Travis Fimmel (from left), Alexander Ludwig and Katheryn Winnick on Vikings
Jonathan Hession

He’s no stranger to on-screen battles, and with a new role on Vikings, fearsome fighter Alexander Ludwig hones his combat craft even more.

Only 21 years old, ALEXANDER LUDWIG — whose surname means “famous warrior” in German — can sure swing a sword. Whether duking it out with doomed tributes as Cato in The Hunger Games, ducking enemy fire as a military man in the critically acclaimed Lone Survivor or wielding heavy metal as Bjorn on History’s hit show Vikings (returning to TV this month), the young actor is fierce and, well, warriorlike. Ludwig talks to American Way about his epic sword-and-sandal series.

AMERICAN WAY: Surviving in Hollywood today takes a certain warrior mindset, doesn’t it?
ALEXANDER LUDWIG: Absolutely. I completely agree with that. You really have to be a strong person and true to who you are. You have to keep pushing yourself. You can’t give up. Yeah, that sounds like a warrior thing to me.

AW: Where does that come from in your life?
AL: I come from a really great family, and I surround myself with people who are better than I am and who I look up to. And my family really instilled good values in me. I carry that with me everywhere I go.

AW: There’s a photo of you on Instagram from last summer in which you claimed to be working on your Vikings beard.
AL: As hard as I tried to work my craft, I just couldn’t make it grow any faster. Luckily, when you first meet my Bjorn in Season 2, he’s just on the brink of manhood. His experiences in the real world are very slim. But the things that happen in this season turn him into a man and a warrior, and the beard grows in direct proportion to his maturity.

AW: Bjorn is described as being “bold and intelligent.” What can we look forward to with this character on Vikings?
AL: Definitely the Ironside fight. We had the stunt coordinators who did Troy, and it’s just spectacular. The legend of Bjorn is born in this fight. I worked for weeks to carry it off — this ridiculously long fight scene, narrowly dodging spears and arrows and swords. Nowadays, a lot of that stuff is done with CGI, but most of what we did was real. The fight stuff is really intricate and dynamic, and the storylines on this show are really emotional and complex.

AW: It sounds like you’re having the time of your life.
AL: Doing Vikings is, literally, every 12-year-old boy’s absolute dream. Ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to sword-fight and be a conquering hero, and now I’m getting paid to do it.