"Vikings" interview with Ivan Kaye

September 11, 2017 | Season 4 of the History tv show "Vikings" shocked its audience with the brutal death of the main hero Ragnar Lothbrok at the hands of his Saxon nemesis King Aelle of Northumbria – masterfully brought to life by British actor Ivan Kaye. Due to his role as the killer of the hero King Aelle is widely perceived as the main recurrent villain of the first 4 seasons of the show. But is he really? Interviewed by Susanne Kurz, co-admin of the official Facebook fan page Ivan Kaye Fans, Ivan Kaye talks about his take on King Aelle, killing Ragnar and his personal relation to the Vikings.

Foto: Ivan Kaye - Copyright: Chris Lopez
Ivan Kaye
© Chris Lopez

Note: The interview contains spoilers from later "Vikings" season 4 episodes.

Here's a German translation of the interview.

As King Aelle in Vikings you finally got the chance to torture and kill Ragnar Lothbrok in the last season. How did you feel about that?

As King Aelle, I had long waited to avenge the murder of my people and the desecration of my churches. As a devout Christian the blasphemous excesses of the pagan brutes offended and threatened the beliefs that our kingdom relied upon. It was a violent and unsolicited attack by heathens and impossible to ignore, and demanded a forceful response or lose all credibility. As information of their continued violence was learned, the need to exact revenge grew and grew. As the king, there was no option but to destroy Ragnar and reveal him as a mere pagan who opposed us and God. Originally I was to kill him in Season 2, but focus groups decided otherwise!

Did you enjoy shooting these scenes?

The scenes of Ragnar's torture and death were perfectly enjoyable as an actor, tempered only by the inevitable inclement weather.

King Aelle didn't have much to do with Ragnar for many years. Why did his hatred for Ragnar never subside?

When such offence has been visited on your family, people and faith, the thirst for revenge just grows and grows. When the focus groups decided Ragnar could not die so early, King Aelle had to be virtually put on hold as historically there was little else between their attack and my revenge.

Why was it so important for King Aelle to make Ragnar repent, what does the prayer scene before the execution show us and, by killing Ragnar, did King Aelle finally get what he wanted?

To maintain a king's dignity, there was no alternative. Rather die than lose respect. I had to trust my faith and hope to be protected by God. I was impressed by Ragnar's commitment to his cause but there was no option and my people needed to witness his humiliation to show them he was mortal.

As the killer of Ragnar King Aelle was perceived as the main recurrent villain in the show, but some people dispute his villain status with good reasons. What is your view on King Aelle as a villain?

I don't believe that Aelle is the villain at all. Much like boarding school, brutal punishments and practices were employed to ensure discipline. The snake pit was merely a gadget and powerful incentive to play with a straight bat. You may think Aelle a dinosaur, but he was simply a man of his time.

One aspect of King Aelle's behaviour that didn't gain him any sympathy with a modern audience is the way he treats women, especially his daughter Judith. Can you shed more light on his relationship to women in general and to Judith in particular?

In those days children were to do as they were told. To have a King's daughter flagrantly disobey and bring shame on her family was beyond ignoring. She was married well to a heroic man, but cheated with her own father in law, who was clearly my enemy and then was thinking Ragnar to be some holy man even though he slaughtered her uncle and attacked our kingdom! Aelle had a loving relationship with his wife and a typical troubled time with his teenage daughters. I wouldn't be surprised if a less tolerant King would have dispatched Judith at the first signs of rebellion.

King Aelle is displayed as a very conventional medieval thinker who is trapped in traditional thought patterns and a literal understanding of religious commandments which he defends with special zeal. Why is he such a zealot and what meaning and/or function has religion for King Aelle?

In those days religion was a handbook of rules, no interpretation was considered. In order to maintain order and structure, the Bible was adhered to without qualification. It was a cold brutal difficult time and life was short. Faith and rules were hung onto in the hope that God would keep you safe. The monarch and church controlled the people. As for being stuck in traditional interpretations, there were no alternatives. As far as I was concerned, we were following the only God. Suddenly some fearless fiends desecrated our church and slaughtered our God-fearing people. We had to defend God's honour and trust him to protect us.

What do the prayer scenes express about King Aelle's religious convictions and the nature of his faith?

Yes, Aelle had to suppress his doubts and pray in earnest. The trouble with faith is there are no guarantees.

What do you think about King Aelle's situation and do you have anything in common with him?

Aelle was a king with a relatively small kingdom. Neighbouring kingdoms were always a concern. Trust was scarce and information limited. Alliances were necessary but fraught with peril. The invasion required the sharing of power and influence. As for similarities, we look very alike.

Would you tell us how you came to play King Aelle and what made you interested in joining "Vikings"?

