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George Blagden Talks About His Character Athelstan From History's 'Vikings'

Alan Danzis Alan Danzis
March 11th, 2013 10:00am EDT

George BlagdenLast night, viewers met Athelstan, a monk that is taken prisoner by Ragnar on HISTORY’s Vikings show. Over the course of the next few episodes, he’ll develop a unique relationship with Ragnar and the rest of his family.

To learn more about his character, I recently spoke with his portrayer, George Blagden, over email. Here’s what we discussed.

Tell us who your character is and where he fits in?

Athelstan is an Anglo-Saxon monk captured by Ragnar Lothbrok on his first raid to the West. He becomes Ragnar’s slave and then has to adapt to the very alien world of Scandinavia, a place he’s not known before.

How did you first get cast on Vikings?

I had an audition with Frank Moiselle in London and it was my only audition. I conducted one taping and the offer came a week later.

When I got to Ireland, Michael Hirst (creator/writer), Morgan O’Sullivan, the Vikings producer, along with one of the series directors, Johan Renck, told me they had watched the taping, noting that sometimes the character they’re looking for “just walks through the door.”

To them, I was Athelstan. I was wondering why I hadn’t had follow up meetings with the creative team and that’s why. It ended up being an easy decision for them for which I am eternally grateful not to have to go through a long drawn-out casting process. They are truly wonderful people to work for.

How would you describe your character's feelings towards Ragnar when he first gets taken and then later on?

It really is the whole “master/slave” relationship, which is a quite complex one because although he takes me back to Scandinavia as a slave, he did save my life. So while I’m resentful of Ragnar for keeping me in captivity, there is also a huge amount of respect for the man who allowed me to live.

(POSSIBLE SPOILER AHEAD)

In one of the earlier episodes, Ragnar and his wife proposition your character for a three-way.

He resists, but he looks awfully tempted.

Do you think as he spends more time with the Vikings he might start to let go of some of his “monk” ways?

Well…what I will say about that…it was fascinating talking to Michael Hirst about how strongly the Viking culture influenced other societies around the world at that time. When the Vikings started to colonize the UK and set up their own towns, etc. the Anglo-Saxon inhabitants in the UK at that time very quickly started to take on their fashion, their facial hair, their diet. The Vikings life was a very influential one.

Knowing that and knowing Athelstan has been thrown into this pagan, foreign world, I can only say that even the most religious of men are still human.

Describe the production of Vikings. Is it filmed somewhat on location? And did you really have to shave your head that way?

This was filmed in Dublin, Ireland, as well as at Ashford Studios, thirty minutes south of the capital city. The location was gorgeous with the mountains around us. One day I really hope to go back to that country.

As far as shaving my head, yes, I really had to have it shaved. Before I arrived at location, I asked Eddie Redmayne of Les Miserables about this since he had played a monk on Black Death and he used an actual bald cap on his head. He told me not to worry since they’d likely use a bald cap.

Next thing you know, I was told they were flying me to Dublin for a “haircut,” and I’m in the chair, with the director overseeing the process and saying “bigger, bigger…,” referring to the circle on my head. It was surreal!

The fact is however, I wouldn’t have done it any other way. It really helped me get into character.

I've only seen the first five episodes, but give us a tease what fans can expect towards the end of the season?

You’re halfway through and you’re really starting to see the extent of how different and life-changing this is for Athelstan. He’s only really beginning to wrestle with his faith. He’s holding onto Christianity and operating as an Anglo-Saxon monk in a pagan society.

This is just the start of the incredible mental journey he has to go on throughout the series. In every episode you will think you’ve seen everything you’ll need to know about this character and about the Vikings culture…until the next episode airs!

Vikings is a bit of an experiment for HISTORY. What's one or two things would you say to get someone to watch it for the first time?

This series is hugely original, which is a hard thing to accomplish on the screen.

When you watch Vikings, you start experiencing the world Michael Hirst has created and it feels very different than anything you’ve seen before – different from any preconceived notions.

You “thought” you knew who the Vikings were. You didn’t. The only way to know who they are for sure, is to watch!

George Blagden

Photo Credits: Jonathan Hession / HISTORY