VULKAN – UK talent, Clive Standen, is a jack-of-all-genres in the entertainment industry; he’s played multiple roles on historical dramas and is none other than Rollo on critically acclaimed “Vikings.” In 2017, he’s set to star in Alex Cary’s “Taken” and zombie thriller, “Patient Zero.” Lucky for us, the actor took some time to talk to VULKAN about everything from his character prep, to the joys of fatherhood, and doing his own stunts!
What are some of the key differences in the acting industries in the USA vs the UK?
One of the main differences is in the UK, were far more encouraged to go to drama school and do three years of training in acting. In the US, it’s not really a thing; it’s more about learning on the job. Some British actors seem to be made in acting school, and some American actors seem to be made in the gym…which makes sense when you spend more time working on what you look like than getting into character. The way that the industry works is completely different too. It’s a far bigger country, and with the amount of casting directors and projects going on, you can get lost if you don’t have the right representation or don’t get that lucky break. England is a much smaller country and it’s a far smaller circle and you tend to bump into the same people a lot more on auditions and castings.
You’re a married father of three! How do you juggle an international acting career and being a father and husband?
I don’t think anyone has the answer to that one! The amazing thing about being a parent is that it’s the only unconditional love you’ll ever find. You mess up all the time and you wake up and your kids turn around and say, “I love you, Dad!” And so you try and be better, not mess up so much, and learn from your mistakes. There’s nothing easy about being a parent, working abroad, and being away from them. On the downside, when I’m away, I don’t get to see them very much; working with time differences and long hours on set, I’m trying to catch them on Skype whenever I can. Sometimes I miss out on the nicer things that if I were home I’d get to enjoy with them-after school clubs, football matches, and school plays. On the upside, when I am back, I’m completely there! There are fathers who get home at 8pm, when the kids are already in bed and only get to spend weekends with them. When I’m resting as an actor or done with a job, I get to be at home permanently with them and make up for lost time. I give them my undivided attention, turn off the phone and just be dad! We’ve got three children, and I look back to when I had one and I know I’m a seasoned veteran. It’s tough being a parent, even if you’re not working away; finding that balance between giving them your attention and having fun but also remembering you’re not always there to be their best friend. It’s about finding time to do the homework and other things that aren’t so pleasant that mum had to do. It’s not a 9-5 job, it’s 24/7. Sometimes all you want to do is play with the kids because you’ve been away and you feel guilt for having to do the not so fun jobs. It’s also hard to find a balance with your partner again…that might be one of the toughest things.
Was it at all challenging to break into the Hollywood scene coming from across the pond? Why or why not?
As an actor, you go to drama school for three years and all you really want when you’re there is to leave with an agent. Then you get an agent and you want an audition. Then you get an audition and all you want is a small part. Then you get that part and you want a bigger one! You never really know where you’re going and have to take everyday as it comes. Ultimately, you obviously have those days where you dream about getting that big job that’s going to change your life, that character that you can really run with, that person who has the faith in you to play that character. The thing about acting is that it can change on a dime! Some great actors spend their whole life chasing it and they don’t manage to get that big role until their late 40s…like Kevin Spacey. If you get into acting, you never really know, and it’s for that reason you wake up disheartened, and you have to go with what’s been thrown at you and make the most of every job. I get really annoyed with actors that seem to just complain about everything on set. And so with all due respect, I think, “why do you do this?” You’re knocking down doors to get the job and when you actually do, it seems like you don’t enjoy it! Embrace it! There’s an old joke about an actor that’s been out of work for 2 years and he’s tried so hard to get a job, and then one day, his agent calls and says he’s got a job. He’s jumping up and down and the first thing he does is ring his wife and says I have two bits of news; it’s good news and good news! The first is that I got a job, the second is that I got the first week off! You meet so many actors like that and it’s strange. Acting has to be a part of you…you have to wake up every morning and go to sleep every night wanting to do it because that’s the only way you’ll survive in this industry. You should be happy doing a fantastic play in front of 20 people, or a massive movie with Charlize Theron. You get out what you put into it.
What’s one of the most valuable lessons your career as an actor has taught you?
