In the hit HISTORY Channel TV series Vikings, there is never a shortage of conflict, not only between two characters but between groups of characters. Such confrontation often deals with the acquisition of wealth, land and power, but amidst all the warring, there is time for love and romance. In this week’s all-episode, Unforgiven (airing Thursday, April 3rd @ 10:00 p.m. EST), Bjorn, son of the show’s chief protagonist, Ragnar Lothbrok and his ex-wife Lagertha, shows more than just a passing interest in one of his family’s slaves, Porunn, and a relationship begins to develop. Of course, given the gap in their social status, there is bound to be some disapproval of such a match.
Playing Porunn and one half of this new romantic pairing is actress Gaia Weiss. Best known for her feature film roles as Mary Fleming in Mary, Queen of Scots and Hebe in The Legend of Hercules starring Kellan Lutz, Vikings marks her small screen debut. The charming French-born actress recently took some time out of her day to speak with me and other journalists about her work on the show. The following is an edited version of our Q & A. Enjoy!
How is your character introduced to this crowd of Vikings?
Gaia Weiss: Porunn is a slave to the Lothbrok family, so she’s been around, only you haven’t noticed her. Up to now she’s just been part of the background, but this week she’s introduced into the show when Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) begins to notice her.
Is this a good development for Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) and Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), or something that they don’t approve of?
GW: It kind of breaks or challenges the taboo or conventions, because Bjorn is from a higher rank and my character is a slave. At first, their relationship is a big secret, and given that Porrun has only really known brutality and life as a slave, she can’t quite believe at first that someone like Bjorn is genuinely interested in her. So things between them are quite complex.
How did you first become involved in Vikings and what was the audition process like for your character?
GW: This is going to be a very boring answer (she jokes), but last July I had come back to London after working on another project, and that’s when I auditioned for Vikings. They (the show’s producers) liked my audition tape and asked me to come in and read with Alexander Ludwig in order to see if we’d make a suitable match onscreen. That was that; happily it worked out and I was offered the job.
What was your first day like on the Vikings set?
GW: As is true of most jobs, my first day was really stressful. Most of the cast already knew one another having worked together on the show’s first season and the beginning of season two, so I then had to get to know everyone. My first day on-set was actually quite physical. You’re going to see it in my first episode; I spent the first day doing lots of sports and dancing, and it was a bit nerve-wracking dancing in front of everyone (she says with a laugh).
How physically demanding was your role on the show?
GW: I had just finished working on another physical project, the Hercules film. I spent many days training at the gym for that, and it was fun to watch as well as train with the rest of the cast. In Vikings, my role is quite physical because, as you’ll see in the first episode and as the season continues to unfold, if I’m not dancing or doing things like that, I’m carrying really heavy stuff, I’m a slave, so, yes, I had to build up some muscles.
What was it like just coming into the Viking world and becoming part of such an environment where you have all these colorful characters, terrific costumes and amazing sets?
GW: It was absolutely wonderful. Apart from the camera team and the crew, when you looked around you, it was a real village. It’s not green screen or blue screen. Everything is just like the real Viking world, and that makes it so much easier to act and really believe in what you’re doing.
Did you have any opportunity to interact with (series creator/executive producer) Michael Hirst?
GW: Yes, Michael was often on-set. When first I arrived, I had several questions about my character and he was always there to answer them for me.
Can you tell us a little bit about what Porunn is like and what motivates her as a character?
GW: She is really complex and challenging. Porunn isn’t quite 20 yet, because she’s supposed to be around Bjorn’s age. Her parents were captured in a raid, so therefore she has been a servant all her life. Despite her young age, the fact that she has been in servitude makes her far more mature than many others her same age. She’s pretty much already a woman. Porunn’s been through quite a bit, and like many of the other female characters on the show, she’s fascinated by Lagertha.
Does Porunn have any interest in becoming a shield maiden herself?
GW; Well, as a slave, I’m not sure it’s possible and it’s something really abstract, but she can certainly dream of it.
This show has a history of presenting really strong female characters, so how do you think Porunn fits into all the rest of them?
GW: I think Michael really wanted to explore the experiences of a woman such as Porunn, whose viewpoint is definitely different from many that we’ve seen, but, again, she’s definitely a strong individual. My character knows what she wants, but she still has to stay put because she’s a slave.
What was the most surprising thing that you learned about Viking culture and being a Viking woman from playing this type of role?
GW: My mother is very interested in Viking myths and I was raised on them. When I got this part I re-read The Sagas of Icelanders, which, to be honest, was mind-blowing. Those stories really inspire the show. On Vikings they talk of Oden and all these gods that watch over Ragnar and his people. What I learned recently, though, in doing my research is that women like Lagertha were typical Viking women of the time. They might not all have been going out on raids, but they were still kind of ruling in their own way.
Bjorn has always had this guiding force in his mother Lagertha and she’s been his rock, so how will Porunn compare? Will she need to compete with that? Will it be hard for her to measure up, so to speak, to Lagertha?
GW: Again, Porunn doesn’t really choose Bjorn, he chooses her, and I’d say that my character is fascinated by Lagertha. She’s a role model for Porunn, and they can’t really compete because my character is a slave.
Do you have a favorite scene from the Vikings episodes you’ve worked on so far?
GW: Because this is my first TV show, I experienced big scenes where you have five different plots happening, and that’s really new to me. In films, one scene serves a single purpose, but as you’ve already seen in Vikings you can have, for example, these big dinner scenes where you can see Siggy (Jessalyn Gilsig) talking about the problems she has, and Aslang (Alyssa Sutherland) alking to Ragnar, etc. Those types of scenes are complicated to shoot, and also very much fun at the same time.
Did you always want to work in this industry while you were growing up?
My family on my mother’s side were all political journalists, and I think she really wanted me to become a political journalist, too. I almost went in that direction, but I grew up acting. It was just a hobby when I was little. I started out as a stage actress in France, and I left the stage recently to begin working in films and on Vikings.
As noted above, photo by Jonathan Hession and copyright of HISTORY, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!