A Candid Conversation with VIKINGS Star Jessalyn Gilsig


Since bursting onto our radar in NIP/TUCK, to more recent roles on HEROES and GLEE, Jessalyn Gilsig has always been one of the actress who commanded our attention whenever she graced the screen. Thus, when we were recently afforded the opportunity for a little one-on-one time to discuss her latest head-turning role in VIKINGS (Premiering Sunday March 3 at 10PM on History), it should come as no surprise as we jumped at the chance. What follows is our exclusive one-on-one in which Gilsig reveals what attracted her to a decidedly different role, how her matriarchal character of Siggy stacks up against GLEE’s Terri and NIP/TUCK’s Gina and what audiences can expect from her upcoming guest stint on THE GOOD WIFE. See for yourself after the jump.

Your starring role in NIP/TUCK helped put cable on the map and forever alter the television landscape. Sitting here ten years later promoting VIKINGS have you given much thought to the fact you’ve come full circle?
Jessalyn Gilsig: Well that’s very kind of you, but I never thought of it in that way. That said, I remember when I was working on NIP/TUCK I went into a meeting with some Network executives. And I remember this weird thing where there was almost like a passive resentment with them saying, “How do you get to do that? Why do you get to do that stuff? Why are we locked out from this kind of storytelling? How did you guys find this loophole where you can tell these kinds of stories without any sort of Network parameters?” That was my first sort of awareness that there was a change coming. One that writers want to be a part of rather than have to adhere to an episodic formula.

Do you remember what it was like to get those NIP/TUCK scripts and the lengths your character Gina would go to accomplish her goals?
I remember working on that show, you’d get the script and just think, “What’s it going to be next?” I always thought I knew and I was never right, but whatever Ryan [Murphy] gave me, just always made sense! Of course Gina is sick, but then of course she loves him and of course she’s going to try this angle or that angle and it really was just this feeling like I knew this woman. Everyone has those friends who kept running into a brick wall, gets up and does it again with the same confidence.

Knowing the type of characters your known for and having already had the pleasure of screening VIKINGS’ first four episodes, its quite surprising how much in the background your character is at the start of this series. What was it that attracted you to this project?
Funnily enough, in this instance, because I had spoken to Michael [Series creator Michael Hirst], who warned me not to panic and that it’s a slow burn, I really liked playing this woman. I’ve played so many scenes where I would go in and didn’t have any lines, yet that didn’t mean that my character [Siggy] wasn’t there. There was always a reason why Siggy was there, gathering information while maintaining a deep connection to her husband. Although he came in as the voice, we always had this idea, Gabriel [Gabriel Byrne plays husband Earl Haraldson] and I as to what our conversation just before we entered a room would be. We joked that it was something like, “Honey, I don’t want to wear the cloak,” and I’d be like, “Baby, people expect the cloak!” There was always just this idea that you’re not doing this for you, you’re doing this for the family and if you don’t get up there and become the mouthpiece of this we’re dead. Of course it can be a difficult thing as an actor, because the audience doesn’t know this watching the show, but for myself, I just felt it was a really interesting opportunity to gather information and know that my character will be using it later.

Is it safe to say that Siggy will eventually play a more prominent role as the series continues?
Oh yeah absolutely. Going forward, she has no choice but to come out of her shell and find her voice.

Television shows like GAME OF THRONES and now VIKINGS have become known for their strong women. How do you ensure your character stands out from some of the great ones that are already out there?
I’ve seen GAME OF THRONES, think it’s obviously amazing with great performances, but I’ve never had that problem. I can be inspired, absolutely inspired by other performances and sometimes you’ll deliberately watch things to try and understand how different actors work, that can be a great sort of study as an actor to observe a performance, but I’ve never had the thought that things would crossover. I’m me and somebody else is somebody else so any character that is going to transfer through my body is going to come with whatever I bring to it. So no two performances are the same and I never worried about that.

This show isn’t about Vampire or Zombies! Was the fact that Hollywood hasn’t completely done “Vikings” to death one of the appears of the show?
Absolutely. I think the period it was set in was just really brave of Michael [Hirst] because we all have these preconceived ideas of Vikings and we have to find this balance between what everything loves about them, being amazing aggressors and fearless warriors, while finding the truth about their humanity. What I really love about the show is that it portrays Vikings as a culture that believes in more than one God, destiny, sacrifice and human sacrifice, but it’s not fantasy. It’s as real as anything you or I believe in. It’s their truth. Working on the show there was no smoke or magic howling, it was just, in that sense it ‘s what the makes the show different, it’s not a mystical world, it’s just their world.

Looking at some of your most infamous characters, who would come out on top between VIKINGS’ Siggy, GLEE’s Terri and NIP/TUCK’s Gina?
Siggy would take care of everyone! Gina was reactionary, she just couldn’t think before she moved. Terri thought she had a plan but it wasn’t thought through. Where as I think Siggy is like that cat who has been lying in waiting, has so much more information than anyone else in the room and really with one gesture could take care of the whole group.

What was it like being part of those first seasons on GLEE and NIP/TUCK, two shows that really became a part of of the cultural zeitgeist?
You know, I have been so lucky because even though every actor thinks they are always unemployed, if I really look back I work pretty consistently and have really interesting roles that I think have been more interesting that I might expect television to be. What’s nice is that when people talk to me about shows I’ve been on, it’s not like, “Oh I saw you on TV, they want to talk about the story and what they thought it was about and what they wondered what it was about. And that’s why you become an actor, to entertain people and become a part of great storytelling. In that sense it is the realization of my dream. I didn’t ever, not for a second did I want to be famous or public, it doesn’t suit me, but I did want to give people an experience that was entertaining and about the human condition allowing us to explore life so in that sense I do think it was the fulfilment of a dream being an actor.

And finally, I understand you recently shot and upcoming episode of THE GOOD WIFE, anything you can spill?
Oh I was so excited, I’m a fan of the show and every single actor that they get so when they asked me I was like what do you want me to do? It was great. I got to work with Julianna [Margulies] a lot, she represented my character who was somewhat of a parallel good wife. I play a woman who loses her husband and comes to learn through the investigation surrounding the accident about a life she didn’t know about and has to kind of endure that humiliation publicly while managing to keep herself together.

VIKINGS premieres on March 3rd at 10PM on History.

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