The History Channel’s Vikings has been a hit with audiences thanks to its historical accuracy and interesting characters. With the show recently renewed for a second season, star Jessalyn Gilsig talks to CableTV about her role as Siggy Haraldson.
Q: How did you get involved with Vikings?
Gilsig: Well, it went quite quickly. I read the script, and I knew that Gabriel Byrne was attached, and they asked me if I wanted to play the role. It was all moving very, very fast. It was like, “If you do this, then you are leaving for Ireland in the next couple of weeks.” It was a bit of a leap of faith, but I knew creator Michael Hirst’s work (The Tudors) and I was also familiar with Gabriel Byrne’s work, so I thought there were enough elements to take the chance.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your character?
Gilsig: I play Siggy Haraldson. When the show begins, I am Earl Haraldson’s wife. We are the ruling family at the time. We have a really interesting back story in that we had three children and our two sons were killed in battle. We haven’t been able to produce another heir, so we are extremely vulnerable. Siggy knows how vulnerable her family is. She is a real survivor, so when things fall apart and her husband is killed by Ragnor, the ambitious upstart, she is determined to stay alive and stay relevant. It’s a great, fantastic role. I am so lucky to get to play her.
Q: How is this production differ from other shows you’ve been on, including Glee and Friday Night Lights?
Gilsig: I think with those two shows they built such specific worlds and they were so specific with their tone. So much of working on Glee, for example, was figuring out the tone of the show and finding the comedy, but having it grounded in something real so the audience could become attached to it. Then with Friday Night Lights, it was high naturalism and we really had to feel like everything was not scripted, but was actually being born out of the moment. When you are an actor, you have to really work to understand what the tone of the world is that you are joining.
Vikings is so very specific because it’s a period piece and you are dealing with such high stakes. At the same time, you are dealing with all the scenes that any story telling deals with: Love, loss, hope, jealousy. I was excited to play Siggy because a lot of the characters I have played recently have been very agitated and impulsive—people who really act before they think and kind of make a mess of things. I feel like Siggy is so confident, calm, and calculated. She knows how to pace herself. It’s fun for me to play someone who is really present in the scene but doesn’t have to make an impression. Her mere presence tells you she is gathering information and she is going to make a decision that she feels is right.
Q: How is it working on a period piece verses doing comedy or a dramatic role? How does it differ as an actor? What do you do to prepare to go back in time?
Gilsig: We were so lucky because, in this instance, I feel like the tone and the world was established so thoroughly by the production and the costume design and the hair and makeup. From the moment we showed up, we were given the message that we were going the distance. This is not glossy, this is not going to be your Hollywood fantasy. You are going to get dirty.