “Vikings: Valhalla” is now streaming on Netflix.