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The Real Vikings: Clive Standen Interview

Clive Standen examines a Viking sword

The Real Rollo

The Real Vikings, is a companion documentary that investigates the history behind the drama series featuring stars of the show, Maude Hirst (Helga), Alyssa Sutherland (Aslaug), Katheryn Winnick (Lagertha) and Clive Standen (Rollo).

We spoke to Clive about the historical portrayal of the Vikings, Norse myths, his favourite outfit in the show and what it was like visiting Rollo’s tomb in Rouen.

The first thing you notice talking to Clive about the Vikings is how passionate and knowledgeable he is about the subject. In the first moments of our chat, he launches into discussing the Lindisfarne raids, why Rollo is depicted so favourably in history and where the Vikings reputation as bloodthirsty savages sprung from.

Clive has spent five seasons inhabiting this world of bloodshed and battles and admits filiming documentary helped him understand Rollo better. Clive explains it was a much more meaningful experience being able to immerse himself in the history of Rollo now, having played him for so many years than if he was fresh to the role.

In Age of Invasions, Clive visits Northern France where he gets to hold an actual Viking sword. This fearsome weapon is now just a husk, delicate and light to hold, that would crumble to dust in the hand of mighty Rollo. It is a magical moment where you see an actor and his subject connect over a thousand years of history.

Rollo is a surprisingly more complex and nuanced character when you look at him through the eyes of history. Here we have a Scandinavian pagan who ends his life as a French noble, at the head of a line that will culminate in William the Conqueror and eventually through variation circumlocutions to England’s current monarch.

Clive describes the process of playing Rollo, as rather like smashing the image of Duke of Normandy into a thousand pieces which are gradually reassembled over the series. It must have been great fun having this noble destination in mind, playing scenes in which Rollo’s behavior is anything but royal -  for instance when he scales Paris’s ramparts unleashing bloody hell against his future subjects. How to get from this ‘renowned wolf’ with man-bun, leather trousers and Viking axe – Clive’s favourite outfit in the series by the way - to head of a French royal line.

The documentary talks about how Rollo is a more sophisticated kind of Viking and there is a lot of fun in season 4 where Rollo has a right royal makeover where he’s given a good wash, puts on a gold-laced tunic, has a hair cut and learns the Frankish tongue. This refined image of the Duke of Normandy is partially reconstructed.

For Clive, it is not a greater sophistication than lets Rollo take on this foreign culture but more a determination to what is necessary. Whether that is being baptized, betraying his brother, becoming a noble lord, learning Frankish or sailing off to fight the Moors – Rollo just does what has to be done.

The Real Vikings does not just focus on the Vikings history of warfare but also investigates their culture and religion. The favourite location Clive visited for the documentary was Iceland where he learned more about Viking religion

Sitting in a great house, while the tales of the sagas are recounted in Old Norse in the sputtering firelight, must have been a remarkable moment for Clive who mused on the nature of the Norse religion.

Travelling across this inhospitable icy expanse with four hours of daylight, the Viking-age traveller would rely on the hospitality encountered along the way in longhouses such as the one Clive visits.

To be invited in, you needed a good story to to entertain your hosts. This is where the rich tales of gods and dwarves would have sprung from. The exploits of Woden and Thor must have had their genesis in the mind of a weary traveler in an inhospitable environment literally singing for their supper. Stories shared and embellished, woven together  around the flickering flames of a Viking longhouse.

For an actor, it must focus the mind somewhat this idea of your life depending on a good performance. But with The Real Vikings and its evocation of this mythical race of people who had such an impact on the real world from Scandinavia, to France, to Britain and even America, there’s no risk of anyone being left out in the cold.