I had just shot a film about Vikings ("Hammer of the Gods") and I'd always been fascinated with them as my ancestors in Russia claimed we descended from them.

Is there something you do generally look for in a character or script to make you interested in the role?

Generally I look for an arc that has many levels, but as with most actors, I look to get an offer of a noticeable character with an interesting journey that I can get my teeth into.

Foto: Ivan Kaye, Vikings - Copyright: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Ivan Kaye, Vikings
© Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

You have played Ivar the Boneless in "Hammer of the Gods" as well. What differences do you see between "Hammer" and "Vikings"?

In 'Hammer of the Gods' it was a road trip that demonstrated courage and stamina, relying on brotherhood and spirituality. Vikings was much more political.

Having experienced both, the Viking and the Saxon point of view, how do you feel about the Vikings in general?

Personally I feel more like a Viking.

Aside from your Vikings related characters you have an impressive record of over 40 roles in television and movies. Recently, you have played amazingly convincing villains, e.g. Polo Yakur in "Assassination Games", but before that you have played major comedic parts like Bryan in "The Green Green Grass". How did you come to play villains?

I'm 6'4" and swarthy with black hair. Casting directors automatically call me in for violent characters. That said I've often been cast as misunderstood nice guys or nice guys who turn bad.

Generally, what kind of roles do you enjoy playing most?

Personally I prefer comedy, but baddies are great fun too.

Was there anything particularly challenging about getting into King Aelle's character?

The challenging thing with Aelle was to keep the interest as he was woefully underwritten and put on ice for over a season only to be back and dispatched quickly and carelessly.

Bonus material and interviews convey the impression that Michael Hirst sometimes does take actor input into consideration in his writing. Were there discussions on King Aelle as well?

Some particular characters had Michael's ear on a daily basis. I am not in the habit of forging close relationships with writers or directors for personal gain. There was no discussion of that sort for Aelle.

Some people think that King Aelle was an idiot, because he stubbornly refused to take note of warnings and didn't even send out scouts to survey the approaching Viking army. What is your take on this?

Aelle was too proud to pay attention to a message relayed from Ecbert via his daughter and too insecure to trust anyone. By the time the invasion was imminent, it was glory or death.

I think most of the audience was surprised by King Aelle's quick and total breakdown after he had been dragged to the pit. What do you think about the turn the character took in this scene?

Perhaps if Aelle's journey from Ragnar's death to his own had been more substantial, it might have been more possible. Personally I believe he would have behaved like Ragnar and stoically taken his punishment like a man.

Do you have any favourite scenes?

I enjoyed most the scenes in my castle with my loyal subjects. Quite liked the prayer scenes and didn't much care for the horses!

King Aelle's blood eagle evoked widely differing reactions, but there is no dispute about the fact that your performance was amazing. How did it feel to get bloodeagled?

The capture and blood eagle took a day and a night. I was dragged through puddles and filth, it was below freezing and some overzealous Vikings were actually unable to simulate knifing my back and I had many scars, but as ever in my jobs, I loved every minute.

How did you feel about the end of this character after playing him again and again over the course of several years?

Because of the nature of long running contracts, I had been prevented from taking many jobs I'd been offered (even though I could have completed them without missing a day), so whilst completing the blood eagle, I felt released and excited about finishing Vikings.

If you met King Aelle, what would you say to him?

Hello Handsome!

I would guess that there were many memorable moments on set over the years. Is there one particular memory you would like to share with the fans?

When I met and did my first scene with Travis. We'd only spoken together in the scene and when we'd finished, he walked through the scene and beamed and enthusiastically shook my hand. Approval and Welcome. First time I'd felt part of the team.

You have been quite busy since you finished filming "Vikings" and a couple of new productions are going to be aired this autumn. Which of your upcoming projects will suit the tastes of Vikings fans in your view?

I'm not sure if anything is particularly up the Viking alley. But I'm about to do something I've been meaning to return to since I had my children. I'm back to the West End in a show directed by Sam Mendes: "The Ferryman". Can't wait.

You are known to be extraordinarily kind and responsive to fans on social media. How do you deal with over-enthusiastic fans?

I'm flattered an delighted that people take the time and trouble to be interested in my stuff. If I see someone I admire, I have to go over and tell them. I understand the impulse and appreciate it.

Thank you very much for making time for us, Ivan!

The Interview was made available to us by Susanne Kurz, co-admin of Ivan Kaye‘s official Facebook fan page Ivan Kaye Fans and founder of his acknowledged social media promotion TeamIvanKaye.

Note: © myFanbase 2017 - The interview is exclusive to myFanbase and may not be published on other websites or the like. You may share the first two questions (up to 180 words) if you link back to this site. Translations other than English and German may be posted with full credit including the link to this site.