The 27 year old actor’s physique makes him perfect for action star roles
BY AL TURNER
This summer, the biggest action film to watch will be Bad Boys For Life – the third instalment in the Bad Boys film franchise. But while the film reunites top stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence for plenty of shoot-em-up action and witty banter, it also features another face that many would recognise – Alexander Ludwig.
In Bad Boys For Life, Ludwig plays a member of a modern, highly specialised police unit that collides with the old-school Bad Boys. But, of course, the 27-year-old actor is best known for his performance as Björn Ironside in the hugely successful History Channel series Vikings, which is now in its sixth and final season.
The show’s massive success has catapulted Ludwig into superstardom, opening up new doors of opportunity and making his face recognisable across the globe. It’s not surprising that he has referred to his involvement with Vikings as the “best choice [he’s] ever made”.
“I’M ATTRACTED TO THAT WARRIOR QUALITY WITHIN PEOPLE BECAUSE THEY NEVER WANT TO BREAK UNDER PRESSURE AND ALWAYS GO THAT EXTRA MILE.”
Ludiwg’s acting career began at the tender age of nine, when he appeared in a TV commercial for a Harry Potter toy. Since then, he’s featured in a string of films and TV series, most notably playing Cato, the male tribute from District 2 in The Hunger Games – a role which scored him an MTV Movie Award for best fight and a Teen Choice Award for best villain. What many people might not know is the actor is also a talented singer, releasing his first single in 2012. Canadian-born Ludwig was also a competitive freestyle skier when he was younger, and still competes when he gets the time, as well as enjoying a new-found love for surfing since moving to LA.
But despite his natural athleticism and creative side, it’s the image of the sword-wielding, Berserker-disembowelling Viking hero that seems to fit Ludwig best.
I am a warrior
The German name “Ludwig” means “famous warrior”, but it’s not just his surname that makes Ludwig the ideal actor to play Björn Ironside. His blond locks, his height (1.88m) and his muscular physique all make him utterly convincing as a Viking warlord.
“I’m attracted to that warrior quality within people because they never want to break under pressure and always go that extra mile,” Ludwig told Hello! mag back in 2014, when he first joined the cast of Vikings. “In a way, I try to approach my career like that.”
The actor is certainly not afraid of hard work, and has relished the opportunities that Vikings has brought him, even if the conditions on set are sometimes brutal. Filming is often in places such as Ireland, with long hours of shooting in snow and rough mountain terrain, with the cast often wearing the same costume for days at a time.
“The worst is day two of a fight scene, or day three,” Ludwig told Yahoo Entertainment in 2014. “They don’t wash them because they need to have the continuity and it would take forever for them to do it. It’s awful. Imagine soaked, sweaty leather with grass and horse manure on everything. That’s the worst thing. But, if you look at it from a positive perspective, you’re like, ‘Oh, this would help me get into character’.”
Getting into character for Vikings involves more than just imagination and acting chops – there’s real history involved. Björn Ironside is an actual historical figure – a Norse Viking chief and Scandinavian king who lived during the 9th Century. However, as Ludwig told South Africa’s Channel 24 in 2018, while he likes the fact that his character is based on a real person, ultimately the aim of the show is to entertain.
“At the end of the day, we’re on a TV show, and what’s more important than just depicting history is also bringing drama where we can,” he said. “So whenever Björn does end up dying, all that matters to me is that it’s a good death and that it will shock the audience.”
Battle stations for Ludwig
The likelihood of dying on a show like Vikings is pretty damn high. The extremely gruesome, full-scale battle scenes in the show make for compelling viewing – mud- and blood-spattered fighters facing off in savage hand-to-hand combat. The raw savagery and stark reality of these battle scenes is part of what has made the show such a success, both critically and with the public.
“That’s what I love about the show – it really doesn’t glamorise the fighting,” Ludwig told Entertainment Weekly in 2014. “It’s not very Hollywood; it’s very edgy and raw and it’s not played up by any means.”
Taking part in these staged battles is no mean feat – these guys are really going at it. As Clive Standen, who plays Björn’s uncle (or father?) Rollo, told USA Today, “It’s about playing the truth of the battle.” Creator and executive producer Michael Hirst also told USA Today, “I don’t want just two people clashing together. I want to be deep into the fight. I want to understand what it’s actually like to be in a war.”
