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Jessalyn Gilsig (Vikings)

Jessalyn Gilsig (Vikings)

Jessalyn Gilsig is a Canadian actress known for her roles in the television series Boston Public, Nip/Tuck and as Will Schuester's wife (then ex-wife), Terri Schuester, in Glee. She also appeared in several episodes of NYPD Blue, Prison Break, and had a recurring role on Heroes, as well as several other series. She is appearing in History Channel's first scripted series, VIKINGS, premiering March 3.

SHAKEFIRE (SF): 
So can you tell me a little bit about your character?
JESSALYN GILSIG (JG): 
Sure. So I play Siggy Haraldson who is the wife of Earl Haraldson, played by Gabriel Byrne as we mentioned and it’s such a fantastic gift this character, she comes in with a lot of backstory having lost their son in battle and having only a daughter and the Earl has not been able to - they haven’t been able to produce an heir and so she’s in an incredibly vulnerable and precarious position but that the way that we conceived of her was that she was also really has always lived a life of privilege and a life of power and status and it’s incredibly natural to her, it’s something that she feels she’s inherently born in to. And there are many, many obstacles that she encounters as the series goes forward as perceived but she’s driven by this really inherent belief that she’s a woman of importance and a woman who needs to survive and has incredible strength and conviction and I just felt very lucky to get this - to play her.
SF: 
When you were working on this series, did you learn anything about Vikings that you didn’t know before?
JG: 
Absolutely. I learned so much I mean I had to throw out all my preconceived ideas. You know, for me one of - from the vantage point of my character, one of the resources that they gave me was there had been a burial sight that they had found that would have been - they believed were the woman’s - who would have been in my position, the wife of an Earl or somebody of great importance and a lot of what we learned was first of all that there was - you know, there’s this stereotype of Vikings as if - that they’re sort of this filthy, ruthless, totally unkempt people. And in reality we saw a lot of evidence that they practiced really good hygiene and this woman, you know, they always had a change of clothes, they were buried with a change of clothes and that a woman in her position had, you know, very intricate and complex hairstyles and that there was evidence that they had used kind of very primitive kind of make-up. And so for me that suggested that as the day, a woman had a public face, that there was something very deliberate about her appearance and that she was communicating through how she chose dress and ordain, you know, and what she wore and how did her hair and sort of that sense of there being a public self was really helpful for this role and that all came out of artifacts that they had found in burial sights and information that was shared with us.
SF: 
I was wondering if there’s any difficulties’ being gained through this character of being a chieftain’s wife?
JG: 
There were great challenges, you know, I felt really lucky that there’s so much that I got to do in this that I’ve never done before but always, you know, when you become an actress it has a lot of the elements that you hope for as an actress. I mean anything from the period to the accent to as you say playing a role that doesn’t even exist in modern society. And so to kind of find a way into the character but then to also make sure that these were human beings that had all the complexities of any mother, wife, woman and to kind of marry those two things. I felt was the greatest challenge. I feel like Michael gave so many great markers for me to hit because I feel like the relationship with the Earl was so specific and wasn’t just sort of man on a throne and the woman who sits beside him but more that there was a deliberateness and a specificity to what their relationship was made of. And then they had a lot of touchstones as the mother having - with the character having lost her son and the vulnerability of her daughter and how the daughter becomes a, you know, - to marry her would be significant to how our position would evolve but then also, you know, the love of your child, you want to put your child in a healthy, respectful marriage. And so I love finding the balance of this - of the culture, which was born from ours, but then the humanity, which is universal.
SF: 
Well after doing Glee, Heroes, Nip/Tuck and more contemporary roles, what’s it like to take on a project with so much history in it, especially filming in Ireland?
JG: 
It was - funny enough it was something I had - sometimes when, you know, when you come home as an actor and you’re waiting to find out what your next move is going to be, you sort of try I guess make up what you would like it to be and Vikings, although I never imagined necessarily Vikings, but the idea of really being on a cable - what I like so much about cable these days is that they’re building worlds that are completely seamless and so thorough. You know, where you can’t feel the edges of the set and Vikings in a way fulfilled that dream of mine of that really they built the world and then we step into it and we have to kind of go through the looking glass into a different world and a different time. There’s so much on this show that supports us as actors, the production design is absolutely transformative, the wardrobe, the commitment of the hair and make-up department, it’s standard of the other departments and the determination to create a world that was - that the audience could buy into. And that we would really love the expectations, it was kind of infectious and I think as actors in a way, we really leaned on those departments to kind of complete that picture and felt really lucky that we were supported that way because it was a big leap I mean, you know, taking on a subject that has a lot of preconceived ideas and then we’re, you know, but we want to carry people into an experience where they can’t feel, you know, it’s - excuse me sometimes when I finish watching Downton Abbey in Britain and then I go to bed, I find myself sort of moving like Lady Mary. And, you know, you want to bathe in that and I hope that we kind of give people that same experience where just for a second you’re transported and then you have to bring yourself back down into reality.
SF: 
Do you have any other upcoming projects besides Vikings?
JG: 
I do. I just wrapped an episode of The Good Wife, which I really enjoyed. I’m such a big fan of that show and there’s a film that I produced that is going to be doing the festival circuit actually starting in March called Somewhere Slow. And I’m incredibly proud of it, I was a part of it since development and it was an amazing cast, we have Robert Forster and Lindsey Crouse and Graham Patrick Martin and Wally Langham and it’s just something that’s very special to me because it’s the first time I’ve ever produced something. And it was really fun as an actor to - you never - an actor you’re never there, well I’m never there from the moment of inception, you know, where you ((inaudible)) the last element to the final piece and so to be there from the very beginning and to help crew it up and build the days and be a part of the edit and the mix and the composer and all of that. It wasn’t that I learned so much but I also learned how much I already knew and that was really satisfying after having worked in the business for so many years. I’m so excited for people to see it.
Peter Oberth
Interview by Peter Oberth
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