With Vikings set to return Thursday, February 27, at 10/9c, we check in with dialogue coach Poll Moussoulides to discuss the art of perfecting what the Norse raiders would have sounded like.
Question: How did you get involved with working on Vikings?
Poll Moussoulides: I’ve been a voice and dialogue coach for 25 years and have worked on over 52 feature films and TV series, some previously with the producers of Vikings. So, I was delighted to be invited to take responsibility for the actors’ vocal performances.
Q: No one knows what the Vikings actually sounded like. How did you decide what accent to go with?
PM: We know from many sources that Icelandic is the closest existing language we have to Old Norse. There are some similarities to contemporary Norwegian, Swedish and Danish, but not as many as you’d think. For a show that will be watched all over the world we had to find a balance that ensures as much authenticity as possible, but without losing vocal clarity for an English speaking global audience.
Q: How did you manage to coordinate the accent with so many actors from so many different countries?
PM: One of the biggest mistakes when teaching an accent to a group of performers is to assume that everyone must sound exactly the same. There is no one singular American, German or Irish accent so why would Vikings from different regions and backgrounds sound the same? I chose several vowel and consonant sounds that give a solid foundation to the accent, and then worked with principal cast to help them find their own character’s voice around these sounds. It is vital to be respectful to each actor’s creative process and I do whatever it takes to help them achieve a vocal performance that doesn’t interfere with the believability of the character that audiences see and hear on screen.
Q: Occasionally, characters speak in Old Norse or Anglo-Saxon, what is the process for ensuring that the actors speak these ancient languages correctly?
PM: We are fortunate to have two leading experts–historian Justin Pollard and ancient language specialist Erika Sigurdson who provide us with the Old Norse and Anglo-Saxon translations. I then coach the actors as far ahead of shooting as possible. It’s a lot of fun and adds to the historical precision of the series.
Q: Typically, we associate deep voices with leadership, but Ragnar’s voice has a higher pitch to it. Was this decision made to make Ragnar stand out more or is it just the combination of Travis’ native Australian and Old Norse accent?
PM: Actually it’s none of these. I believe that Travis has made some really intelligent choices with his voice to reflect the complexity of Ragnar’s character. Audiences are mesmerized by Ragnar because he always keeps you guessing. Just when you think you know how he will react, he surprises us with an alternate decision. Travis and Michael Hirst have created a character that is curious, playful, cunning, loving and ruthlessly violent, yet always believable and engaging. When an actor inhabits their lines with a congruence of vocality and physicality that enhances our viewing experience, it is hard not to be impressed. It has been a joy for me to work with Travis and observe how he has wholeheartedly invested so much thought and skill into bringing Ragnar to life.