You might not be familiar with the name Travis Fimmel yet, but after the debut of History Channel's "Vikings" (Sunday, March 3 at 10 p.m. EST), you'll probably have a lot to say about the blue-eyed Australian, who first gained attention for his six-figure modeling deal (and accompanying underwear campaigns) with Calvin Klein in the early aughts.
Fimmel parlayed billboard notoriety into a number of short-lived TV and independent movie roles, playing the titular character in The WB's "Tarzan" in 2003, and starring alongside Patrick Swayze in A&E's "The Beast" in 2009. It's History's "Vikings" that should provide Fimmel's breakout role, however.
Created by Michael Hirst, "Vikings" is the latest in a long line of lavish historical adaptations from the writer-producer, whose credits include the Oscar-winning film "Elizabeth" and the decadent Showtime series "The Tudors." As History's first scripted series, "Vikings" has similarly striking production values, shot amid lush greenery in the wilds of Ireland, replete with misty hills and expansive lakes to add a mythic atmosphere befitting a culture that worshipped gods who commanded the elements, like Odin and Thor.
The nine-episode series focuses on legendary Viking figure Ragnar Lothbrok (Fimmel), a "curious and adventurous" soul who yearns to explore outside the borders of the Norse raiding routes decided by Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne), the local chieftain who possesses a fleet of ships and an iron will.
"[Ragnar] is one of the first Vikings to emerge from the Dark Ages, around the 8th century. And he is very defiant and curious in his nature and he wants to expand his people’s culture," Fimmel explained when talking to HuffPost TV via phone. "And the best way to do that, he feels, is to go Westward ... That causes a lot of conflict with the traditional Earl that runs the village where he lives. So they go West and ... rape and pillage, I guess."
The main attraction of the role, Fimmel said, was that it felt entirely new: "I wanted to do it because I've never seen a show about Vikings, so it was very exciting to do something nobody has ever done. Michael Hirst is such a talented man, so I was very lucky to get the job."
Surprisingly, the Australian also had very little time to prepare, since he won the role only a week before shooting began. "I just read a lot about it and talked to the director and the writer a lot and that’s about it," he said. "Just as much research as I could in that short amount of time."
While the series is obviously a dramatized version of historical events, the actor said that Hirst did his homework while penning the scripts. "it is a drama so we certainly take liberties, because there is nothing written down during that time period. So nothing is one hundred percent accurate," Fimmel explained. "It’s based on the best evidence and source of material that the writer could find."
While Fimmel described co-star Byrne as "amazing" to work alongside, he did admit that Earl Haraldson would be Ragnar's direct opposition over the course of the first season, especially as our hero starts breaking more of Haraldson's rules to quench his thirst for exploration. Ragnar may even have designs on the Earl's title. "It’s more that he can do what he wants if he is Earl and he can get more boats built and use that to go West," the actor said. "So he certainly wants to be Earl, just for the power and the resources he gets when he becomes an Earl."
One of the most compelling aspects of the first few episodes is the unexpected friendship that Ragnar forms with Athelstan (George Blagden), a naive Christian monk whom Ragnar captures during his first raid on England.
"George Blagden is a great actor," Fimmel enthused. "And [Athelstan] can educate Ragnar on the traditions of the Saxons and about the West; he’s a real resource to Ragnar on the land [and] the language. He’s just the greatest knowledge to have around. Ragnar is so curious about everything. So the priest has a lot to do with where they raid next."
Athelstan's beliefs will also be a source of fascination for Ragnar, who is thrilled to discover how much wealth Christian churches possessed back in the Dark Ages while on his raiding missions. "Ragnar is descended from Odin, who is the god of slain warriors and curiosity. In legend, it said that Odin actually hung himself just to see what death felt like -- that’s how curious he was," Fimmel said. "So Ragnar is very curious and he will do anything to learn more; and he is intrigued by other gods, and what other gods can do. Religion is such a path with people ... If he can make decisions based on religion, it helps to get the population of that religion to follow you. So it’s a smart business move to believe in somebody else’s god."
The dynamic between Ragnar and his less noble brother, Rollo (Clive Standen) is another interesting facet of the series, and Fimmel promised that there will be tension between the pair as the season progresses: "Ragnar’s brother Rollo isn’t quite as much of a thinker as Ragnar ... he does stuff the quick way instead of the intelligent way. They have a little conflict between who is running the show."
As for what else fans can expect as "Vikings" goes on, Fimmel was reluctant to give too much away, instead promising, "It just keeps building. There's so much drama in the last four episodes ... I was so excited to read the next script and the next script and the next script."
"Vikings" premieres Sunday, March 3 at 10 p.m. EST on History Channel.
Will you watch "Vikings"?