Vancouver actor Alexander Ludwig laughs when asked if he took any mementos from the “Vikings” set.
The History series returns for a sixth and final season Wednesday and Ludwig admits he couldn’t resist snagging a rather large item from the production in Ireland.
“It’s so funny you ask — I’m sitting here looking at a pair of antlers that, on my last day of shooting, I took off the wall and I just walked out of the studio with, because I needed to decorate my apartment,” Ludwig said in a recent phone interview from his Los Angeles home.
“It was like, ‘I’ve done this show for five years, I’m taking this with me.'”
But the antlers were too big to get through customs, so creator/writer Michael Hirst and other show producers had them shipped to Ludwig in L.A., along with a sword engraved with his Viking warrior character’s name, Bjorn Ironside, in the North Germanic language Old Norse.
Ludwig and his actress-girlfriend, fellow “Vikings” star Kristy Dinsmore, also got two shields signed by the cast and crew.
“It was bittersweet,” Ludwig said of the ending.
“I’m so grateful for this show. It’s like the greatest thing that ever happened to me and my career. I’m so grateful to have played such a formidable character and show such an arc. That being said, it definitely took its toll.
“By the end of the show we were shooting essentially 11 months out of the year in Ireland and I was working almost every day. Building a home was kind of out of the question, and I was doing that for the last three years of last five years that I was on the show. So by the end of it I was so grateful for the experience and also very happy to be moving on.”
The Canada/Ireland co-production has won several Canadian Screen Awards, including a lead-actor trophy for Ludwig. It’s also earned about a dozen Emmy nominations, in categories including makeup, sound editing and visual effects.
Ludwig said he’s often heard viewers praising the scope of the drama, which resembles “Game of Thrones” with its epic storylines about rivalling families and factions. The show also netted big ratings for History in its first few seasons.
“The success that it’s had in Canada has been remarkable,” said Ludwig, 27, who’s also known for playing main antagonist Cato in the 2012 film “The Hunger Games.”
“Obviously because I’m Canadian, it’s been personally an amazing thing to witness.”
Although the series was inspired by the sagas of legendary Norse Viking hero Ragnar Lothbrok, played by Travis Fimmel, the later seasons have focused on his sons, including Bjorn.
In season 6, Bjorn is a focal point as he steps up as a leader in a battle that’s “going to end in a lot of tragedy,” Ludwig said.
“It’s going to be crazy. We certainly kill our darlings on this show.”
And they certainly put their cast through the ringer.
Ludwig said shooting in freezing cold water and on ships in stormy conditions with flimsy Viking clothing added to the authenticity but made for an “uncomfortable show to be a part of.”
“The show certainly isn’t for divas,” Ludwig said. “Everybody on that set were such troopers.”
The final day of shooting was “really emotional.”
“We’ve created such a family on this set,” Ludwig said. “This whole cast and this crew, I’ve known these people for years, I grew up with them, so it’s really sad to leave.”
But fans may still see him as Bjorn one day.
Ludwig noted Netflix has picked up a spinoff series, “Vikings: Valhalla,” which is set 100 years after the original show.
“And I know that there’s talks about doing other versions of stuff with the show,” he added. “So who knows — maybe one day I’ll get to revisit.”
In the meantime, Ludwig has just finished shooting the Ivy League drama film “Swing,” in which he plays the captain of a rowing team. Michael Shannon plays the coach.
Ludwig will next shoot the Starz TV series “Heels,” in which he’ll play a wrestler.
Between “Vikings” and his upcoming roles, it’s clear Ludwig thrives in physical parts.
But he insisted: “it’s just the way it’s all worked out.”
“I’d like to just play a chess player in my next piece,” Ludwig said with a laugh.
“The most important thing to me is just characters and telling good stories wherever they may be.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2019.
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press