Actress and model Alyssa Sutherland didn't get a lot of schooling in Viking history while growing up in Australia.
"We might be the only place the Vikings didn't get to," Sutherland says with a laugh. "I guess that's why there was not much taught about them."
That meant she had to hit the books after being cast in the History channel series "Vikings." Sutherland fell into some good luck with her quest for knowledge as the man who helped her at the bookstore was a history buff. The back of the book he suggested asked "So you want to be a Viking?"
While there was no specific information in regard to her character, the research helped Sutherland understand the setting at the beginning of the Viking Age in the eighth century. The series from Michael Hirst ("The Tudors") is based on the heroic tales of Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel), the Viking behind the first raids made into England.
The second season, set to start Thursday, shows how Ragnar's passion to find and conquer new lands across the sea changes. It also deals with events that threaten his marriage to Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) and his relationship with his son - events that have to do with Sutherland's character, Aslaug, daughter of famed dragon slayer Sigurd and shield maiden Brunhilde, who was introduced in the finale of the first season.
"During my research, I learned how important it was for a Viking leader to be able to feed his army. That was a way for them to stay loyal," Sutherland says. She also discovered that although considered barbaric in nature, the Vikings were advanced in some ways when it came to the place of women in their society. Woman could divorce their husbands and own property.
Aslaug is definitely a woman who likes to be in command, whether that's in dealing with the masses or in the bedroom. Sutherland was attracted to the role because it gives her a chance to play a character who is both intelligent and sexually strong. Aslaug uses those skills to embed herself with Ragnar. As Sutherland puts it, Aslaug knows what she wants and is "sure she's going to get it."
The Aussie was also excited about being part of the series because she doesn't have to be glamorous in every scene. After years of modeling, Sutherland prefers getting down and dirty to all of the time spent with hair and makeup.
After winning the 1997 Bonne Belle model search by the Australian teen magazine Girlfriend, Sutherland signed with Vogue Australia. She's appeared in campaigns for Bulgari, Ralph Lauren, Garnier, Calvin Klien, Chanel, John Freida, Kerastese, Hugo Boss and Abercrombie & Fitch.
Her acting credits include roles in "The Devil Wears Prada," "Day on Fire," "Don't Look Up" and the TV series "New Amsterdam." She loves acting because it's far more of a challenge than modeling.
"Modeling was good to me but when you are a model you just show up and don't have to prepare for the shoot. It's long work hours, getting jet lagged and being sleep deprived. I really never had a passion for it," Sutherland says. "I love acting because you get to create a character."
Sutherland gets to work on a series that was the highest-rated new cable series of the year during season one, with an average of 4.3 million viewers per episode. Her character's is part of a major story line of the show: Aslaug's relationship with Ragnar is going to put a strain on his marriage to Lagertha, one of the fan favorites.
This direct competition has already earned her attention from the legions of "Vikings" viewers. There's only one downside to being on the series - animals.
"We are always surrounded by animals," Sutherland says. "It is a little hard to concentrate on doing dialogue when a rooster is crowing. One day I got the giggles during a very dramatic scene. I know I shouldn't have but this lamb kept acting up."
10 p.m. EST Thursday