I learned to not judge people so quickly. Acting is all about looking deeper and trying to figure out why somebody does what they do and the reason isn’t usually what’s on the surface. When someone has villainous qualities, you have to ask why they’re doing that! Still waters run deep and that’s what acting has taught me. Some people do make mistakes in life and they deserve second, third, or as many chances as it takes for them to change. Some people are capable of doing it in a day, and it can take others a whole lifetime.
You’ve starred in an array of historical TV series, “Camelot,” “Robin Hood,” and most recently, “Vikings.” What draws you to this genre?
Sometimes you see these actors in interviews, and they get asked why they took this role in a big movie, and they say, “well, when Kenneth Branagh calls you up, you never say no!” But the thing is, he never calls you…you audition and so do others and they go down the list and end up with you. That’s not to say it’s not deserved, but why aren’t they just honest about how they really needed that job, it was a great character to play and you’re not going to turn it down? In my case, I had been doing sword fighting, horse riding, and stunts since I was thirteen years old, so that really gave me an edge on my resume and brought me to a place where they’d be silly not to employ me, and that’s what got me my first break. Jobs like “Camelot” and “Robin Hood” were exactly that, and I probably wouldn’t have been chosen for the role had I not known how to sword fight. Those were a dress rehearsal for the real deal, which for me, is “Vikings.” It just so happens that my first few roles were historical in nature; I’m not necessarily drawn to the genre but it was just my way in to be taken seriously and known as a credible actor.
Speaking of “Vikings,” can you tell us a bit about your character, Rollo, and how he’s evolved over the last four seasons of the show?
Rollo has been a joy to play because, what’s fascinating to me, when I first got the role, as I do with all of them, was research…especially when you’re playing a real person, you have a responsibility to do your best to get it right. My character was the great great great great grandfather of the Duke of Normandy, this amazing ruler, responsible for changing the way we live and the feudal system within Europe. Lots of people, including the Royal Family, have got lineage to Rollo and the Duke of Normandy because of William the Conquerer. On paper, he’s a leader, a warrior, and an incredible person in history, but when I got the first two scripts for “Vikings,” he wasn’t that guy…he was this horrible, duplicitous man who lived on the margins and did some very questionable things. He seemed very ugly on the inside, very lost and I knew it was going to be an incredible journey as an actor-if the show were to get picked up-because I knew how Rollo ended up.
Because I started at such a base level, I had the opportunity to make him grow; smash him into 1,000 pieces and then build him up again, season after season. It’s been a joy over the last four and a half years to see his transition-Season 1; the audience hated him, Season 2; they loved to hate him, Season 3; they’re drawn to him, and Season 4; they understand and relate to him more. It’s great writing and it’s great to be able to play all the different dimensions of such a multifaceted character.
What are some of the difficulties with portraying some of these historical figures?
You just have a great responsibility to get it right. I immerse myself in the world of the character, which is part of the fun for me, and in doing the research, I learned a lot about a time period that I didn’t know much about. Once I got into the world of the Vikings, I realized it hadn’t really been explored on screen before. The Vikings have always been misconstrued as villainous devils that came from the sea, and raped and pillaged everything in their sight. There are obviously two sides to every story, and in this particular story of history, it was recorded by the invaded, not the invaders. It’s a very one-sided view that’s written down, and a lot of is Christian propaganda written by the monks at the time, but there’s not much from the Vikings side. If you actually go to Scandinavia, start researching the Sagas, and piecing together through their art and archeological digs, you get a better idea of who the Vikings really were. I feel like we have a massive responsibility to present the discursive story on screen because with history, often the truth lies in the middle somewhere. There’s a famous historian who was writing about Rollo, 400 years after he lived, and says that he was an amazing ruler who was lovely to his people, and ruled with an iron fist but was always fair in judgment…but he was commissioned by the Duke of Normandy to write all of this stuff, so it’s not necessarily true. Then there are other things written about Rollo, portrayed in Season 1 of the series, about a man who was banished for stealing from the king; he was quite villainous. In the Sagas, he was a warrior, so you kind of piece all of those bits together and find the truth in the middle somewhere. That’s what part of the fun for me!
You star on “Taken,” as Bryan Mills, which is a TV series based on the popular Liam Neeson franchise of the same name. What characteristics does the show share with the film? How do they differ from one another?
