He's the beast you've seen on your screens as Rollo in Vikings and recently as a younger Bryan Mills in the new Taken TV series. Last Friday afternoon we were lucky enough to chat with the super down to earth and easy going Clive Standen.
Getting straight to it, filling Liam Neeson's shoes whilst putting a spin on the character yourself must be a huge task, how have you gone about doing just that?
“When I started looking at the Liam Neeson character in the films, he's this grizzled veteran of the CIA who's retired and right at the end of his story, really. We're rebooting the character from the beginning of his career so there's no rush to make him that guy with “the particular set of skills?”. I mean, my character definitely has a skill set, whether they’re particular or not is part of the journey.” “He’s not talking about gun training or martial arts, wiretapping people and all that espionage technology, he’s really talking about one particular skill and that is the forward momentum. That is the only special skill he has, it’s that he will not be stopped. (So) when other people freeze like a deer in headlights or run the other way/ turn the other cheek and pretend it’s not happening, he goes straight forwards into the danger and you’re going to have to put a bullet into his head to stop him. Liam’s character has that direction, he has a plan and knows how he is going to execute it, the character I’m playing isn’t there yet, he’s got that momentum, he’s running straight towards the danger but he’s kinda working out the plan as he goes along. In the film when you’ve got a beginning, middle and end you want that kick ass guy who has an answer for everything and is going to be indestructible. In a TV show though this gets boring, you want a guy that’s going to trip, stumble and fall, then get back up and learn from his mistakes and try harder and go to the dark side but then pull himself, he’s a far less rounded Bryan Mills in season one. It’s really similar to the character I had in Vikings, when I got the history books and before I started filming anything, Rollo is the Duke of Normandy, he’s the great, great, great grandfather of William the Conqueror, he’s this incredible man but that’s not where he was at the beginning of the show. (Originally) he was this very questionable, almost verging on sociopathic viking, living on the margins. So, you have to pace it, you build him (them) over season to season.”
What drives you to excel as an actor, particularly when you take on a new role?
“Fear of fucking up (laughs)”. “Nah, I dunno, I got into acting to draw attention away from myself and I get a kick out of doing it. So, the research, the preparations and things are just as much fun as the executing of the character but what comes after that, when the editor gets a hold of it and its on TV I’m not really that interested anymore. I mean, I’ll watch everything I’ve done just so I know everything they’ve cut. I’ve been there before when I’m talking to you and I haven’t watched the TV show and I’ve been talking about this scene I’m proud of and then they’ll tell me it was cut and I had no idea. It’s just more I love creating characters, I love disguising myself behind them.”
The training regime between Vikings and Taken must have been quite different, what is it like training your body to suit the different roles?
Yeah, that’s a good question! With (training for) Vikings, I call it Chaos Training, where you just do something different all the time so your muscles never really get used to it, but it’s a lot of heavy weight and a lot of using your own body weight. I try workout between takes because I’ve got a wife and three kids at home, so as soon as I get home I want to be working on my lines and I (only) have so much time to do that. To try and explain to my wife that I wanna go do two hours down at the gym when I’ve been at work all day, it’s hard to get permission to do that. Doing the workouts in between takes in Vikings, it doesn’t matter if I get sweaty and veiny because he is that character. What was harder was when I took on Bryan Mills, it’s a lot more cardio involved, I had to lose a lot of weight because he’s a spy and you don’t want to be built like a brick shithouse like a Navy Seal. If I’m spying on you and I’m about to jump out and attack you, if you think you’re being followed the first person you’re going to suspect is the guy that looks like a Navy Seal. We filmed it in Toronto and we got this place that was an indoor assault course called Pursuit and we tended to work out there, it was like this amateur ninja warrior course. (Pursuit) it was filled with monkey bars and swinging through hoops, crawling along the floor and jumping through tyres, things like that. So, it is a very different form of training and that’s what I found hard, when you get so used to doing weights and then you have to get used to using your lungs so much. At the moment, I’m putting on heaps of weight for film I’m shooting in Queensland but I know that as soon as I go back to shoot for Taken its going to be twice as hard to get into shape.
What can you tell me about the filming in Queensland?
It's a film about Errol Flynn, we’re in pre-production but the cyclones are wrecking it, so I don’t know if they’re going to put off filming. But yeah, I play one of the guys who’s the captain on his ship and is bit of a nutcase!
On average, what’s the make-up process like on set for Vikings?
Well it changes, at the beginning it took a long time but now they’re much faster. If it’s a battle though when he’s on display and he’s got all his tattoos on, season four for instance sometimes 3 hours. When I was a Viking rather than the Duke, the Vikings had it easy, you just scrunch your face up and they put a sponge over your face and your good to go. You may as well go out the night before and drink until your liver hurts so when you come in the next day you can just go straight to set (laughs).
When reading up for the character of Rollo, which influences did you use to model the character on?
It’s funny because sometimes when I’m working on a character in my head I’ll put together a mood board in my head. Like with the character I’m playing now is like Robert Shaw in Jaws and a few of Bryan Browns characters and I just mix them all together in my head. With Vikings it was all done in research, there have been so many different historians writing each and every one of these Vikings, even Rollo in particular. He’s so many documents within the Icelandic saga’s, they talk about how he’s Rollo The Walker, which is a very different Rollo, he was banished from his town for stealing livestock from the king and built his story from there. / What I’m saying is, you take a bit from every Rollo out there and try and find the truth in the middle.
Last question, in the light of Oz Comic-Con, and moving away from what you’ve done so far, if you play on a hero or villain from any fictional universe, who would you want to?
Uh, I’ve always been mad on James Cameron’s Alien and Russell Mulcahly’s Highlander and things like that. Oh, there you go! Kurgan in Highlander, it would be better if it was never remade but if it was I’d want to play him just so no other actor messed it up!
Header image courtesy of Oz Comic-Con.