Katheryn Winnick got a few words of warning when she signed on to play Lagertha in “Vikings,” the first scripted series from the History Channel.
“I was told this is a male-dominated network and the male demographic is stronger than female. This is a show about Vikings and you are just the wife. I remember thinking that was not the way I was going to play it,” Winnick says. “I had no idea that this character would end up being so complex and diverse.”
You wouldn’t think it possible that the blonde — who looks more suited for a runway than a fiord — would make her character a fierce shield maiden that is as tough and determined as any of the males around her.
In season three, beginning Thursday, Feb. 19, she continues to play the part with the same grit and determination. Lagertha has become a major player in the tale of Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) and the other Vikings who explored and plundered the world in the Dark Ages.
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“I am happy to see the response of the female viewers,” Winnick says. “There’s a huge fan base of young girls who look up to Lagertha. Mothers watch the show with their daughters. And guys are like, ‘I want to marry a chick like that.’”
The “chick” behind the role is a Canadian of Ukranian decent whose credits include “Bones,” “A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III” and “The Art of Stealing.” At the same time she was working on her acting skills, Winnick was training in martial arts.
The toughness Winnick brings to the role was the reason she had trouble with a story line in season two about Lagertha being in an abusive marriage.
“I had a hard time as an actress justifying why Lagertha would be in a relationship like that,” Winnick says. I remember calling (series creator) Michael Hirst and asking him if he really saw Lagertha doing that.
“He had an interesting response. She might have done it for her son or other reasons. It wouldn’t be realistic if Lagertha was this all-mighty person. How I want to play her is to show the vulnerabilities. And show the complexity of not everything being perfectly nice.”
Fans didn’t complain the relationship and were happy with the way she finally fought back. A few fans told her that they were so inspired by Lagertha they were able to leave their own abusive husbands.
Those are the reactions that remind Winnick she’s playing a woman who lived centuries ago but in many ways is contemporary.
“Lagertha is a very modern woman. She has to struggle with being a woman in power and how does she gain respect. And, there are certain elements with fertility, infidelity by her husband, being a single woman,” Winnick says.
The combination of complex stories with the filming that often includes freezing cold days, massive amounts of mud, huge action scenes and chilling rain of Irish winters makes “Vikings” too much for the weak of acting heart.
Winnick earned an appreciation of a hard work ethic because of the demands of the series. She’s come to the point where all of the brutal elements help her find the character with so much more ease.
If the series goes on for more seasons, she wants Lagertha to face highs and lows. That’s the only way she will find the character interesting enough to play.
The 10-episode third season will start with Ragnar leading his people to an uncertain fate on the shores of Wessex. King Ecbert (Linus Roache) has made many promises and it remains to be seen if he will keep them.
Winninck explains that Lagertha is in a very different place during the third season, marked by challengers with new people in her life.