Why Erik From Vikings Looks So Familiar

It was an absolute Cinderella story in the Jutlandic peninsula: Ivar the Boneless, fourth son of Ragnar, managed to pull one over on Bjorn, skewering the good king like a Scandinavian shish kabob. Bjorn's death at the end of the first half of Vikings' sixth season left a hole in the series and, in equally substantial measure, a hole in Bjorn.

Luckily, someone was ready to pick up some slack, giving the series a new character for fans to worry about: Erik, the ambitious Rus disemboweler with the heart of a king and the beard of a series lead. And if the charismatic outlaw seemed passingly familiar, there's a good reason.

Erik was played by Eric Johnson, one of the workingest character actors of his generation. With more than 70 IMDb credits spread out across his near 30-year career, odds are that you've seen Johnson before. In a bonkers coincidence, you may have even caught his work as Ivar the Boneless, even if you didn't realize it at the time. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Eric Johnson was Flashed and furious

Before his work on Vikings, Eric Johnson was probably best known for his desire to, whoa-oh, save every one of us, thanks to a brief but high-profile turn playing Flash Gordon on the Sci-Fi Channel series of the same name. 

Based on the 1934 comic strip of the same name that also brought us the 1980 cult favorite movie, the 2007 Flash Gordon series looked to update the franchise's mythos for a new generation. The eponymous character played by Johnson was a 25-year-old jock, traveling between Earth and the planet Mongo and constantly at odds with the villainous Ming, here played as a Caucasian dictator rather than the conventional Sax Rohmer-adjacent super offensive stereotype. 

Reviews for Flash Gordon ran the gamut from "dour" to "dour but polite." On the up side, you had a New York Daily News critique stating that "The new Flash Gordon gets off to a slow start, but gets better." Generally more in line with the consensus was a New York Post review, which called the show "an amateurish exercise in stupidity and a disgrace to the name of the enduring comic-strip-character-turned-movie-and-TV space hero." Cancelled after a single season, the show is remembered today as... a Flash in the pan.

Eric Johnson beat up Superman

Eric Johnson was young, symmetrical, and Canadian in the early 2000s, a combination of factors which, invariably, meant appearing on Smallville.

And appear on Smallville he did. During the moody Superman origin series' first season, Johnson played one Whitney Fordman, young Clark Kent's high school classmate and competition for the affections of Lana Lang. With a less-than-ideal home life and a back pocket filled with anger issues, Whitney was responsible for one of the show's most enduring images. He and his fellow jocks were the ones who tied Clark to a post in the middle of a corn field during the events of the pilot, painting an "S" on his chest in a move that got viewers roughly as close as they'd get to seeing Superman in his work clothes for ten more seasons.

Johnson's character had another unfortunate distinction: he was the first of the show's main characters to eat it. Joining the Marines at the end of season one, Whitney was killed off in battle the following year.

From Shades of Gray to Erik the Red

We take you now to the nigh-unrecognizable year of 2017. The Academy couldn't decide whether or not Moonlight had won best picture, Kendall Jenner fixed racism by giving the police a Pepsi, and the 25th highest grossing movie was about a one-percenter whose man cave needed more Febreze than you can imagine.

Yes, 50 Shades Darker, the continuing saga of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele, dominated the Valentine's Day box office, with audiences champing at the doeskin leather bit to find out what was in store for the unconventional couple. Trouble, it turned out, as the sequel to 50 Shades of Grey brought Christian's nemesis Jack Hyde into the fold, played by none other than Eric Johnson. Johnson would play the handsy ne'er-do-well through all of his decidedly uncool decisions during the final two films in the series.

In an Insider interview, Johnson said of his time as the character, "Playing bad guys is fun. Some days are a little awkward, when you're assaulting your co-stars." He also noted that he took the part after his wife of 16 years, who had read the books, told him that he'd be a good fit for the role. The actor went on to describe concern regarding his partner's perception of him.

Eric Johnson goes digital

In 2013, Johnson gave his voice and likeness to the main character, Sam Fisher, in the video game Splinter Cell: Blacklist. The role of Fisher had previously been played by veteran actor and certified whale hater Michael Ironside, but the intense motion capture work necessary for the new entry in the series led the production team to recast the part. Johnson's tenure as Fisher saw the character heading up the Fourth Echelon in a very Tom Clancy adventure, stopping terrorists and rooting out enemy sleeper agents.

Splinter Cell wouldn't be Johnson's last venture into video game acting, however. 2020's Assassin's Creed: Valhalla, the Viking-themed twelfth installment in the blockbuster franchise, saw Johnson voicing a character with a familiar name: Ivarr the Boneless, the same fella responsible for the death of Bjorn in season six of Vikings. Coincidence? Absolutely, but undeniably a cool one.

Johnson's future appears to be decidedly less Viking-centric. With Vikings having just completed its final season and sequel series Vikings: Valhalla taking place a century after the life of Erik the Red, it seems unlikely that we'll be seeing him on a longboat again in the franchise. His next project scheduled for release is an appearance in the season 3 premiere of American Gods on Showtime.