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Clive Standen Talks Rollo’s Return on History’s ‘Vikings’ (Interview)

Photo by Jonathan Hession
Photo by Jonathan Hession

Vikings premiered this week, and it did not disappoint! It was exciting to see all our favorite characters navigate through the aftermath of the civil war and one of the best surprises was the return of an old favorite, Rollo. Or should we say, King Rollo!

We recently had the pleasure of talking with Clive Standen who plays King Rollo, a character whose return at the finale of the first half of season 5 was most certainly a wonderful surprise. He talked with us about what it was like returning to the show and his thoughts on Ragnar and the new war between Ragnar’s sons.

Shikha Bajracharya: In the season when Ragnar died, Rollo had gone back to Paris, so we didn’t get to see his reaction to Ragnar’s death. Do you think he mourned the death of Ragnar as hard as everyone else?

Photo by Jonathan Hession

Clive Standen: I think he does. There’s an old Viking proverb, “Bare is his back who has no brother” and I think a lot of Rollo. He spares Ragnar’s life. I think he could see the hurt in Ragnar’s eyes. He wanted France. He wanted Paris. It was never about this brother. He just wanted to be equal and acknowledged. I don’t think Rollo sees himself as betraying Ragnar for Paris. He had the offer from King Charles, and I think he feels that he got Paris first. He doesn’t expect Ragnar to come and attack and that is why he spares him. There is a clear moment when Ragnar is pulled away from him, and there are crossbows all pointed at his head, and Rollo is the one that says “don’t shoot.” It’s not about the brother. For Ragnar, it’s about killing Rollo because Ragnar feels betrayed. He’s not thinking clearly. But for Rollo, it was never about Ragnar at this point. It was about being everything that he knew he was capable of and about finding fame with the Gods. As far as Rollo was concerned, Ragnar had already found his fame. What about his brother? When was it going to be his time? So he does mourn.

When I first read the script of this first episode, I thought of something that Floki had once said about Rollo – something along the lines of, “You won’t know what in the warrior’s heart until he actually reveals it.” I’ve always played Rollo like he uses physical pain to escape his emotional pain.

There is a scene from this first episode when Bjorn comes face to face with Rollo on his return and Rollo as an ax against his head, and I was thinking this is the moment when the warrior reveals his heart. Rollo doesn’t usually have a platform to let out that heart.

SB: The relationship between the brothers was such a big part of the show. 

CS: Yes, and we do get a little bit of closure because we have that scene with Ivar, Hvitserk, King Harald and Rollo sitting around in the great hall. Rollo has a moment for the first time where he’s the elephant in the room speaking out loud going, ‘You killed a brother, and you killed your brother, and I didn’t kill my brother and look how you treated me…times have changed.’ It’s reminiscent of when he hugs his own brother, and he goes, ‘We’ll all be equal,’ and Rollo goes, ‘How will we ever be equal now brother?’ There’s one rule for you and one rule for others. Some people are more equal than others.

SB: If Rollo hadn’t gotten married and ruled France, do you think he would have tried to take Ragnar’s place?

CS: That would be a war. Now that he is the Duke of Normandy, he would have to invade, and I don’t think he would do that to his own people. He got what he wanted. He just wanted people to accept him, and his own people never accepted him. It’s like when you become the village idiot. As long as you are in that village, you are the idiot. If you go to another village and you have a new start, everyone can think that you are a mastermind of everything and you can reinvent yourself. And that is what he needed to do. He needed to have new people. Why would he want to go back to where he would be known as ‘Rollo the Traitor,’ whereas now he is worshipped. That’s all he ever wanted.

SB: Last season he ends up supporting Ivar and Harald. Why would he have chosen Ivar instead of Lagertha and Bjorn?

Photo by Jonathan Hession

CS: With Rollo, always expect the unexpected. First of all, he has to take care of his own people now, he’s a ruler and has different responsibilities. What’s best for France and Normandy is an alliance with Ivar who is king of Sweden, so we make an alliance. It’s what can serve Normandy best, but with Rollo, like I said, expected the unexpected. This is means to an end. It gives him the perfect excuse to come back. He’s not really interested in the war, so to speak. He’s interested in the war for what he can reap for his own country. But what he is really interested in is going back to Bjorn and Lagertha and the people he cares about and trying to put right what he feels went wrong. Some of the choices he made in his life, he probably regrets every day of his life. Ragnar is gone now; he’s never been able to forget about Lagertha. Maybe she’ll see him differently now. With Bjorn, there are some things that he can actually say out loud, which as an actor I can play out loud rather than play with the subtext.

It’s a man dealing with his mortality. I wanted to give the audience a little insight that something might not be quite right with Rollo. He’s starting to doubt where he is going to go in the afterlife. These Gods that he’s cared about and worshipped his whole life are they going to accept him into Valhalla now. Or is this new God that he has embraced for the sake of his people, is that his savior, or is he going to be lost in the wilderness. Go to hell and forever be lost into purgatory not going anywhere. All these things are playing in his mind as they do with a lot of us as when we reach old age, or get ill, or start to doubt how long we have left on this planet. And so this is his chance to actually go, ‘What do I need to revisit while I’ve got time on the earth?’ And one of the major things I think Rollo thinks he needs to revisit is his relationship with Lagertha and Bjorn.

SB: What was it like stepping back into the role of Rollo after being gone for a while? Did you miss him?

Photo by Jonathan Hession

CS: I really missed him! A show like Vikings comes along so rarely where everything works. You can get great actors and a bad script, and the show gets canceled. You can get a great script and horrible actors that you hate working with every day and the show gets canceled, or it doesn’t. Either way, it’s very rare to get a great script, a great crew, and fantastic actors to work with every day. It really has been one of the best experiences in my professional life to date. When Michael Hirst rings you jump at it.

What was interesting is that there wasn’t very much I had to act in the first scene when I had been away, because I had been away for a very long time, and so had Rollo. My first scene was in the great hall with Ivar, Hvisterk and King Harald – it’s the new brigade. They had already filmed one season, and I had been in Vikings from the very first episode. It was a funny feeling going on the set and filming that first scene without doing a scene with Katheryn Winnick, Alexander Ludwig, or Gustaf Skarsgård.

There was a definite sense of ‘Oh Clive’s is back. Clive’s been here for way more episodes than us. Give him the respect.’ And there was a sense from me going, “It’s your show now. I’m going to feel my way into this and pick up on your energies. I’m the guest.” It was actors trying to figure each other out and not step on each other’s toes and having the discipline and respect for each other. That’s what the characters are doing too. Rollo is going ‘I’ve been away, what are you all up to? Who is the real leader in this room? Who’s the one who is secretly the weak link? What’s the dynamic going on here?’ And they are doing the same thing. Everyone is figuring each other out, and it was fantastic! It was like I had never been away and there were some real parallels with the actors and the characters. And then the next day I went to do the scene with Alexander and Katheryn, and we went right back into it like I had never been away. The old brigade was back. This is why he (Rollo) came back to see his old friends. It was why it was exciting to come back. It’s like nothing had changed.

A big thank you to Clive Standen for taking the time to speak with us and giving us some wonderful insight into his character, King Rollo! Make sure to follow him on his social media pages:

The aftermath of the war between brothers is no doubt going to make for an interesting season which also includes: Katheryn Winnick, Alexander Ludwig, Alex Høgh Andersen, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Peter Franzén, Jordan Patrick Smith, Marco Ilsø, Georgia Hirst, and Gustaf Skarsgård.

Did you enjoy seeing King Rollo back with the old gang?

Vikings airs on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. EST on History.

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