If actor Travis Fimmel looks familiar, the reason could be that he was the face for Calvin Klein briefs and other attire early in his career.
He grew up on a cattle ranch in Australia and was on track to become a pro football player there, until a broken leg derailed him from that career path.
So he came to the United States to seek his fortune, and proved he was more than just a pretty face after leaving modeling for acting.
Fimmel, 34, now plays lead Ragnar Lothbrok in the History Channel dramatic series "Vikings." As a Viking with a vision, Ragnar is ruthless at times, but also capable of compassion. The series' second season premiered Feb. 27. We spoke with Fimmel about his life and work, and here are excerpts from the interview:
Q You are totally believable as Ragnar. Was it difficult to get into that character?
A Thank you for saying I was good. I don't know if you are right or not, but the scripts are good. Michael Hirst, the creator, is so talented. When you get scripts like that, it really helps with a character like Ragnar.
Q On your résumé, the characters you've played are surprisingly diverse. Did you find certain ones more appealing than others?
A I just want them to be complex. I don't like (playing) the "average person" -- you know what I mean? I want to play something more interesting. (In "Vikings") the characters are complex; and everybody has their own voice. It's beautiful shooting in Ireland, an amazing country.
Q When you wear period costumes, does that help you get into character?
A Yes, set decoration, costumes, the look of everybody -- it certainly helps. The landscape in Ireland, the lakes, ocean, the boats -- I've never been in such a beautiful place.
Q Obviously the Viking boats used in the series were built for it.
A Yes. We really go out on the ocean with them. You feel like a little kid playing dress-up.
Q What was it about your childhood that prepared you for this career?
A I have no idea. I just tried to make some money. When I got to the States, I wanted to travel and ended up in an acting class. I have been doing it for the last 14 years. I still don't know why I'm doing it.
Q It has to be fun, right?
A Uh, money is fun, I guess. It's a job like any other job. You try to make some money, and not embarrass yourself too much doing it.
Q Becoming famous was not a goal for you?
A No, not at all. I just want to be proud of what I do. Unfortunately in this business, if you do all right you get recognized a bit. That is the least favorite (part) by far for me. I just want to do the work and go home.
Q So has "Vikings" made it harder for you to be anonymous?
A It's not too bad. I dress like a bum all the time. I'm a pretty casual fellow. You don't get recognized that much unless you want to get recognized. (In) L.A. -- there are 10 restaurants (where), if you want to be seen, you go.
Q If you want to stay under the radar, is it possible?
A Yeah, unless you are bloody (George) Clooney.
Q Did your brothers tease you when you decided to be an actor? How did your parents feel?
A We all grew up on a farm. They think it's fun. They've got a good sense of humor -- the same sense of humor about it as I do.
Q Have you done research on Ragnar, since he was a real person? Or do you just go with the script?
A I mostly go with the script. (My) job as an actor is to make people relate to the character. It was a good challenge to make (Ragnar) likable and get the audience to follow our journey. (On the show) I've got children and a wife, so I try to make people relate.
Q Does it ever bother you that, because you are good looking, some people don't notice what a skilled actor you are?
A I don't think about it; I let other people think about that. I never think about how I'm going to look. (In) most jobs, they don't let you have a beard, so that part was a real attraction for me.
Q Is your haircut like Ragnar's?
A Yeah, and I have extensions. It was, like, only an inch last year, and they put extensions in. It's pretty funny. I have to shower in a shower cap.
Q Is it easy for you to memorize lines?
A Um, I'm very bad at memorizing lines, but if the writing is really good -- which Michael's is -- it is easy. The lines are the least of my worries when we're on set.
Q What is the hardest part of acting for you?
A Normally, it is the egos. (But) on "Vikings," nobody's got an ego. Michael Hirst is just so open and so collaborative. The hardest stuff on this show is the weather in Ireland. It's always raining.
Q How did you build up self-confidence when becoming an actor?
A I did a lot of classes. I can't stand being onstage, or the only one talking in a room. Class helped me deal with that. It doesn't really get any easier, but it helps you focus on the acting.
Q How do you feel about doing love scenes, sex scenes?
A I hate 'em, to be honest. It's very awkward. I'm all for the free kisses, but it's very uncomfortable. It's not a natural thing. You don't do it in front of people in real life. It's very unnatural doing intimate stuff in front of other people.
Q I've read that you want to return to the simple life, living on a farm. Do you still feel that way?
A Yeah, 100 percent. That's the only reason I'm doing this -- to make some money to get my own farm.