To say that Ivar, the boneless is a complex character is to overly simplify what Vikings showed us. Inspired by the real and legendary Nordic leader, Ivar was feared and successful, even if he was suffering from Osteogenesis Imperfecta, often known as “brittle bones disease”. It weakens the bones to the point of easily breaking them. In the series, Ivar is the anti-hero that made the young Danish actor Alex Høgh Andersen an international superstar.
To think that Alex almost wasn’t Ivar. With experience in local Danish TV and theatre, he was tested amongst other 14 actors for either Ubbe or Hivtserk or Sigurd. Ivar, of whom Alex knew little then, was apparently already chosen for another person.
Alex jokes it was a sweaty and anxious audition, but something he did (he doesn’t know what) gave the showrunner, Michael Hirst, the idea to ask him to read for Ragnar Lothbrok‘s kid son part instead. Oh, by the way, he had about half an hour to get ready.
Producers remember that Alex made a single question and that was if Ivar was in constant pain. The affirmative reply gave the actor the idea to actually try to hide the effort since he figured that at this point Ivar would no longer show his affliction. His performance was so good that he got the role, even if Alex’s memories are that he failed at the first two shoots, forgetting his lines twice. On the third, Jordan Patrick Smith (who got the role of Ubbe) read with him and only then he nailed it.
Even being handicapped, the real Ivar led the violent Viking raid in England and became legendary. Only after he got the part is that Alex learned about him and about his disease. Most of his first scenes had him crawling on the floor and that took training as well as dedication. In any case, Alex’s body language is so impressive that it’s hard to forget he is not disabled. Ivar is an intense, frequently evil, and unstable character, quite the opposite of the young star who enjoyed taking pictures backstage and making practical jokes with the cast.
Alex Høgh Andersen was only 18 years old when he started in the Vikings. He still jokes about the Army haircut of his first season.
As Ivar, the Boneless, Alex went from supporting to lead role, having earned a solid fan base worldwide. In his debut role, he brought sensibility and versatility to the series. Ivar wasn’t just the average villain, his troubles came from physical and psychological pain. More than that, if the villain is weak and not empathetic, there is no story to tell. That only added difficulty to an extremely hard role that he delivered easily. Vikings would not have been what it was without his contribution. The fact that he’s been neglected to get nominations is a sin and outrageous.
He is above that, though. Vikings’ final season was shot in 2018 and he is already back to his normal life in Denmark. We truly hope to see him again, internationally. If possible, as he prefers, walking.