Vikings Interview: Katheryn Winnick on Playing Lagertha

History’s upcoming miniseries, Vikings will mesh historical accuracy and high-stakes drama this March and TV Equals was happy to learn more about the miniseries from Katheryn Winnick, who plays Lagertha. Read below to see what we found out during the conference call.

Who is Lagertha?

“I play Lagertha, who is a fierce shield maiden. She’s based on a real person, a real Viking, and a shield maiden is really a female warrior in the Dark Ages, in the Viking era,” said Winnick when describing her character. “Her role was to fight alongside the men in a shield wall and her specific role was to plug up the holes in battle when the Vikings were falling. And I play, also, a young mother and a loving wife who has a true partnership and equal relationship with her husband. She’s a very strong woman. She’s definitely modern for her time.”

Warrior lifestyle

The warrior spirit Lagertha has was very important to Winnick as she developed her portrayal of the character.

“The fact that she is a warrior–you can see that not only in the battlefield but you also see [it in] how she deals with her young children, how she deals with conflicts with her husband, how she deals with the community and different struggles to survive,” she said. “That spirit of combat was really important for me to find in Lagertha, because I think that’s really at the core of who she is. When I started doing my research on her, I fell in love with her. She’s such a strong, fierce warrior and definitely a forward-thinking woman for that era.

Researching Lagertha

Winnick’s fighting background helped her figure out how to enter into the mind of her character.

“I come from a martial-arts background, and for me, it was trying to figure out how I can relate to her. For me, it’s very different–one, she’s a Viking and there’s very little information on Vikings,” she said. “I had to do a lot of research and pick [Vikings creator] Michael Hirst’s brain…to try to figure out women and who they were in society [during] the Viking era. So, for me, since I had the martial arts background, I wanted to be able to add the spirit of combat and who she is as a person in her day-to-day life.”

Life mirrors art

Winnick’s time on set probably mirrored Lagertha’s life in many ways, one way being that Winnick was surrounded by tough men.

“You know, when I first got on set in Ireland, I was the only girl. I was surrounded by 14 Viking men, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this sounds and feels familiar,'” she said. “I grew up in a martial arts gym surrounded by guys and men and boys and I pretty much call myself a tomboy, so it was a little bit of getting used to…but I think it really helped with the character and…who she is, since she is a shield maiden, and I know at the time, women were actually allowed to fight on the front lines with their husbands and brothers and other men. So, it was nice to be able to mirror that and get a chance to hang out with these guys and see them after work and on set.”

Viking history

Winnick said her favorite part about Vikings is the research that went into the miniseries’ creation.

“I guess my favorite part…is learning about the Vikings and who they were and the history of it. That’s what’s so great about this being a historical drama. You really get an intimate look at the Vikings and the family life and how they lived their day-to-day lives,” she said. “It was interesting to learn about the mythology and the fact that they were pagan and believed in many gods and they believed that gods walked among themselves…For me, it was…such a gift to be able to immerse myself in what Lagertha would have been and how she lived her life, how she spoke an the language. For me, it was a real treat.”

Winnick’s favorite scene

There’s one scene that really sums up how Winnick feels about Lagertha and her relationship with her husband, Ragnar [Travis Fimmel].

“…There’s a scene where [Ragnar] tells me that I can’t go on a raid because I need to take care of the family and take care of the farm because farm was at [risk] of…being taken over. And my character…is one not to just sit…she definitely has a strong voice and what I’m specifically talking about is when she shows up and really beats him up with her shield and her sword,” she said. “They have this lover’s quarrel…and they actually start punching each other and snapping at each other in between kisses. I just think that that specific scene shows their chemistry, their flirtiness, but also who they are in the fact that they’re equals and partners and she’s one to stick up for what she believes in and will fight and won’t stop at anything to get what she wants.”

Vikings airs on History March 3 at 10/9c.