In a lot of ways, Travis Fimmel is an easy person to talk to. He’s kind and polite, and quick to deflect the conversation back onto you: Where did you grow up? Did you like it? Would you go back permanently? When we meet in person on a rainy day in New York, he seems keen to keep an abnormal situation—an interview in which a stranger is asking you personal questions about your profession —as normal and reciprocal as possible.
The youngest of three boys, Fimmel grew up on a cattle farm in Australia, and lived in London for a while before settling in Los Angeles to become an actor. His early career had plenty of false starts, and he famously became a model in the early 2000s so he could extend his U.S. visa. Since he made his debut as Ragnar Lothbrook, the protagonist of Vikings, almost four years ago, however, things have been going very smoothly. In the past year, for example, he played a hapless hippy in Rebecca Miller’s screwball comedy Maggie’s Plan and starred in the video game adaptation Warcraft: The Beginning, which though a domestic disappointment grossed almost $400 million overseas. He just finished working with Chloë Sevigny and Steven Buscemi in Lean on Pete, the new film from 45 Years writer-director Andrew Haigh, and completed Finding Steve McQueen with Forest Whitaker and Lily Rabe. Next year, he will film Inversion opposite Samuel L. Jackson.
But Vikings is still the project everyone is buzzing about. It has long been suggested that, at some point, Ragnar’s sons will replace him in the main narrative, and, after April’s mid-season finale, it seemed like the time had come. When we left Ragnar seven months ago, he had been decimated in battle by his brother Rollo and had walked away from his kingdom. Now, however, Ragnar is back and keen for revenge.
EMMA BROWN: With Vikings, you’ve always said that Ragnar’s sons are going to do bigger and better things than him. Is that something that you talked about with the creator from the very beginning?
TRAVIS FIMMEL: In history they went on and did better things, but yeah, I was only meant to be on the show for a year. I was meant to die that last episode that first year, but I didn’t; I ended up being on it a bit longer. There are great young actors playing my sons. A lot of shows get very repetitive, but I think it’s great that the young kids are coming in. It just gives new life to the show—some cool characters for the audience to follow. I hope they really enjoy this season. The kids are great. I’m excited for the audience to see these young people doing amazing things.
BROWN: Murdering and pillaging.
FIMMEL: Yes. Plundering and making love to strangers.
BROWN: I hear you’ve got to watch out for Ivar the Boneless.
FIMMEL: Yeah, that’s a great character—a great character in the history. All of them go on to do some very interesting stuff, but Ivar is a very historical character, and it’s certainly set up to be a great role and a great young actor plays it. I think the audience will love it.
BROWN: Will you miss Ragnar when you stop playing him?
FIMMEL: No. I’ll miss the crew and the Irish. There were a lot of laughs.
BROWN: Will you give up your place in Ireland?
FIMMEL: No, I stay in a little cabin. I stay whenever I want. I stay on a beautiful little lake. A great Irish family. Fishing all the time. It’s one of the most beautiful countries, and the nicest people I’ve ever met.
BROWN: How did you meet the family?
FIMMEL: We shot there. I can even take a boat some days to work to see the other side of the lake. We shot a lot of stuff on that lake. We had a camp there the first year—a Viking camp right on their place.
BROWN: You’ve said in the past that most of the crew already knew each other when they started working on the show.
FIMMEL: It’s just a small industry over there. A lot of them worked on that show The Tudors. A lot of them worked on Braveheart. They’re a great crew. We couldn’t have shot the show anywhere else.
BROWN: Is that why you want to work with Mel Gibson? Did they tell you stories about Braveheart?
FIMMEL: [laughs] No, no, I’ve always loved Mel Gibson. I think he’s awesome. I love the humor that he brings to everything. And he’s an Aussie. I would love to work with him.
BROWN: Do you have Aussie pride, or is it just Mel Gibson?
FIMMEL: I’ve got Aussie country pride for sure. I just like where I grew up. I think you’ve got lots in common with the people who grew up the same as you.
BROWN: When you were growing up, did you think you were going to be a farmer?
FIMMEL: Yeah, I still do.
BROWN: Do your parents still have their farm?
FIMMEL: They just sold it. It’s a bad week for me. They move out on the eighth of December. I don’t know what I’m going to do now when I go back. I’ll get a tent or something. Stay at my mate’s place. All of my mates have got farms there still.
BROWN: Were your parents disappointed that none of their children wanted to take over the farm?
FIMMEL: My grandparents were always farmers. My granddad is dead. They started with a really little farm, and then my uncle and my dad, they kept expanding and expanding and getting more farms. My grandma worked there until she was 85. She’s 91 now. She was milking at 85 before my granddad died, and then she couldn’t get out there anymore. My granddad had Parkinson’s, so he couldn’t change gears [while driving], so my grandma changed gears in the car. He couldn’t see very well, so my grandma would be the eyes. My grandma never got a license. She can drive, but she never got a license. They used to drive about a half hour every morning to the farm. They did retire and they got a place in town and then they unretired, just started driving out every morning at 5 o’clock or whatever.
