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Sam Corlett & Leo Suter On Playing Leif Eriksson & Harald Sigurdsson In Vikings: Valhalla - Exclusive Interview

In reality, the Viking Age ended almost a millennium ago. However, in Netflix's "Vikings" spinoff "Vikings: Valhalla," some of the most famous Vikings ever known are alive, well, and ready for their next bloody battle for power in the ancient world. While the original series focused on the legendary figure Ragnar Lothbrok, the new series, which is set over a century later, focuses on the famed explorer Leif Eriksson, who is believed to have discovered North America and the eventual King of Norway, Harald Sigurdsson.

In "Vikings: Valhalla," we meet Leif and Harald before they've achieved those heights. Instead, they meet just as the Vikings are on the brink of war with England and at a time the Viking world is divided between those who adhere to traditional pagan beliefs and those who've chosen to embrace the newly introduced Christian religion. Embodying these historical figures are Sam Corlett and Leo Suter. As Leif, Corlett is tough, intelligent, and fiercely loyal to those he loves, qualities that serve the character well when the Greenlander finds himself in the fraught world of the Vikings. Meanwhile, Suter brings charm and warmth to Harald, a man who is able to convince the Vikings to join forces despite their differences and champions Leif before anyone else.

Together, the actors have a respectful camaraderie that serves as the heart of the show, even as they engage in bloody battles and gritty action. Speaking exclusively to Looper, Corlett and Suter discussed how they balanced history and creative liberty when developing their characters and revealed some of the challenges of shooting the show's impressive battle sequences.

A historical 'origin story

You're both playing these fairly well-known historical figures. In developing the characters, how much did you refer to what we know about the real people, which is a little spotty, and how much did you take artistic license?

Sam Corlett: For myself, it was very important to go back to the sagas and brush up on my history. I remember learning about it in high school. I remember where I was sitting in Mr. Gill's history class, learning about Leif Erikson and Erik the Red. I dived into the books, but ultimately, I loved stripping it back and going to, "What are the similarities that I have with Leif, and where can I impart my experience of being a human in this world, and where can he impart his experience on me?" I think there's a nice meeting when it comes to an actor and a character. Then, it was about telling a very human story about someone who's trying to do their best for the people that they love.

What about you, Leo?

Leo Suter: Well, I really enjoy the part of the job, when you're doing a historical show, to dive into a world that you otherwise might not know so much about. I really looked at the histories of those kings, of King Canute, of Olaf Haraldsson. One of the fun things is that Harald Hardrada was actually around a little bit later, so we've got some poetic license, and there's a freedom with that, which is quite cool, because this is an origin story, and I think most people know Harald Hardrada for the end of his life and how he died at Stamford Bridge in 1066. We don't actually know the story of how he got there, and to be able to dive into that and explore it has been very fun.

The challenges and triumphs of epic action

Because of the nature of the show, you both take part in incredible action scenes that are often extremely wet and muddy. They look amazing, but I can't imagine shooting them. What were the challenges associated with capturing that level of realism in those sequences?

Corlett: There [were] certainly a lot of challenges. I had a fight scene in three degree water up to my chest that we had to shoot as quick as possible because I didn't really want hypothermia. That was something that we were trying to dodge.

We have an incredible stunt team led by [stunt coordinator] Richard Ryan. He helped choreograph the amazing fight sequence in "Troy" between Brad Pitt and Eric Bana and a few sequences in "Sherlock Holmes" with Robert Downey Jr., and so I felt very held by his experience and by the experience of the incredible stunt people. Though there was a few black eyes, it felt worth it at the end of the day, especially seeing the finished product and seeing a couple of the episodes recently. It was really exciting to see everything come together.

What about you, Leo?

Suter: Well, I think we have to really shout out the stunt team and the stunt coordinators who really help us to learn these awesome sequences. They're very open to collaboration with us and letting those fights really be imbued with the kind of skills that our characters would have.

It's a really fun part of the show — the relentlessness of it, the fact that you learn a new fight every three weeks. That's a joy, as an actor, to have that variety.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

The eight-episode first season of "Vikings: Valhalla" premieres on Friday, February 25 on Netflix.