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Vikings Interviewby Pattye Grippo    


This is an interview with Jessalyn Gilsig on February 21, 2013 about the show Vikings.

Can you tell us anything about why History has decided to go into a scripted series?

Jessalyn Gilsig:
Well I don't know if I could speak on behalf of The History Channel but I don't know, they didn't tell me but I think it's really exciting, I mean for me it's such a illustration of where television is and television right now is at such an exciting moment and people, viewers have been very specific about material that they respond to and there's so much choice now.

And it seems natural that The History Channel seeing so many period dramas that are doing so well on other networks, let's say hey we have this open audience of people who are passionate about history, let's marry that with scripted material and kind of give everybody the best of both worlds and it just seems like a good, natural evolution for television and one I think we all benefit from.

Can you tell me a little bit about your character?

Jessalyn Gilsig:
Sure. So I play Siggy Haraldson who is the wife of Earl Haraldson, played by Gabriel Byrne as we mentioned and it's such a fantastic gift this character, she comes in with a lot of backstory having lost their son in battle and having only a daughter and the Earl has not been able to - they haven't been able to produce an heir and so she's in an incredibly vulnerable and precarious position but that the way that we conceived of her was that she was also really has always lived a life of privilege and a life of power and status and it's incredibly natural to her, it's something that she feels she's inherently born in to.

And there are many, many obstacles that she encounters as the series goes forward as perceived but she's driven by this really inherent belief that she's a woman of importance and a woman who needs to survive and has incredible strength and conviction and I just felt very lucky to play her.

When you were working on this series, did you learn anything about Vikings that you didn't know before?

Jessalyn Gilsig:
Absolutely. I learned so much I mean I had to throw out all my preconceived ideas. From the vantage point of my character, one of the resources that they gave me was there had been a burial sight that they had found that would have been - they believed were the woman's - who would have been in my position, the wife of an Earl or somebody of great importance and a lot of what we learned was first of all that there's this stereotype of Vikings that they're sort of this filthy, ruthless, totally unkempt people.

And in reality we saw a lot of evidence that they practiced really good hygiene and this woman, you know, they always had a change of clothes, they were buried with a change of clothes and that a woman in her position had, you know, very intricate and complex hairstyles and that there was evidence that they had used kind of very primitive kind of make-up.

And so for me that suggested that as the day, a woman had a public face, that there was something very deliberate about her appearance and that she was communicating through how she chose dress and ordain, you know, and what she wore and how did her hair and sort of that sense of there being a public self was really helpful for this role and that all came out of artifacts that they had found in burial sights and information that was shared with us.

Question:Jessalyn Gilsig:
There were great challenges, you know, I felt really lucky that there's so much that I got to do in this that I've never done before but always, you know, when you become an actress it has a lot of the elements that you hope for as an actress. I mean anything from the period to the accent to as you say playing a role that doesn't even exist in modern society. And so to kind of find a way into the character but then to also make sure that these were human beings that had all the complexities of any mother, wife, woman and to kind of marry those two things.

I felt was the greatest challenge. I feel like Michael gave so many great markers for me to hit because I feel like the relationship with the Earl was so specific and wasn't just sort of man on a throne and the woman who sits beside him but more that there was a deliberateness and a specificity to what their relationship was made of.

And then they had a lot of touchstones as the mother with the character having lost her son and the vulnerability of her daughter and to marry her would be significant to how our position would evolve but then also, you know, the love of your child, you want to put your child in a healthy, respectful marriage. And so I love finding the balance of the culture, which was born from ours, but then the humanity, which is universal.

After doing Glee, Heroes, Nip/Tuck and more contemporary roles, what's it like to take on a project with so much history in it, especially filming in Ireland?

Jessalyn Gilsig:
When you come home as an actor and you're waiting to find out what your next move is going to be, you sort of try I guess make up what you would like it to be and Vikings, although I never imagined necessarily Vikings, but what I like so much about cable these days is that they're building worlds that are completely seamless and so thorough.

Where you can't feel the edges of the set and Vikings in a way fulfilled that dream of mine of that really they built the world and then we step into it and we have to kind of go through the looking glass into a different world and a different time. There's so much on this show that supports us as actors, the production design is absolutely transformative, the wardrobe, the commitment of the hair and make-up department, it's standard of the other departments and the determination to create a world that was - that the audience could buy into.

And that we would really love the expectations, it was kind of infectious and I think as actors in a way, we really leaned on those departments to kind of complete that picture and felt really lucky that we were supported that way because it was a big leap I mean, you know, taking on a subject that has a lot of preconceived ideas and then we're, you know, but we want to carry people into an experience where they can't feel when I finish watching Downton Abbey in Britain and then I go to bed, I find myself sort of moving like Lady Mary.

You want to bathe in that and I hope that we kind of give people that same experience where just for a second you're transported and then you have to bring yourself back down into reality.

Can you talk about kind of how you got the role and why you chose to do it?

