ADTV talks to Vikings creator Michael Hirst about his on-going vision for the History Channel series
Michael Hirst is in the UK talking about the recent election results — not just in the UK, but the surprise results here in the USA.We talked about assimilation and the wave of anti-immigration sentiments being publicly expressed. “Well, you know they came over. Ragnar’s vision was to find ways of settling in good agricultural land. They were absorbed into European culture and they have affected our lives ever since,” Hirst said before we start talking about Vikings.
Politics proved something Michael and I could discuss for a long time, but we shifted the conversation to talk about his work on History Channel’s Vikings. The show consistently ranks as one of the top ten shows on cable TV and pulls in an average of 4 million viewers. Created by Hirst, Vikings is based off his interest of and extensive research into Alfred The Great and tells the remarkable tales of the lives and adventures of the explorers of the Dark Ages.
I caught up with Michael Hirst to find out more about his vision for the series and his plans for the continuation of Vikings Season 4.
Michael Hirst, you created Viking fever. There’s a lot of excitement for the new season.
One of the reason is we have two figures on the poster that was used in the promo. One is Ragnar, the other is his son, Ivar The Boneless. Ivar is coming and going to be one hell of a new character. He turned into one of the most famous vikings of all time. Can you believe that he was a cripple?
How do you manage to create these characters who are so relatable given that they are hundreds of years old?
That’s my belief that I want to connect the past to the present. I grew up watching these dreadful BBC dramas and I had no sense of it. The past is a continuum. We are all part of the past and these people are surely like us in so many ways. My whole effort is to make these characters and their issues relevant to today, and reverberate it to audiences today.
Even if it’s someone like Elizabeth the I who inherited her father’s business. With Vikings, think about a quiet, introverted guy who’s curious about the world. Ragnar thought he was descended from Odin. Here’s Ragnar who’s motivation is curiosity, and who knew that he’s a family man who loves his wife and kid. I want people to engage at that human level because history is quick. The distance between us, Romans and Vikings is very short actually. I want people to realize these were humans behaving in a human way, even if their beliefs were different.
I feel very passionate about it. I hate watching those BBC shows where they spoke a different, dead language.
How do you adapt this material for TV?
We actually know a lot. I have a historical consultant. Out of my research comes the storylines and characters. I tried to understand what their ambitions were. For me, that’s an important process because I’m dealing with real people. I’m not dealing with fantasy. These people affected how we live. I tried to also be authentic as I could be. As I’m writing drama and not documentary, I also had to be entertaining.
I grew up in York, and it was a viking town. A lot of the villages near where I grew up had viking names. We shoot the show north of Dublin, which is a Viking town. Our laws and their DNA is flushing all over the place. When I sold it to History. I told them to go down to the street, to walk two blocks, and that they would have met twenty vikings. Their influence was huge, so the past is always with us.
To give you another example, when we shoot, I have an apartment just outside Dublin where Enya has a castle. I’m looking out at the sea and I know in the viking age, the vikings used to come and collect women and they’d wait for ships to take them to Iceland to breed with Scandinavian men. The DNA in Iceland is significantly Irish, and I’m living on the point of history.
A lot of Irish women were kind of attracted to Vikings because they were clean. They suffer from this image of being hairy and violent, and that’s a propaganda image, but actually they always traveled with a change of clothes, they always washed their hair and beard, and Irish women didn’t mind that.
How was working on Vikings different with The Tudors?
There was too much information with The Tudors. The way I had to shape the stories on top of a huge amount of information. Tudors, for me, was more about the wives of Henry the Eighth. It was more about the women. The History Channel is a male skewed channel, but I was determined to introduce women characters. Lagertha is this amazing maiden, wife and warrior. The show actually has a huge female following that I’m really proud of.
The other aspect is I’m very involved in the spiritual aspect of what I write. With The Tudors, there was the conflict of Catholicism and Puritanism. In Vikings, it’s the conflict between the pagan Gods and the Christian Gods. I don’t think I could have written without getting involved with those conflicts.
What else can we expect over the remainder of Season 4?
Just about everything is a spoiler. It’s the most momentous and emotional season that we’ve done so far, and it’s huge in every way. All the major characters have changes in their lives. It has two of my favorite episodes ever that involve Ragnar.
Michael Hirst’s Vikings airs Wednesdays at 9pm ET on The History Channel.