BROWN: When you were little, were you good about doing your farm chores?
FIMMEL: Yeah, we always would milk before and after school. I liked it, though. That’s the type of work that I like. I didn’t like it on Saturdays when you had to go home and milk after football, but I love the country. I’ll get a farm over there one day.
BROWN: What will you have on your farm? Will it be a dairy farm?
FIMMEL: No, just beef cattle. Dairy sucks.
BROWN: When did you start riding?
FIMMEL: We had a little pony.
BROWN: A fat Shetland?
FIMMEL: No. [laughs] For some reason I remember a Shetland, though. I think somebody left a Shetland at our place, or maybe it was when we were real little. I remember when I was seven or eight or something we had a little white pony. And my dad always had a horse. But we did most of our stuff on the motorbikes, because it was all very flat where we’re from. I got a motorbike at three; we’ve still got it. It was an R50. Hopefully my little nephews will play on it.
BROWN: How come you haven’t quit acting yet?
FIMMEL: I haven’t made enough money to buy a farm. I want a big farm. Everything is expensive in Australia. I got a long way to go, unfortunately. I had a two-year plan that went to a four-year plan that went to a six-year plan. I’ve been trying to do this for 16 years or something now. Plans never really turn out. I’ll get a certain amount of money then I’ll go.
BROWN: When did you realize that acting was something you could do for a living?
FIMMEL: I don’t know, once I got a job I guess. There’s a much better chance of making money doing this for a while than farming. I don’t know why I’m doing it. I still have no idea why I’m doing it.
BROWN: Do people ever get angry with you for saying that?
FIMMEL: I don’t care. Why would people get angry at me? Do they think we’re curing cancer? I think people take themselves too seriously if they get offended by it; it’s just a job. I’m not knocking doctors. There’s some great stuff about acting and all that. It just doesn’t affect me.
BROWN: Did you ever go through a dry spell in terms of acting?
FIMMEL: Yeah, my first 12 years. [laughs] I think that happens to every actor.
BROWN: How did you get your first acting job?
FIMMEL: Just auditioning. I was in class for a couple of years before I had even gone out for an audition. When I decided to stay in L.A., it was to act. Then I couldn’t stay here because of the visa, and so I had to do the modeling stuff. [laughs]
BROWN: You didn’t want to do Home and Away or any of the Australian soaps?
FIMMEL: I didn’t want anybody to know that I was trying to be an actor at home. I wanted to do it over here so nobody knew. They didn’t know until I got a job—a TV series for the WB.
BROWN: Whom have you most enjoyed working with as an actor? You’ve worked some interesting directors like Rebecca Miller.
FIMMEL: I love Rebecca. I worked with a guy, Mark Steven Johnson, that I really loved just recently. I worked with Andrew Haigh; he’s an English guy. He was fantastic. I worked with him earlier this year.
BROWN: What did you like about him?
FIMMEL: Just a nice fellow and a gentleman. No ego.
BROWN: Have you worked with people with big egos?
FIMMEL: Many, many times.
BROWN: Do you have general faith in humanity?
FIMMEL: Yeah, of course. For sure.
BROWN: What qualities do you look for in a friend?
FIMMEL: For a fellow, just a good bloke I guess. Just nice people. Humor.
BROWN: Is your first impression generally correct, or do you ever change your mind about people?
FIMMEL: A bit of both, I guess. People have such a distinctive look to them these days. Whatever image they’re doing, a lot of the time it sums up their character a bit. There are not many individual people anymore—they dress the same as their friends. It’s a bit weird; everybody is trying to be different, but then they’re exactly the same as whatever mob they hang out with.
BROWN: Do you think individualism is important?
FIMMEL: Yeah, of course—not worrying about what other people are wearing and any of that stuff.
BROWN: Did you ever worry about that stuff—what people thought of you—when you were a teenager?
FIMMEL: I remember putting gel in my hair—I had the spike and the rat’s tail. I got a flat top for a while. That was between 12 and 16.
BROWN: Have you ever lied to get a job?
FIMMEL: I think every job you have to lie to get. You always say how wonderful it all is, that it’s an amazing script—”I love you, you’re such a great director.” I think every actor does that.
BROWN: What about, “Of course I can do a perfect Irish accent,” or, “I’m a great guitar player.”
FIMMEL: No, I’ve never done that ever. You’d get found out so quick. Who are you people trying to kid?
BROWN: Have you ever had to really fight for a job?
FIMMEL: Yeah. Most jobs you have to fight for. For my first job, I auditioned like 13 times. You go back in, you’re writing letters. It happens all the time. It’s not a very easy industry to be a part of.
BROWN: If your older brothers both work in the mines in Western Australia, and you were a Calvin Klein model, do they ever make Zoolander jokes?
FIMMEL: No, they know me too well. [laughs] They know I was just trying to get a visa, you know? It got me a visa for three years. They think it’s funny.
VIKINGS AIRS WEDNESDAY NIGHTS ON THE HISTORY CHANNEL.