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Bjorn to be wild

Canadian actor growing up into sword-swinging warrior on Vikings series

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Alexander Ludwig poses with fans as he arrives on the red carpet for the premier the film

CHRIS YOUNG / THE CANADIAN PRESS Enlarge Image

Alexander Ludwig poses with fans as he arrives on the red carpet for the premier the film "The Hunger Games" on Monday March 19, 2012 .

Many young men dream of going into the family business.

Bjorn Lothbrok is one such teenager, who wants nothing more than to follow in his father's footsteps and do the family name proud.

And that's very good news for Alexander Ludwig, because he's the Canadian actor who plays wannabe warrior Bjorn in the second season of Vikings, which premières Thursday, Feb. 27 at 9 p.m. on History.

If Bjorn is successful in taking a much-desired space alongside his father, Ragnar Lothbrok (series star Travis Fimmel), the average workday will include a whole lot of sword-swinging, axe-wielding, seafaring, foreign-lands-raiding adventure -- all of which are rather exciting for a 21-year-old actor from Vancouver to portray.

"It is so much fun," Ludwig said in a recent telephone interview, describing his Vikings gig as the embodiment of every young boy's fantasies. "When you're a little kid, you dream about swinging a sword and living that kind of life; now, I get to live it, and I'm beyond excited."

When Vikings' second season opens, Ragnar is fighting to maintain the control of his village he wrested from former leader Earl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne) in a bloody showdown. His brother, Rollo (Clive Standen), has turned against him, and before long, Ragnar's indiscretions abroad drive a wedge between him and his shield-maiden wife, Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), eventually forcing them to live apart.

He doesn't see his young son, Bjorn, for many years; when they're eventually reunited, the boy has grown into an impressive young man.

Enter Ludwig, smiling and, of course, swinging a broadsword.

"I had done a film called Lone Survivor (with Mark Wahlberg and Taylor Kitsch) before Vikings, and I had to put on a lot of muscle because I was playing a Navy SEAL," he explained. "I was kind of already where I needed to be, physically; if anything, I wanted to lose a bit of weight because I didn't want to be seen as this big, beefy guy.

"When it came to prepping for the role and the fight sequences, I had done some (combat) training before, so I felt like I was ready. And I didn't need a lot more training, because they like to keep the fight sequences raw -- once the director says, 'Action!' everything kind of goes to shit and you kind of have to make the most of it. "It's fun -- it's like you're there with your best friends, swinging an axe around and hoping you don't get hit. I mean, it is choreographed and you do have to follow the steps that have been taught the day before, but after 'action,' everything goes the way it goes and you just have to make the most of it."

Ludwig, whose previous acting credits include The Hunger Games and Grown Ups 2, is one of several new cast members in the second season of the Canadian-Irish co-production. Also of note in the rookie class are Donal Logue, who portrays King Horrik, the ruler to whom Ragnar has pledged allegiance, and Linus Roache as Ecbert, King of Wessex, who proves to be a worthy adversary when the Vikings' latest overseas raid reveals that the English are no longer unprepared.

The adventures portrayed in Vikings are loosely based on historical figures and events; Ludwig said he did some research after landing the role of Bjorn and is quite encouraged by where his character may be headed.

"He was very, very influential," Ludwig said of his character's real-life inspiration. "He went on to do some great things, and he even had a lot of influence on how we live today. This season is all about establishing the foundation upon which the legend of Bjorn Ironside was built. He's caught in the middle of this tension between his mother and his father, and he really needs to find out who he is.

"You'll really see Bjorn grow from an emotional young man into a warrior. I think you should prepare for a wild ride."

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 27, 2014 C8

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