Alex Cary, who wrote many episodes of “Homeland,” took the first “Taken” film as a base, because we didn’t really want to include the second and third ones. They’re a bit more polished, and the first one is rough, gritty, and real. The Bryan Mills in the first film is a father who’s had his daughter kidnapped and he’ll do anything he can to get her back, just like you and I would do…the difference between us and Bryan Mills is that he has that particular set of skills. He gets knocked down and he gets back up again; nothing will stop this man! That’s what we took on board for the TV show; he bleeds, he sweats, he cries, you feel his pain and you’re with him because you need him to succeed…we’ve lost all humanity if he doesn’t! In a world where there are horrible terrorists, kidnappers, and money launderers, this guy is trying to sweep the mess of America under the carpet. What I tried to do with Bryan is make him human; he lives in the grey. Sometimes his moral compass is tested and he looks at the people he works for and wonders if they’re that much better than the people he’s being told to track down, hunt, and sometimes kill. When someone makes a mistake, it’s about what they do when they get back up again; do they lie in their bed because they made it, or do they do everything in their power to change the mistake they made? In the film, there’s a lot of collateral damage, but you don’t seem to care so much because you’re in it with him and you know he’s doing it for the right reasons. For example, when he shoots his ex best friend’s wife in the arm just to get information. A good way to describe the show would be a cross between “24,” for its pace and its drive all the way through, and “Homeland” for its integrity of the realness of a situation. I call it a covert action show; it’s about getting in there and getting out without being seen-making silent noise! Everything that Bryan does in the film feels like it could be happening in real life, which extends down to the action. I’ve done everything I possibly can to do my own stunts-within reason, of course. When it comes to the fighting, falling, jumping, rolling, and Parkour, I’ve done it all myself. Not because I have a death wish, but because I realized that when you put the camera on me, and you can show my eyes in the middle of this action scene, they can tell the story; you can see his pain, anger, and frustration. I think that’s what’s original about the show-it’s not James Bond, it’s its own entity and it’s nice to have a writer like Alex Cary with real credibility.
Jennifer Beals, iconic actress of “Flashdance” fame, stars in a few episodes of “Taken.” What was it like working with her?
She’s a maniac! Just kidding…she’s fantastic. It’s been great working with her! All you can ask for in an actor is someone who gives it their all on and off camera, and she’s definitely one those actresses. She plays an important role to Bryan Mills’ story. In the first episode, something really tragic happens to Bryan and his family and Bryan goes on a wrecking ball mission to try and make it right. He hasn’t got the particular set of skills yet, and Christina Hart, played by Jessica Beals, is the head of a secret black ops agency within the CIA. After using Bryan as bait for a little while, they realize he’s going to stick around and she takes him under her wing. She’s the woman in a man’s world.
What’s your process like when choosing new roles? What about a script or a character grabs your attention?
I like characters that burn brightly, that are strong willed and speak for themselves. Something where you can just exist in physicality and you don’t have to do too much. If we were talking about people in real life, we’d probably just say they have that “x factor” and sometimes, there’s a character “x factor” that sings off the page and I can just see him, he’s burning, he can’t be kept in the cage. And that’s all it takes. Sometimes, that results in taking on a really bad project because you’ve chosen this fantastic character. The key is finding great script writing and a character that makes you feel joy, everyday! That character could be one of the most ruthless, horrible villains, or it can be a romantic comedy with lovely dialogue; the genre or type of character doesn’t really matter, sometimes it just speaks to you off the page and you have to play that character!
Can you tell us about your new project, “Patient Zero” and what drew you to it?
I believe it will be released in February 2017. It’s a zombie film, and is almost a commentary on the future of humanity, where Mother Nature has decided that our time on this earth has come to an end and she’s replacing us with a genetically mutated version of the rabies virus, which pulls out this latent anger inside us all. It’s not necessarily a virus that’s wiping out the human race, just the next generation. Humans are living in bunkers underground, trying to escape, but also trying to find patient zero; the first person who was bitten. The faction of zombies has this rage inside of them, and adrenaline pumping through them at all times…which makes them very dangerous. I play Colonel Knox, one of the last people in the military, who if he had his way, would just kill them all, but him and others are trying to find a cure.
I’ve added the other photos from this shoot to the gallery.