The Swedish gem talks to us about the lessons learned from her modeling days, embracing her acting dreams, and celebrating the long-awaited release of Vikings: Valhalla.
PHOTOS: Emily Sandifer
TALENT: Frida Gustavsson
STYLING: Anna Schilling at The Rex Agency
MAKEUP: Loren Canby at A-Frame Agency
HAIR: Kiley Fitzgerald at A-Frame Agency
LOCATION: Sofitel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills
WORDS & PRODUCTION: Jasmine Perrier at Studio J•T•P
SPECIAL THANKS: Narrative PR & Netflix
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“The last six weeks have just been a whirlwind — it’s so humbling to be part of such a global show and have so many people that are interested in what you do, and at the same time it’s a little bit overwhelming,” Frida states from her Swedish home. “We started filming season 1 over two years ago [in Ireland], so it’s been a really long journey for us [until] it finally came out.” A month after a press trip in Los Angeles and the release of Vikings: Valhalla on Netflix around the world, she can finally take it easy. During our photoshoot at the magnificent Sofitel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills overlooking the Hollywood Hills, we witnessed a “full-circle moment” for Frida when she spotted a billboard on Sunset Boulevard that she was eagerly waiting for. She may have previously been in major fashion productions and magazines as a model, but seeing this accomplishment as an actress felt like a childhood dream come true. “Growing up in the suburbs, in a working-class family in Stockholm, I just had my big dreams of, ‘One day, I’m gonna make it,’” she says humbly.
When Frida was little, she would make her own clothes, want to go to fashion school, and even act. Although she points out that getting into acting was a long time coming. “I lost my confidence in my early teens,” she says. “I got skinny and tall, and I had a really hard time identifying with my body — I never identified with being beautiful or fitting archetype. So, I was embarrassed to get up in front of people, and be like, ‘Look at me.’” By coincidence, she was scouted in her native Sweden and launched her modeling career. “It took off and kept doing pretty well for a couple of years, [but] at the back of my mind, I was always thinking, ‘This will be the last year.’” As she started working internationally at 15, she looks back on the very first shoot she did in 2010 for Vogue US, photographed by Patrick Demarchelier and styled by Grace Coddington. It was an experience that made her aware of the importance of getting your voice valued. “It was so beautiful to see that even the people that are at the top of the industry are interested in the people that are around them. That’s something I’ve tried to always carry with me in my career,” she says before reflecting on what triggered her career move. “Although I loved being a model and I love the fashion industry, I felt that I had lost my voice a little bit [because] you’re never really there for the big creative decisions,” she explains, adding, “I had to look at myself really hard in the mirror and go, ‘What am I afraid of? This is the moment. You need to jump off the train or it will be too late.’” From there, she left New York, moved back to Sweden, and started theater class. The rest is history.
Signing on to Vikings: Valhalla turned out to be a career-defining project for the Swedish rising star. “It took me a good couple of years to land a role of this magnitude,” she says. Not only does she hope that it will open doors for the future, but it also helped her shape the way she sees herself as an actor and the acting process. “I think when you haven’t worked in Hollywood before, you have all these misconceptions [about] Hollywood stars. [On Valhalla], I never expected to see this incredible flat hierarchy that this production has.” Despite this fearful anticipation, she felt that coming into the new Vikings show, she had all the tools in her actor’s toolbox to prepare for the job and admired the highly collaborative process behind it. “I knew what I was going to do, and our showrunner Jeb [Stuart] is very generous with his time and his writing. And with my co-stars, we all really played with each other. We would just get together in a room and be like, ‘So, what can we come up with? Let’s try it out, let’s play around.’ I really enjoy working on a show where everyone is seen as a true collaborator in every department.”
In the hands of an actor as committed as Frida Gustavsson, who shows a strong interest in understanding new human experiences, seeing a complex female character like Freydis on-screen is liberating. Describing her key to the legendary female Viking warrior, the actress says, “I wanted to explore the idea of how someone who grew up far from society would move. So, with my trainer, we started re-sculpting my body into a way that would make me feel like her. Something that I took from Freydis is that she is owning her presence and her physical power.” But her history had a lot of aspects to unveil just in the first season. “I didn’t want to portray Freydis as a historical beauty queen. It was important for me to have [her] as raw and real as possible.” When we first meet the fierce character, she is clouded by hatred and her quest for revenge as a survivor of sexual assault. Therefore, the actress read a lot about it to dive into the physical and mental traumas of victims of abuse. However, we appreciate throughout the episodes that Freydis becomes stronger and opens up thanks to her travels and relationships with people who are different from her. “Even though it’s an action and a commercial show, we have layers of storytelling that are quite relevant for today, which are questions regarding belief, revenge, but also questions about family and forgiveness.”
With the second season already filmed and officially announced, Frida reveals that it will pick up shortly after the striking events of season 1. While leaving a bit of suspense, she explains that Freydis will go on an interesting journey that a lot of women around the world could identify with. “Certain moments of season 2 were the greatest challenges of my acting career — I’m incredibly happy with how they turned out,” she says. “I’ve gotten so many incredible messages from little girls and young women from all over the world, saying how empowered they felt by seeing this really fierce woman,” she mentions following the gratifying reception of Freydis. As she enters this new chapter, Frida wants to continue to challenge herself with complex female characters. But for now, she is focusing on Vikings: Valhalla whose filming for season three is on the near horizon. “To feel that we have the support of people from all over the world, it’s like getting an extra boost of wind in our sails for our long journey across the ocean,” she concludes warmly.
vikings: Valhalla IS NOW STREAMING on Netflix
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