• Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Bishop Heahmund in 'Vikings'. (SBS)Source: SBS
'Vikings' creator Michael Hirst on why Bishop Heahmund is a worthy adversary for the band of Nordic warriors.
Orla Neligan

13 Dec 2017 - 1:57 PM  UPDATED 13 Dec 2017 - 1:57 PM

In typical Vikings fashion, the season four finale was nothing if not shocking, switching from the violent end of Sigurd (David Lindstrom) by his brother Ivar (Alex Høgh) to the lusty actions of Bishop Heahmund (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) as he "comforted" a grieving widow. Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ raunchy debut and subsequent sword-wielding action put him firmly in the thick of the action for the forthcoming season.

“Bishop Heahmund is unpredictable and, well, so is Jonny,” laughs creator Michael Hirst on his decision to cast Rhys Meyers.

The challenge for Hirst in terms of writing season five was to find a Saxon warrior who was the equivalent to the Vikings in terms of charisma and reputation. In his research, he discovered people called warrior bishops – men who held prominent positions in the church but were also skilled swordsmen. Rhys Meyers’ character is based on a real historical figure called Bishop Heahmund, who fought and died in battle.

“He was a formidable figure, so I knew I had found a character that could stand up to Ivar, Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) and other Vikings.”

Having cast the actor in The Tudors, Hirst felt his intensity and passion would be perfect for the role of Heahmund.

“There’s an element of madness about these characters; they’re slightly unhinged because of their fundamentalist beliefs. They’re often very conflicted. On the one-hand, their fundamentalist Christian beliefs means they are prepared to die for their faith, and on the other hand, they couldn’t help their attraction to women. I like to write interesting flawed characters and Jonny fit that bill. He’s perfect for this crazed, religiously-obsessed guy, who is also a sinner.”

The clash of paganism and Christianity underpins much of the Vikings storyline. Hirst was eager for audiences to understand that paganism was a real religion, driven by the Vikings, and that Christianity was equally important, driven by people like Bishop Heahmund.

“In Ivar and Heahmund, you have a passionate Christian coming up against an equally passionate pagan, and both are unpredictable. We do battle scenes very well, but the way Ivar and Heahmund fight and exist on screen together is incredible.”

Consider yourselves warned.


Watch Vikings on Wednesdays at 9:30pm on SBS.

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