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How Playing Bjorn On Vikings Changed Alexander Ludwig Forever

When History announced way back in 2013 that it was breaking into the world of scripted TV with Vikings, there was some understandable apprehension. Now, seven years later, History's flagship drama a bonafide sensation, and the channel has launched two other scripted series, Project Blue Book and Knightfall, on the heels on Vikings' success. That's not bad for a network that used to stick strictly to documentaries.

As the name suggests, Vikings tells the story of Norse society in the early Medieval period. Viewers have been drawn in by the intriguing glimpse into life during a radically different time than our own, but we're sure the Game of Thrones-style political intrigue and violence don't hurt either. The show remains beloved in its sixth and final season and will be getting a spin-off series on Netflix, entitled Vikings: Valhalla. That kind of quantifiable success and sweet response from season to season doesn't come around often, and that fact isn't lost on the stars of Vikings. Appearing on the show has inarguably changed the cast members' lives — but not always in the way's you'd expect.

In an April 2020 interview with The Hollywood Reporter to promote the digital release of his film Bad Boys for Life, longtime Vikings star Alexander Ludwig, who plays Bjorn Ironside, spoke about the different results that come from being one of the leads on a wildly successful TV series. Here's how playing Bjorn on Vikings changed Alexander Ludwig forever.

Vikings' success changed the trajectory of Alexander Ludwig's career

Since the second season of Vikings, Ludwig has starred as Bjorn Ironside, the son of the fearsome warrior and eventual King of Denmark Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) and shieldmaiden-turned-Queen-of-Kattegat Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick). Compared to other characters on the show, Bjorn has enjoyed a surprising amount of longevity — as has Vikings itself. That came as a surprise to Ludwig at the start. 

As the actor revealed to The Hollywood Reporter, when he first boarded Vikings, he expected to portray Bjorn for seasons only half the length they ended up being. At the time, Ludwig thought Vikings' seasons would be short and as sweet as a bloody historical drama can be, requiring just a few months of filming time per year. The actor believed that once he was finished shooting a season of Vikings, he'd hang up his battle armor and have plenty of time to take on other projects (particularly films) before the History drama was ready for another season. That didn't end up happening. Vikings — and Ludwig's commitment to it — only grew bigger, changing what Ludwig once envisioned for his professional future.

"When I signed on to the show, I originally expected it to be a 10-episode cable drama series. That meant I would've had work for four or five months out of the year, and then I'd be able to do a movie — like a Bad Boys [movie] — or something like that," said Ludwig. "I don't think anybody expected Vikings to have the global success that it did. They upped it to a 20-episode series, which meant that I was completely plucked out of any other opportunities. [...] It definitely made it difficult to do anything close to this magnitude [of Bad Boys for Life], because a role like this requires a lot of time and attention."

But Ludwig also knows that while Vikings' success altered the course of his career and made it more complicated to diversify his resume, the show also changed his life for the better. "I'm so grateful for the job," he said, "It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life."

With Vikings coming to an end with season 6, Ludwig will be free to chase other projects. While one might argue that leaving Vikings could have been an option for the Canadian actor, exactly who Ludwig played made a premature exit all but impossible.

The very real, legendary king Alexander Ludwig played on Vikings

Though Vikings does take some liberties in order to tell its story, there's ample historic evidence to prove not only that was Bjorn a real person, but also that he was one of the early kings of Sweden. These kings, known as the legendary kings, are part of a list collected from various sources, including the old Viking sagas and records from historians across Europe.

According to History Files, the real Bjorn ruled during the ninth century from his seat on the island of Munsö, where his burial mound was discovered in the 18th century. One of the most important documents that traces Bjorn's life is the 13th-century Icelandic story titled The Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok and his Sons (via Ancient History Encyclopedia). Look out for spoilers if you want to read the saga yourself, since the story it tells was the main inspiration for History's Vikings.

There are many characters, both historic and fictional, that contribute to the narrative of Vikings. It would have been difficult, however, for the producers to simply write Bjorn off the show before his time.

Where else you've seen Alexander Ludwig

Just because Ludwig had his plate full playing a Viking king doesn't mean he didn't take on other projects while Vikings was on the air. In 2015, Ludwig co-starred in the meta-slasher film The Final Girls, in which he played the love interest of main character Max (Taissa Farmiga). The movie was a low-budget affair that became an instant classic among fans of '80s horror films.

His next notable big-screen outing had a much larger budget. Ludwig was part of the ensemble of Roland Emmerich's World War II epic Midway, which also included Dennis Quaid, Nick Jonas, Darren Criss, and Mandy Moore. The film followed both American and Japanese soldiers in the Pacific Theater during the 1940s, focusing on the titular Battle of Midway.

Most recently, Ludwig appeared in the third film in Will Smith and Martin Lawrence's Bad Boys film series, Bad Boys for Life. Ludwig plays Dorn, the tech expert for the special police squad with which Mike (Smith) and Marcus (Lawrence) become involved. For the Vikings actor, it was the role of a lifetime. He told The Hollywood Reporter, "I must've watched Bad Boys II a hundred times ... I've admired Will and Martin's careers from afar for years and years ... Just getting to work with them was truly one of the greatest gifts of my life."

Sounds like Ludwig has nothing but great things to say about his long-standing and newfound creative endeavors. Here's to hoping he continues on the up and up after his time as Bjorn Ironside comes to an end.