By Christina Ying Photography by Robby Klein
Perhaps in the past people have taken liberties in labeling him as a depthless Hollywood hunk but he welcomes the political questions and has no problem expressing it. “… I enjoy discussing these topics.” He takes a momentary pause and chuckles a bit. “I’m just glad I’m not being asked again, what my favorite fucking color is …”
Accessible and disarming in interviews, Alexander Ludwig is irresistibly likable. As you would expect of Canadians, he’s polite and kind, and his personality welcomes you with open arms. Even his “Hello” rings as a warm personal invite.
But don’t be fooled, he knows how to bring the intensity if you know him as Cato from The Hunger Games franchise or the fierce marine in Lone Survivor. A perfect fit for History Channel’s hit historical drama, Vikings; Ludwig brings an intense masculinity and a striking Scandinavian presence. The show is not short of characters with haunting blue eyes, but Ludwig onscreen looks at you with the type of gaze that both brings you in and makes you shudder.
In the first season, Vikings character Bjorn Lothbrok was introduced to us as a child. Bjorn represented us as the naive viewers, who know the Viking world only for their dangerous explorations, violent raids, and pillaging. Entering the series as the adult version of Bjorn in season two, Ludwig’s take on the historically infamous “Björn Ironside,” is still innocent but readily positioned to become a warrior and leader like his father and the show’s leading man, Ragnar Lothbrok, the legendary Viking ruler King.
Many regard the fight scenes in Vikings as the best that exist on network television as they remain thrilling, chaotic, yet simultaneously well choreographed. Ludwig is no stranger to action. Before Vikings, he was known for playing the villain Cato, “A monstrous boy from District 2” in the first installment of The Hunger Games. In the movie, Cato is the villain and biggest obstacle for the film’s protagonist, Katniss Everdeen. “Cato is more complex for me. I don’t think it’s fair to label him as a villain.” Villain or not, Ludwig’s portrayal of Cato garnered the attention of audiences around the world, with his cunning and ruthless approach to the character. He even won an MTV movie award that year for the best fight scene, and just like that, Ludwig’s stardom grew with the franchise. No matter how people define the character he portra yed in The Hunger Games, he makes it simple. “Let’s face it. Everyone thinks they’re the good guy.”
Ludwig has no problem balancing the light and dark aspects of storytelling. It’s necessary in the world of vikings, which is historically known for its unapologetic brutality. He instead connects to the show’s deeper cultural themes, praising its characters’ strong family values, spiritual rituals, and respect for women. In the show, the women are cutthroat leaders, and shield maidens that fight as well as the men. When asked about this, Ludwig is quick to praise the role of women in the show. “The vikings had a modern democracy with women in a powerful role in their politics. It’s something that we can adopt in our own society today.”
This perspective is what might’ve led Ludwig in the direction of World Cup alpine ski racer Lindsey Vonn, as the two have been photographed together by paparazzi. If you look at these two closely, Vonn herself strikes an uncanny resemblance to Vikings beauty, Lagertha. Vonn brings the same type of unyielding spirit that’s reminiscent of the show. It’s an eerie connection to notice, but it brings much intrigue to a man who could pursue any Hollywood ingenue, yet chooses a champion athlete, a blonde and fierce one at that.
He brings an impression of intense concentration and magnitude in everything that he does. Growing up in Vancouver, Canada, Ludwig spent most of his childhood skiing in Whistler. If he hadn’t become an actor, he frequently expresses that he would’ve pursued professional skiing as an alternate career path. His hunger to succeed as an actor was already written in stone, as his mother is a former actress and his father an executive for Lions Gate Entertainment. At nine years old he looked through his mother’s cellphone to arrange a meeting with her agent. When he made the call the agent was so stunned with his persistence, she yielded and took a meeting at his request.
Although he spends most of his time in Ireland to film Vikings, his main residences include the U.S. and Canada. He lights up when speaking of Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. “I think he’s great energy for the country. He brings such a youthful spirit to Canada, and people are just so inspired to follow him. I can’t wait to see what he brings to the country and the rest of the world.”
After The Hunger Games, he could’ve easily stayed trapped in the cycle of a stereotypical depthless Hollywood hunk. Perhaps in the past people have taken liberties as labeling him as such, but he welcomes the political questions and has no problem expressing it. “I enjoy discussing these topics.” He takes a momentary pause and chuckles a bit. “I’m just glad I’m not being asked again, what my favorite fucking color is.”
With a strong international perspective, Ludwig connects with larger social issues like education reform and the environment. “There’s potential to change what’s been done; we can just need to try because we can do so much.”
As for the social and political state of the world, particularly when he was in Europe during Brexit, “It resonates with what’s going on in US politics. People are making a choice between two people without much information; they are choosing who they like better based on appearances and what they like to hear. I suppose that’s the missing link in the world and why people make misinformed decisions. It’s a lack an education, and we should spend more time improving it.”
Still able to see hope in the most difficult of situations, Ludwig doesn’t hesitate to pick movies set in harsh worlds and even dystopic terrains. He even seems to thrive in their dire circumstances. “Drama is just what I’m drawn to. The range in dramatic roles gives me a sense of challenge that I love.” And with complete certainty, Ludwig delivers a profound depth, especially in his portrayal of Bjorn Lothbrok who challenges himself to explore and brings honor in a cruel world. And, as the show Vikings will tell you, “Honor is a rare commodity these days.”