Chatting with Christopher Heyerdahl

Last updated 10:36 17/10/2012

Christopher Heyerdahl isn't one of the most well-known names in television - but whether you recognise him from guest spots on countless television shows, seen him on Sanctuary, caught him on the latest season of True Blood, or know him as The Swede on Hell On Wheels, Heyerdahl is a man you've probably come across at some point.

20121017In fact, Heyerdahl is one of the busiest men in television right now, having appeared on all three of those shows - Sanctuary, True Blood and Hell On Wheels - in the last year.

"It's difficult when you have an actor who is wanting to do different projects," says Heyerdahl, speaking to me ahead of his planned appearance this weekend at Armageddon Expo in Auckland. Despite the Scandinavian name, and the thick accent he carries as The Swede, Heyerdahl has a charming Canadian lilt that belies the menacing tone of many of his characters.

"Usually you get turned down," he continues. "But the producers on Sanctuary were very generous and saw Hell on Wheels as a great project, and certainly something I wanted to do, and were very supportive. It's usually not the case that you get to do so many things at once."

Heyerdahl is probably best known as Thor Gundersen, referred to as The Swede, on SoHo's Western drama Hell On Wheels. Originally a villain for leading man Cullen Bohanon to come up against, the second season of the show has seen The Swede transform into a villain for everybody in town, including former boss Doc Durant. Heyerdahl says he was involved in shaping the character, alongside show creators Tony and Joe Gayton.

"We talked about it last year and the ideas that they had, and that the whole writing team had, on where the character was going to go," recalls Heyerdahl. "One of the ideas was that he would become - I don't know if you remember the end of last season he has a conversation with Cullen, and he tells Cullen that Cullen is Loki, the God of chaos and mischief from Norse mythology. He realises this season that he made a mistake, and it's not actually Cullen who is Loki, but himself."

"Perhaps though the fact that the town tarred and feathered him, and felt it best to destroy this man who was keeping them in check, he comes back and wants to create the chaos, or help them create the chaos, that comes out of nobody leading or constricting the desires and demands that the human being puts on a society like that."

Like many characters on Hell On Wheels, The Swede is a man without a real home, with nowhere else to go.

"He doesn't," agrees Heyerdahl. "And one of the things that resonated through reading what the writers had put on the page was the word community. I think that The Swede is definitely looking for a place to belong and be accepted. With the coming of Hana Durant, there's a lovely moment of acknowledgement that Doc Durant didn't really support this man in the way that he needed to be supported in that community, and shunned him along with the rest of the community. So it was something that I think resonated a lot and I think it creates a demand for him to, or desire anyway, for him to want to find that place where he belongs. It's certainly not [the town of] Hell On Wheels at this stage of the game, that's for sure."

Heyerdahl says playing The Swede also aroused an interest in the part Scandinavian people play in American history, and he found himself surprised by the extent to which Scandinavians were involved in the American Civil War.

"I'm not surprised that they were willing to fight for their new freedom because they are very passionate people," says Heyerdahl, fondly. "But I was certainly surprised at my own ignorance. You know, one of those great gifts, that comes with this type of a job, is that with each role you have the opportunity to learn so much more about different aspects of society and history and humanity - and to have that opportunity to do the research that I would never normally look for in my own heritage was an amazing thing and very surprising."

For now, Heyerdahl is happy to be out meeting fans and says shows like Armageddon Expo provide a great opportunity to give something back to viewers.

"I think it's a lot of fun to see the passionate way in which people are reaching out to those who are interested in the same things they are," says Heyerdahl. "It's almost as if you're a secondary or tertiary member of the event, because people are coming together from all over the world, and they'll know each other from talking through social media, and then they get together and that'll be their meeting place, actual physical meeting place at one of these events."

"To be a part of that, I think, just represents that maybe we're a part of something a little bit larger and actually bringing together the world in something like that, which I think is exciting."

Armageddon Expo is being held this weekend at ASB Showground in Auckland. Christopher Heyerdahl will be at the convention, doing photos and signatures, and answering audience questions in a panel at noon on Saturday. For more information, click here. For ticket information, click here.

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Congratulations are also in order for MasterMoose, MissSerenity and Streetkid, who each win a double-pass to Armageddon Expo after their brilliant superhero TV show suggestions in Monday's blog. Well done!

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