Jessalyn Gilsig:
Well I heard about it, you know, as we always do through my agent and I heard that Gabriel Byrne was involved and that sounded really exciting and I had actually been thinking a lot about what I wanted to do after Glee and I had this kind of fantasy for myself that I would get involved in a show that I really associate with cable but are - and that are doing so well in cable like I think of Downton Abbey or I think of Breaking Bad or Sons of Anarchy, these shows where you can't feel the edge of the set.

Where you really feel like if you sort of went down the road and turned the corner, you know, is they would all, you know, even when we end the show life continues. You know, I think we all like to believe that there all in Downton Abbey right now and about to serve dinner and you just don't feel the, you know, you don't feel the construct and so to me I thought wow this is obviously this is a huge undertaking but we knew we were in good hands with Michael Hirst.

I just thought that would be scary but that could be kind of life changing to be able to participate in a show that was willing to take on the story of Vikings specifically for The History Channel where we knew that people's expectations would be very high.

I just wanted to know about working with such a great cast and your experience working with all of them?

Jessalyn Gilsig:
It is an exceptional cast and it's always exciting when people come ready to play because then you really, you know, it pushes you to push yourself and obviously, you know, I was really lucky I got the jackpot because I got to sit, you know, all day every day beside Gabriel Byrne and he really came ready to collaborate and that was such an exciting realization that I had when, you know, we really work together to figure out who this couple was and to make sure that it was very specific and very deliberate and that we had a lot to work with.

And that was amazing and then it was really fascinating for us to sit up on our thrones and then just be Travis and Katheryn who play Ragnar really sort of like the next generation and almost like the new order of Vikings and had a completely different approach to their ambitions and to their hopes, which sort of goes in contrast to a sort of a more traditional friend. And, you know, everybody just brought so much so you had so much to play against and that always, you know, makes you feel like you can take risks because everybody around you is going for it.

Would you say that your character is more of a bad girl than not?

Jessalyn Gilsig:
Well, she's not a good girl for sure, she's not a good girl but - yes, no I wouldn't play her if she was a good girl. She's, you know, she's a survivor and she's ambitious and I don't think that necessarily makes her a bad girl but it will make her controversial, which I always enjoy and I think it's just always entertaining.

So do you think that you at this point in your career you probably wouldn't play the, ???good girl????

Jessalyn Gilsig:
No, I played the, ???good girl??? before I guess, I mean maybe more sympathetic if that's what you're sort of asking, I always try to work a little contradiction into my characters, I just feel like sometimes, you know, women are sort of reduced to that kind of Madonna/whore kind of concept, you know and in reality of course anybody whose a woman knows that you got your good days and you got your bad days like anybody else.

So I like, you know, what I felt really lucky working with Michael and I think I've been lucky with a lot of other shows in I've worked where they are comfortable with the idea that we're not just one thing and we can be contradiction but I certainly have I think specifically like this film I just did Somewhere Slow I would stay in my character. Although she's got her shortcomings, is all-in-all sympathetic but then she's more the hero of the story.

When you're not playing the hero of the story then you have to know that you're always a foil for the good guy so to speak and I love playing that, I always think that that's an interesting place to be.

Did you have to do any kind of training or preparation for this role?

Jessalyn Gilsig:
Katheryn Winnick who plays the shields maiden so I think she did a lot of sword training, I did not. I, you know, we had the accent which we all had to immerse ourselves in and we all had to kind of say okay let's go for it, we're doing this and that was pretty exhilarating but no I didn't have any of the physical training that a lot of the other actors had.

Do you have any other upcoming projects besides Vikings?

Jessalyn Gilsig:
I do. I just wrapped an episode of The Good Wife, which I really enjoyed. I'm such a big fan of that show and there's a film that I produced that is going to be doing the festival circuit actually starting in March called Somewhere Slow. And I'm incredibly proud of it, I was a part of it since development and it was an amazing cast, we have Robert Forster and Lindsey Crouse and Graham Patrick Martin and Wally Langham and it's just something that's very special to me because it's the first time I've ever produced something.

And it was really fun as an actor to - you never - an actor you're never there, well I'm never there from the moment of inception, you know, where you see the last element to the final piece and so to be there from the very beginning and to help crew it up and build the days and be a part of the edit and the mix and the composer and all of that. It wasn't that I learned so much but I also learned how much I already knew and that was really satisfying after having worked in the business for so many years. I'm so excited for people to see it.

On set, are they strict with the script? Do you guys kind of adlib at all?

Jessalyn Gilsig:
No it is pretty strict, you know, if you, you know, maybe made a substitution here or there but for the most part when you're dealing with something like this and it's always exciting when you work on a show that's written by one person because you know that they're vision is so specific and I always think of it as a actor I would, you know, that it's my job, you know, when I'll say when you do a play you don't never act, you could change your mind and I like it when you work with a television writer who you think gosh this isn't sitting with me, that's my problem.

I need to find out why this person has chosen words to communicate this thought. So we stayed true to what Michael had written, we knew that he was very, very deliberate and that it was our job to kind of meet his material.

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