When Vikings: Valhalla hit Netflix last February, it shot to the top of the streamer’s Top 10 shows. It garnered 80.6 million hours watched in its first week alone, making it a no-brainer for the historical drama to return not just for season 2, but also a season 3.
On Jan. 12, Freydis Eriksdotter (Frida Gustavsson), Leif Eriksson (Sam Corlett) and more return for new action-packed adventures. Ahead of the new season, show creator Jeb Stuart explained what’s in store to Tudum:“The whole concept of Season 2 is that we take these three heroes who are in Scandinavia and blow them out of their comfort zones,” says show creator Jeb Stuart. “Season 2 for Harald and Leif is a road trip: It’s Thelma and Louise on the Dnieper River. The two of them will begin this incredible journey. Freydis has to go to Pomerania, which is a very difficult environment.”
Ahead of the season 2 premiere, Gustavsson caught up with Los Angeles Confidential to unpack what exactly is so difficult about Pomerania, her epic finale battle and more.
What can fans look forward to from the new season?
I think fans that like the first season are gonna be really thrilled to see the main characters being thrown out into the greater Viking world. I think they're going to be really excited about seeing places that they've never been able to see before— places that probably have never been shot before. The scale of the season just keeps growing. I didn't think we could get any bigger, but here we are.
What excited you about Freydis’ journey this season?
Freydis is such a physical character. Coming into season one, she fought her way through to achieve what she thought was her just cause. And going into season two, I was really excited to experience Freydis becoming a mother. She’s somebody who relies so heavily on her physicality and to have that taken from her, she's alone in the world. She breaks away with her brother and with her lover in the first episode, and that was something that I find incredibly interesting. Learning how to fight again, but with the prosthetic belly was incredibly interesting too.
I'm not a mother myself, so I haven't experienced the stages of pregnancy. Our wonderful costume designer, Susan O'Connor Cave, helped me break down the different stages. So we looked at all the scripts and the story as an arc and we, together with our prosthetic department, created these prosthetics. And it’s so incredible how it really just transforms you, but also transforms everyone else on set around you.
[With the prosthetic belly,] when you're standing, your feet are arched outways because your pelvis sits in a different way and even when you're sitting down. I had to remind myself I'm not actually pregnant, I can put my own shoes on in the morning. It was sweet to see all of our wonderful grips in between takes: “Frida, do you need a chair?” I’m like, “Guys, I'm not actually pregnant.” But it shifts your center of balance. All of a sudden you're a lot more front heavy, and that was something that we had to compensate when we're doing all kinds of sword fighting with the shields. First, so you don't stab yourself in the belly, but also to find that new center balance.
There are a few times where Frida basically says I’m either leaving with my son or I die. Was being so definitive about laying your life on the line hard to connect to?
I think as an actor, you always have to— at least for me, the way that I work— you have to, as much as you can, imagine that situation. And if you don't have something that's a very obvious substitution, there's always other ways to substitute those incredibly strong feelings. I think something that is incredibly universal is feelings of wanting to be safe, wanting the people you love to be safe. So in that sense, you can always work with those feelings. At the same time, playing someone like Freydis who goes through an incredibly traumatic life, she's a survivor of a lot of very horrific things and it makes it hard. It's not the kind of job where you come home and you're like, “Oh, that was such an easy day.” She has a very hard life, and as much as I love portraying that and I'm so thankful I am to show someone who is so complex, season two was a hard one.
How do you unwind from that?
I learned from our intimacy coordinators. They always have different ways of making you feel like when you go into doing an intimate scene with someone that you're not yourself, but you're the character. And then there's different ways you can do little taps or you can hug or you can create a certain thing in advance so when you do that, where you're like, “OK, I'm back in myself.”
Days that are heavier mentally and physically, it’s nice to do that preparation even for scenes that are not intimate, per se. I've stolen that from them, and to me, I feel like that works and disassociating yourself from what happens. When you act, you can grasp intellectually that you're acting, but your body doesn't know that. So if you're doing something where you’re being pushed or you're being kicked or you’re being dragged around or people are screaming at you or people are holding you and it hurts, your body doesn't know that the trauma it's experiencing is just you acting. So in that sense, I felt like a similar way that I want my body to feel that when I do an intimate scene, it's not Frida, it’s Freydis.
You have a particularly epic battle scene at the end of the new season. Did that fight require special training?
That was incredible. It was really hard because the actor who I do the scene with— I'm not gonna say who it is so we avoid spoilers— was probably one of the people I became the closest to. It was really heart wrenching going through that day and knowing that was going to be our last scene together. It also meant that we got like three months of preparing the stunt together. It really helps when you love the people that are punching you in the face with a shield. So in that aspect, I was really thankful that we got to do such an epic scene together.
What were your initial thoughts when you first read the script for that scene?
I was glad that it got to be me because I know that there were a lot of other characters aiming for that one person. What I love about Jeb is that he has the opportunity to create the rich tapestry where we as actors, we have to focus so much on the themes that are on that day so we can deliver them as truthful as possible. We can’t always have the bigger arcs in our heads. It's just so wonderful to see how the end of season two has this beautiful tie to the very first episode of season one. And I think that was a really beautiful journey for both Freydis and this other character and that we got to start off with such incredible hostility and that we brought them back together after 16 episodes.
Looking back at season one, the show dominated on Netflix. Why do you think people connect so much with a series that takes place centuries ago?
What I think is really interesting about historical dramas is you learn that the clothes change, but the people are pretty much the same. That was something that I really loved about these characters, that they're so human, they're so real. We're trying to just do the same things that people are doing today. You want to be loved. You want to be safe. You want to be around people that you love, you want them to feel good. You want to be able to express your own emotions and to have the right to express your own beliefs.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photography by: Jason Bell / Netflix; Bernard Walsh/Netflix; Courtesy of Netflix