Profile Travis Fimmel
Despite the bad hair and learning lines in three languages, this Aussie actor is loving his role as a plundering Norseman, writes Debbie Schipp.
IT’S taken a decade for former Calvin Klein underwear model Travis Fimmel to become an ‘‘overnight’’ acting success.
The boy from country Victoria was listed as one of the next big things in the US in 2003 hot on the heels of his role in television miniseries Tarzan. He then costarred with Patrick Swayze in 2009 in television series The Beast, and has a string of movie roles to his credit.
But it wasn’t until he nabbed the lead role of Viking warrior Ragnar Lothbrok in hot historical drama Vikings that critics decided Fimmel, 34, had scored his ‘‘breakout’’ role.
Although you get the impression fame is far from the modest and unassuming Fimmel’s mind. Fact is, he’d just love to go farming. Speaking from the set of Vikings in Ireland, where filming is well under way for season two, Fimmel bats away any mention of the accolades he’s received for the show.
‘‘I was very fortunate to get the role. I have no complaints,’’ he says.
‘‘The scripts are brilliantly written. The creator, Michael Hirst, is hugely talented. So everything you need as an actor is in that script.’’
Fimmel’s challenge is to make his Viking warrior hero relatable – despite the Norseman reputation for raping, pillaging and plundering.
It’s meant a crash-course in what history is available about the fearsome warriors, which has proven an illuminating and fascinating study.
‘‘They were curious people, the Vikings. They wanted to know what else was out there in the world,’’ Fimmel says.
‘‘There wasn’t enough resources where they were from for them to survive with their population going up, so they had reason to go out and – well I’m not sure about the rape – but they had reason to go and plunder and discover new lands.
‘‘The thing is, they never read or wrote. So everything documented about them was documented by the people that they attacked, so you get this fearsome perspective.
‘‘So our job has been to humanise them a little. Try to put in context for people their beliefs and the reasons why they did what they did when they invaded.’’
While the warrior in his alter-ego Lothbrok may be fearsome, Fimmel says Vikings have their saving graces.
‘‘They love their children, they love their family and they want to help out their community,’’ he says.
‘‘It’s a very human trait that from a personal level everybody always thinks they are the one doing the right thing. Nobody actually thinks to themselves, ‘I am a bad guy’.
‘‘Look at the Vikings’ reference points that they lived by – it was an honour to die.
‘‘That’s why they were unafraid to die in battle – because it was passage to their own version of heaven.’’
He admires Lothbrok’s curiosity and his ambition.
‘‘Nothing’s ever good enough. He doesn’t do things by halves. He’s always trying to prove himself and better his life and better his family’s life,’’ Fimmel says.
‘‘He does some horrible stuff by today’s beliefs and, as an actor, it’s my job to make him likeable and get the audience, if not supporting him, understanding him – even though he’s attacking innocent people.’’
The athletic Fimmel, who excelled at AFL as a teenager and spent until he was 17 working on his parents’ farm (and still hightails it back there whenever possible to work), has no problems with the physicalities required to play Lothbrok.
‘‘I think Aussies always try to keep fit, and I just grew up doing physical work on the farm so it happens naturally,’’ he says.
The Viking combat scenes come easily, thanks to ‘‘great sword masters and choreographers on set’’, but he struggles to remember lines.
‘‘It’s like being at school and doing homework. I never liked school, so I don’t like doing lines,’’ he says.
The fact that those lines may be in any one of three languages – English, Saxon or Norse – only increases the frustrations.
‘‘During takes there are a lot of dialects,’’ Fimmel says. ‘‘And between takes, there’s a lot of very Australian dialect – swearing – from me.’’
Fimmel may like to disappear to the farm between roles, but while shooting Vikings he’s found it difficult to blend in with the crowd. That’s thanks largely to a hairstyle best described as out-of-control Mohawkmeets-mullet, complemented by an out-ofcontrol bushranger beard.
‘‘Well, yeah it’s pretty embarrassing,’’ he laughs.