“IF YOU HAVE TEARS TO WEEP, BE PREPARED TO WEEP THEM AS YOU WATCH SEASON 6.”
And that’s exactly how it feels for the viewers at home – a taste of what it really might have been like on a Viking battlefield. Heads roll, swords and shields clash, and there’s blood literally everywhere. For each battle scene filmed, the special effects team have to prepare countless barrels of fake blood, most of which appears to end up smeared across the warriors’ faces. And as Ludwig said at the Vikings’ 2018 San Diego Comic-Con panel, for the actors, things can get “pretty crazy”.
“When we go into the fight scenes and we’re in it, shit happens,” Ludwig said. “We all just end up going at it. Everyone’s just screaming and hitting the person to your left and to your right because you don’t know what’s happening and the cameras just trying to pick up everything.”
Of all the fight scenes in Vikings, perhaps the most daunting of all for Ludwig to portray was Björn’s showdown with a bear in season 4. The scene was shot in Sault Ste. Marie in Ontario, Canada, and took four days to complete, all in freezing, snowy weather.
“WHENEVER BJÖRN DOES END UP DYING, ALL THAT MATTERS TO ME IS THAT IT’S A GOOD DEATH.”
“The bear had a bigger résumé than anybody else on the set,” Ludwig told TV Insider in 2016. “He could hit his mark better than I could. We basically had a clothesline separating me from the bear. The bear was raised to believe that the clothesline was electric, but it absolutely was not. So all I’m doing is waiting for the bear to realise this, and they’re going to have to rewrite the script because the bear actually wins the fight!”
Biting the bullet
Ludwig has faced personal battles of his own, recently revealing that he struggled with alcoholism from the young age of 14. He shared his story on Bite The Bullet – a YouTube series that aims to raise awareness of substance abuse and inspire others to seek help.
“I was 14 years old when I had my first drink,” he revealed. “And I loved it. I was an instant addict. I probably did 14 shots that night.
“Alexander would be that crazy guy who would have these crazy nights. I was nothing without the party. It started going out with everybody and in the end, it was just me alone, by myself, in some room, not knowing where I am, waking up in a ditch, getting into fights, being arrested.”
The actor has found peace with his demons, but knows that he has to steer clear of alcohol completely if he is to remain in control.
“Something very different happens with me when I touch that stuff, to the point where I just can’t stop,” Ludwig said. The actor checked himself into rehab – using most of his savings to pay for treatment – and is proud of the choice he made.
“I love being that guy now that people can rely on,” he said. “There’s times where I thought there wasn’t a way out. And I put the people that I loved, closest to me, through so much. It’s a lot brighter on the other side.”
Life after Vikings
Thanks to the success of Vikings, things are unlikely to be slowing down for Ludwig any time soon. As well as his role in Bad Boys for Life, the strapping actor is also set to feature in Swing – an Ivy League rowing drama – and alongside Mandy Moore, Woody Harrelson and Luke Evans in the WWII epic, Midway. He also stars in another upcoming WWII drama, Peace, and his impressive physique will once again be put to good use when he co-stars in the eight-episode wrestling drama, Heels.
But Ludwig is unlikely to forget his Vikings experience any time soon, telling BELLO how much the show has meant to him.
“It’s been a huge growing experience for me,” Ludwig said. “I really feel like I grew up on the show, just as my character did. Being a part of this show has been one of the great experiences of my life.”
For now, many of us will be on the edge of our seats, waiting to find out what will happen to Björn Ironside. In the final season, the King of Kattegat will battle it out with his odious brother, Ivar the Boneless (played by Alex Høgh Andersen), and will also face a new enemy – Prince Oleg – who wants to invade Scandinavia.
Reports suggest that the season’s battle scenes took weeks to rehearse, and with 20 episodes – including a two-hour premiere – there are bound to be battle scenes aplenty. But how will it end? Creator Michael Hirst has warned, “If you have tears to weep, be prepared to weep them as you watch season 6.”
By all accounts, shit’s going to get real. ■