Alyssa Sutherland is in Los Angeles and in very good spirits when we speak, keeping busy doing publicity for season 3 of Vikings, already a ratings winner in the US. The acclaimed Norse historical drama, created and written by Michael Hirst, stars two Australians, Travis Fimmel as the legendary Ragnar Lothbrok whose saga the show is based on, and Sutherland as his second wife, the regal and prophetic Aslaug. “Yeah that’s really cool,” Sutherland says, “and it’s so awesome to work with Michael.”
If Hirst is to top the outstanding previous two seasons of Vikings, season 3 will certainly be spectacular, something Sutherland is sure of. “People are going to be blown away,” she says, “I can’t wait to see what the fans think of it. I think this is going to be the most entertaining season yet.” Sutherland is especially happy Vikings is televised first on SBS in Australia, making it accessible to all Aussies. “Oh absolutely. We’re very lucky we’re in so many countries now, and our fans are so passionate and excited, it’s just the best. The other day I was just wondering around and a guy came up to me and yelled ‘Yeah, Vikings!’ His excitement was so cool!” she says. The devoted fandom of the show is something Sutherland embraces and clearly appreciates. “It’s so lovely to know that we’re entertaining people and that they love what they are watching.”
So what can Aussies expect when Vikings returns? According to Sutherland, a lot of action and drama. “There’s a battle, which is obviously exciting, one of the things the show does really well is the battle scenes. But at the same time it establishes that most of the relationships on the show are in some kind of turmoil. I think if everyone was just happy with everyone else the show wouldn’t be interesting to watch.”
Sutherland first appeared in Vikings at the end of the first season, the image of her draped in a fishing net eating an onion now an iconic one from the series. After her relationship with Ragnar caused him to split with his wife Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) Aslaug had to win the support of viewers by establishing herself as a loyal wife and devoted mother. So what challenges lie ahead for the newly crowned Queen?
“I think that raising four children is a challenge in itself, and I think it’s one of the most relatable things for people to watch, even though it’s in a different time period,” Sutherland says. “People had different beliefs, different motivations in life, but there are aspects of humanity that are still relatable to our modern-day audience. Aslaug has four boys to raise, and one of them is seriously not well, and having a disabled son in that time period is something we really explore this season, and the struggles and challenges she has because of it.”
Aslaug’s determination to save her son from certain death despite his deformity and against the wishes of Ragnar will lead to tensions between the royal couple, Sutherland reveals. “I think her and Ragnar don’t agree about that, and that’s the real problem right there in the season opener. You kind of see that things aren’t quite right.”
I ask Sutherland about a standout and emotionally charged scene from season 2, where Ragnar tries to convince Aslaug their deformed son would be better off dead, and how much of a challenge that scene had been to film. “I’m actually glad you brought that up,” she says, “because you end up having so many things that you’re filming, there are moments like that you can forget about. We had an amazing director for that scene, Kari Skogland, and all I had to do was sit back and watch Travis. Kari really knew the sensitive subject matter that we were dealing with, and how to really portray that to people. That was a heartbreaking scene to film.”
Along with Skogland, Sutherland credits Hirst for the powerful scene, and especially Fimmel. “During that scene I was just sitting there and watching the struggle Travis was facing as Ragnar; it was just heartbreaking. It’s an effortless thing as an actress when you have such a great scene partner,” she says.
Despite the misgivings surrounding their relationship, Sutherland’s scenes with Fimmel have a unique dynamic, and I ask if both being Australian factors in that. “I think maybe we have a similar way of working as actors, and I know that I can trust Travis,” Sutherland says. “When someone says ‘Action!’ I know that all I have to do is be there, watch him and listen to him, because you know he’s going to bring it. A lot of it is effortless when you’re working with someone that really knows what they’re doing. And Travis is a great guy off set as well. And yeah, we’re both Aussies, we talk about meat pies,” she laughs.
Vikings is filmed in picturesque Ireland and with season 3 taking six months to film, Sutherland admits to missing her roots. “I do miss my family mostly because they’re still in Brisbane in Queensland. I’d love to see them more often but I’ve been really lucky as my parents and my sister both came to visit me and have seen the set, and I was super proud to show it to them.” Filming there has its perks though, “I get real Cadbury in Ireland, and that’s pretty cool because you don’t get it in the States,” she says. “I’ve had far too many Twirls while being there!”
Sutherland has also forged a close friendship with fellow Vikings co-star Maude Hirst who plays Helga on the show. “She’s my partner in crime, God I love that girl!” she says. And in season 3 the two friends finally get some quality screen time together. “We were super excited about that. And with Jessalyn (Gilsig) who plays Siggy, she’s awesome as well. On Vikings the whole cast is great, but to get some time with Maude and Jessalyn is really lovely.”
And what about working with Kevin Durand, who is set to shake things up as the mysterious ‘Wanderer’? “Kevin came in and it was wonderful working with him,” Sutherland says. “He’s an awesome guy. It was really funny actually, I ran into him on the street in Dublin before we actually met, and we looked at each other and I was like: ‘that’s an incredibly tall man in Dublin,’ and I knew it was someone from Vikings, and we were both like ‘wow’! And then we went to have a beer,” she laughs.
A wonderful aspect of Vikings is the telling of the stories from Norse mythology, something Sutherland also adores. “I love, love the scenes the show has regarding the telling of any stories about their Gods,” she says. “There’s a scene where I told a story to my two eldest boys, and that was one of my favourite scenes to film. And the rituals as well, in the first season there was the sacrifice, and also the ‘Blood Eagle’ episode in season 2; I think it’s some of the most riveting television that I’ve ever seen. And it’s great how it is done in a non-judgemental way – this is what these people believed in and we’re not going to tell people what we think about it – we’re just going to show you that this is what it was.”
For any Aussies who have yet to experience the show, Sutherland says they should get on-board, because it has something for everyone. “No matter what you like watching, there is something for you in Vikings. Whether you like watching incredible action sequences: the show definitely delivers. If you like relationship drama: that’s a really huge part of the show. And it’s a family saga, there is so much to it,” she says. “And I love the fact that we’re bringing an ancient culture to people, and we’re showing you what they believed in.”
That Sutherland’s breakout role has come via Michael Hirst, and Vikings having been received so passionately by fans and critics is something not lost on the former model whose passion has always been acting. “It really is a dream come true to have a job like this,” she says. “I worked really hard to be doing something that I’m really proud of and that I believe in. To have this is just awesome.”
Season 3 of Vikings begins on SBS on Thursday, March 19 at 8.30pm.