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From 'Die Hard' to 'Vikings': 'Valhalla' boss explains how action flick tenure influenced Netflix spinoff
All eight episodes of Vikings: Valhalla Season 1 are now streaming on Netflix.
Yippee Ki-Yay, Mother Freya! Long before he decided to mess around with Vikings and Norse mythology in Netflix's Valhalla television series, writer/executive producer Jeb Stuart put John McClane through the ringer at Nakatomi Plaza.
How do you go from Die Hard co-screenwriter to showrunner on a massive historical epic set against the backdrop of the 11th century? The transition is a lot easier than you might think, particularly when you're dealing with some of the best warriors in human history. During a recent conversation with Variety, Stuart — whose other screen credits include Leviathan and The Fugitive — explained how his vast experience in the action genre helped prepare him for Valhalla (a spinoff of History Channel's Vikings, which ran for almost 100 episodes across six seasons between 2013 and 2020).
"I did start in this business with Die Hard, and I love action," he said. "It is a genre that I feel is near and dear to my heart, as someone who has put in well beyond the requisite 10,000 hours to get a hang of the genre. The type of action most evident in Vikings: Valhalla is character-based action — an action that lends to the plot and has to do with the character that the actors are playing. I did not want to have my Greenlanders know how to fight the same way as other Vikings who had grown up with raids like the Norse or the Swedes. The Greenlanders are very physical, but they are hunters. So, how do you dramatize that? That’s what I mean by character-based action."
To get that just right, the production tapped industry-renowned stunt coordinator Richard Ryan, who worked on the original Vikings show (created by Michael Hirst), as well as Guy Ritchie's two Sherlock Holmes movies with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. Stuart praised Ryan and his team for their ability to fine-tune the various action scenes, which sometimes requires something that isn't on the page.
"I’ve worked with some great stunt coordinators and some not-so-great stunt coordinators, and every now and then, you turn in a script that you think you’ve really nailed, and then when you see the finished product and choreograph, you’re like, 'Wait a minute, didn’t you guys read the script? This is nothing at all like that,'" the showrunner continued. "We are accomplishing what we need to in order to tell the story. I am working with a crew that is understanding, fun and strong."
Since the spinoff is part of a streaming service, it's not bound by the same rules and regulations of a network-sanctioned project. As a result, Stuart can get away with a lot more creatively. "Vikings was written with a different framework," he concluded. "What you can do on a Netflix show you can’t do, say, on a network show. I can kind of make a mini-movie every week. My tastes lean into action, lean into suspense and lots of character-building. At the same time, we’re actually shooting on some of the same sets and some of the same locations. We only use one actor from the original series, who is sort of transcendental, but there’s a lot of new freshness to it overall."
All eight episodes of Vikings: Valhalla Season 1 are now streaming on Netflix. When it was first announced back in 2019, the company placed an order for 24 episodes, which seems to imply a minimum of at least three seasons. There is no word on when the sophomore installment will premiere.