War­rior Women

Fe­males rule the world of His­tory’s “Vik­ings” — in front of and be­hind the cam­era

Variety - - Contents - Story by RANDEE DAWN

WHEN “VIK­INGS” PRE­MIERED on His­tory in 2013, au­di­ences were pretty sure they knew what they’d be tun­ing in to — a lot of red-bearded men in horned hel­mets do­ing bat­tle.

But by now, just weeks away from the bow of the sec­ond half of Sea­son 5, which starts Nov. 28 (a year af­ter the first half of the sea­son be­gan), au­di­ences have been schooled: The real story be­hind all the whiskers and war­fare is the Vik­ing women, as told by the women in the crew who helped bring them to life.

It’s only fit­ting: In Scan­di­navia dur­ing the Vik­ing age, which his­to­ri­ans date from the late 700s to the mid-1000s, women had equal­ity and power not found in other so­ci­eties of the pe­riod, in­clud­ing the right to di­vorce, in­herit prop­erty — and even be­come war­riors.

“I’ve done ‘The Tu­dors,’ for in­stance, with Henry VIII (played by Jonathan Rhys Mey­ers) and six wives, all sub­servient with no say,” says Jil Turner, “Vik­ings” set dec­o­ra­tor. “This was very dif­fer­ent. There was noth­ing fluffy at all here with the women.”

In­deed, fri­vol­ity has been pretty much nonex­is­tent in the “Vik­ings” world. From stunt per­form­ers to set dec­o­ra­tors, cos­tume su­per­vi­sors and de­sign­ers to the hair and makeup depart­ment, women have been a key part of the mix that brings fresh fo­cus on a so­ci­ety most view­ers have known only through car­toon stereo­types.

“The main thread [on the se­ries] is about broth­ers, but it’s re­ally about women be­ing at the head of the thing all along,” says cos­tume su­per­vi­sor He­len Mc­cusker. “It was fas­ci­nat­ing to me to work on such a blood­thirsty, ma­cho show — and that was the women!”

Cos­tumes were an im­por­tant el­e­ment in mak­ing a cul­ture that most view­ers weren’t deeply fa­mil­iar with look real­is­tic, which meant nearly ev­ery item had to be hand­made and/or hand- dyed. Com­ing up with a work­able ar­mor for women was a par­tic­u­lar chal­lenge.

“We molded wet leather onto [the ac­tors’] bod­ies, then dried it,” ex­plains Mc­cusker. “When you look at fe­male ar­mor, you’re look­ing at the shape of their bod­ies be­ing re­flected. We didn’t want them to look like su­per­heroes — it was based on

Bat­tle Ready Kath­eryn Win­nick’s braids are a sig­na­ture look on “Vik­ings.”

“It was fas­ci­nat­ing to me to work on such a blood­thirsty, ma­cho show — and that was the women!” He­len Mc­cusker, cos­tume su­per­vi­sor

how they would have done it at the time.”

Hair was also crit­i­cal to lend­ing a tough fem­i­nine look to the women — an an­swer to the fierce beards of the men. “We just wanted to give the women an edgier look, es­pe­cially for Lagertha [Kath­eryn Win­nick],” says hair de­signer Dee Cor­co­ran. “Her braids be­came her sig­na­ture look as a shield maiden.”

Of course, it’s not all been leather ar­mor and braids over the years; de­sign­ers have been able to dip into fur capes, gowns, ex­ten­sive jew­elry and even one glo­ri­ous wed­ding gown, re­plete with a hand-painted gold pat­tern, worn by Princess Gisla (Mor­gane Polanski) when she mar­ried Rollo (Clive Standen). It took more than three weeks to con­struct the gown, and ul­ti­mately it made just a brief ap­pear­ance on the show.

Ad­di­tion­ally, cos­tumes of­ten had to be re­lo­cated on short no­tice from the pro­duc­tion’s home base in Dublin to lo­ca­tions as far-flung as Ice­land or Morocco, with very lit­tle time al­lot­ted to ac­com­mo­date dif­fer­ent cli­mates and cul­tures. “We’ve of­ten been fin­ish­ing late in the night, pre­par­ing ar­mor to go on set the next day,” says cos­tume de­signer Su­san O’con­nor Cave. “It’s all hands on deck at those times.’

Some of the be­low-the-line women on the show are hired to put the var­i­ous looks into ac­tion. Stunt per­former Jor­dan Coombes has both fought as a char­ac­ter on the “Vik­ings” bat­tle­field and stood in for Win­nick on some of the trick­ier stunts. She says teach­ing the ac­tors to look nat­u­ral in their of­ten heavy equip­ment was an early chal­lenge. “There’s a lot of leather and tight-fit­ting cos­tumes, and when you have to carry a heavy shield in one hand and a sword in an­other and then re­mem­ber in­tri­cate [bat­tle] chore­og­ra­phy, it’s a lot,” she says. “But it’s so re­ward­ing, and it brings a lot of women out of their com­fort zone.”

In ad­di­tion, putting more women on the bat­tle­field has led to one un­ex­pected con­se­quence for Ire­land’s small stunt com­mu­nity — an in­creased need for fe­male stunt ac­tors. “When the show started, there were prob­a­bly only a cou­ple of women stunt per­form­ers in the coun­try,” Coombes says. “Sud­denly, there was this need for up to 20 women at a time who could bat­tle.”

Ul­ti­mately, it would be hard to imag­ine that Vik­ings — and “Vik­ings” — could have pros­pered with­out the strength of the women on the team — both out front and be­hind the scenes.

Quips Mc­cusker: “If any­one ever doubted the fact of ac­tual Vik­ing women in bat­tle, they can just look at the wardrobe depart­ment. [You’ll] get a glimpse at the strength and re­source­ful­ness of the fairer sex.”

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