Watch: Michael Hirst on bringing 'Vikings' to life [Video]
Michael Hirst is best known for bringing King Henry VIII to the small screen in Showtime's "The Tudors," and is now giving voice to legendary Norse warriors in the lavish, big budget "Vikings" for the History Channel.
And although he's gone from writing about the most uppity, privileged folks on the planet to some of the most brutish thugs on the planet, he agrees that, other than personal hygiene and fashion, there is really not much difference between them.
"Actually," Hirst smirks in a video chat with Gold Derby, "the Vikings smelt better than the Tudors!"
It has taken the deft touch of master historical storyteller like Hirst to open minds and change perceptions about these misunderstood warriors, who have often been portrayed as one-dimensional, violent thugs in popular culture.
"The reason that there hasn't been much on the Vikings beforehand is because, as you would imagine, it's a hard sell. You're trying to get people to sympathize with people that come through the door with axes, and I enjoy that challenge, but I am showing a much richer, more complex society than people have imagined" says Hirst. "Vikings didn't write their own history; they were non-literate, so the history written about them was by hostile voices, but their reputation for violence, although somewhat exaggerated by Christian monks, was nevertheless well deserved."
Hirst's genuine love of history is evident when glancing at the list of his most acclaimed work of the past two decades, from Oscar winning modern classics like Shekhar Kapur's Best Picture-nominated "Elizabeth" (and its sequel "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"), to Showtime's bodice-ripper "The Tudors."
On his fascination with the past, Hirst explains that his goal is to make "the past live in the present, and to make the life stories and the passions of these people from the past relevant and resonant to audiences today."
"William James, the American philosopher, described the first year of a baby's experience of the world as 'a buzzing, booming chaos' and my sense of contemporary life is a buzzing booming chaos and I fail to make sense of it and in some ways I am much happier having a perspective on the past" says Hirst. "I live in the present but I work in the past."
The show will be competing for the first time on the 2013 Emmy Awards ballot in the Best Drama Series category as well as for stars Travis Fimmel and two-time nominee Gabriel Byrne. The program's best chances might well be in several technical categories.
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