Vikings not a Thrones clone

One look at new TV drama Vikings and it almost comes off as a copycat of the mega hit series Game Of Thrones. Both shows are lushly produced period epics featuring plenty of blood and battles as well as intricate costumes, sets and props.

But Vikings lead actress Katheryn Winnick is quick to separate her show from Game Of Thrones, saying that it is actually "very, very different".

Speaking to Life! over the telephone from her home in Toronto, the 35-year-old says: "They seem similar because of the epic storylines, but Vikings is not a fantasy like Game Of Thrones. Vikings is very much based on reality and history.

"Also, nudity is not an issue in Vikings because we won't have much of that. It's still a sexy show, but it just didn't go to that extent with nudity - less is more."

Cable TV series Game Of Thrones has graphic scenes of sex, but Vikings, being a network show on the History channel, would have restrictions.

Having said that, the actress adds: "But if you're a fan of Game Of Thrones, I think you should give Vikings a true chance and that you will enjoy it. The story is also intimate and about real issues.

"It has action, adventure and bloodshed, and the set design is amazing. I know for a fact that there are a lot of people who are fans of both shows."

Vikings tells the stories of the famously ferocious Vikings in battle during their heyday in the 12th century. As it is shown on the History channel, the research that went into the writing is reportedly very much based on historical fact.

Created and written by Michael Hirst, who also wrote the Oscar-nominated film Elizabeth (1998) as well as the hit period drama The Tudors (2007-2010), Vikings premiered in the United States in March to positive reviews. It has been renewed for a second season.

The Wall Street Journal noted that Vikings was "not bursting with bare breasts", but "a study of character, stamina, power and... of social, emotional and even intellectual awakening".

In the US$40-million (S$50.2-million) production, Winnick plays Lagertha, a famous Viking shieldmaiden or woman who chooses to fight as a warrior. It is her first lead role, after having done supporting parts in TV series including Bones (2010) and movies Love & Other Drugs (2007) and Stand Up Guys (2012).

Hers is also a role that requires plenty of physical stunts, something which Winnick relishes. "I have a third-degree black belt in taekwon-do and second degree in karate, and I studied kinesiology and human anatomy at York University, so I really loved having a role that is so physical and that I'd be able to do my own stunts for.

"I did everything myself, though I have to admit that the style of fighting is very different. In taekwon-do and karate, you use your hands and feet, but a shieldmaiden would use a shield and a sword, so I had to teach myself how to do that."

Lagertha is one of the few female characters in the show and Winnick says that for three months, she was the only woman on the set.

"I was the first and only girl, and I was surrounded by 14 Viking men. I didn't mind it at all though. I feel like I can handle myself around them. It helped me get into my character because she is always surrounded by men, and she's one of the guys.

"That being said, Lagertha is a woman who knows her strengths as a woman, and knows how to be a loving wife and mother. There are different elements that a woman faces that a man wouldn't have to face, so it was interesting understanding the balance of both."

She adds that she has garnered newfound respect for the Vikings along the way. "There are always stereotypes about the Vikings, about how they are barbaric people who raped and pillaged. But I realise there's so much more, and you really get to learn about them as a culture and society.

"When I did my research for the role, it was fascinating to know that women had a strong voice and were powerful and allowed to own land. Several of them were allowed to rule. It was refreshing to know that women were so empowered then."

She adds: "Also, with the show, you get to see them from the Vikings' point of view. These are real individuals who have conflicts we can relate to, like dealing with infidelity or being a young mother.

"The Vikings' story that everyone knows was written from the Anglo-Saxons' point of view, but this show is coming from the Vikings' perspective."

Vikings premieres on History (StarHub TV Channel 401/455) on Sep 29, 2013 at 10pm.

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