Jeppe Beck Laursen plays one of the central villains on Netflix’s The Last Kingdom, the scheming Viking leader Haesten. Beck Laursen was kind enough to talk to us, and after a long chat we’re happy to that he’s nothing like his onscreen counterpart. In fact, he graciously took a deep dive into his character, and teased what to expect in season 4.
First up, Beck Laursen told us what changes the cast noticed on set after Netflix assumed full production control in season 3. “It felt like they wanted to do it on a bigger scale,” he remembered. “Production value has always been magnificent, everything has always been built to last, 360 degrees because they never wanted to limit where we could shoot. We did feel like we could go a little bit further in the goriness, the violence. But it was the same writers, same producers, but it felt like they wanted to kick it up a notch. Which I hope it shows.”
It certainly came across to this viewer in season 3, which was easily the show’s best outing yet.
Of course, regardless of who’s producing the show, it would be nothing without the source novels by Bernard Cornwell: The Saxon Tales. Beck Laursen thinks the show walks a fine line between adhering to the source material and being its own entity:
"I read the first two books. At some point I didn’t want to fall in love with something they did in the books but didn’t do on the show and vice versa. Haestan’s introduction is in the second book, so I knew where he started off, the relationship with Uhtred. Of course, we didn’t do it the exact same way, because obviously I wasn’t one of Uhtred’s men for a while and before betraying him. I like that the show can decide where to go on its own. And maybe this will be received wrong, but it’s sort of a tribute show to the books, instead of just following the books A-Z. There’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t translate to TV, whether its size or budget, or just not being interesting to watch. But I really like what they have done so far."
Having read all of the books, I’d have to agree.
“I love to go on, even though it can be dangerous for your confidence, Reddit and other forums, and just read the reactions of the fans to the books and the show,” Beck Laursen continued. “I kind of feel like they had a harder time swallowing it for the first two seasons, the avid book fans, but they have grown to love the show as well. They understand as well that they don’t want to see a 100% adaptation. It makes it interesting for those that know the lore. It looks like people are appreciating it.” Well, we certainly are!
Image: The Last Kingdom/Netflix
Beck Laursen has lived inside Haestan’s head for three seasons now (including the upcoming fourth season), and has naturally grown fond of the character, even if he’s not exactly what you’d call a good guy. “I love playing Haestan, because you don’t see him fight much, but when you do you can tell he can hold his own,” Beck Laursen said. “I like to think of him as ahead of his time just a little bit, more strategic. You can see in the battle of Beamfleot, you can see he directs his troops from the hill, which you don’t see for a couple hundred years.” Indeed, most Vikings or Danes simply charged the enemy, axe and sword swinging away.
Beck Laursen doesn’t think Haestan lacks for courage; he simply looks at things differently than the average Dane. “I totally get him, you can’t use your money in Valhalla. He values being alive more than being dead. I don’t think he has less faith, he just values being alive more. He doesn’t care too much for honor, because, pardon my french, honor just fucks with you. Haestan is someone who doesn’t care what others think, and I like that in him. There are a lot of things I don’t like about him, but I like that. I like his honesty, he’s not afraid of being honest.”
And that’s not the only way Beck Laursen thinks Haestan stands out from his contemporaries. “I try to, I don’t know if it comes across, but one of my basic thoughts about Haestan is that he loves theater. He loves to play people up against each other, and he loves to create these little dramas between camps. You can see it with the whole dead rising thing in season 2. I love to play him, because there is a good mix of being a brute when he has to be, but I’d rather just be over there (laughs). What can he gain from being first in line? He’d lose an arm or a leg, so it’s just better to let others go first. He’s a tactical thinker.”
Still, no one is perfect, and Haestan has committed his fair share of transgressions, especially when it comes to the Lady of Mercia, Aethelflaed:
"Anyone that humiliates Haestan in front of others has got it coming. You don’t do that. You can see in the latter half of season two, after the incident with Erik in the dungeon, she almost throws her own piss in my face, and then my boss comes in, so that’s humiliating. And Erik is blind, that’s the point, when Erik says “she is precious,” that Haestan understands that there is something going on. Up until that point, Haestan had been Erik’s man, but that incident drives him over to Sigefrid.There’s a line in season 3, that I’m not sure if I can say, that got cut for time, but it perfectly sums up his feelings towards Aethelflaed. He wants to send Dagfinn out to scout for her, and he says, “I want that bitch under me, afraid.” He wants to destroy her physically and mentally after what she did to him."
Maybe it’s a good thing that line was cut?
At any rate, Aethelflaed is hardly Haestan’s only enemy, as Haestan and Uhtred are also engaged in a rather unique rivalry, at least according to Beck Laursen. “Uhtred is kind of a balancing act. I give him a rep, he gives me a rep. The more he talks about how Haestan is the scourge of the land, the more he becomes the scourge of the land. So he sees the value in a powerful enemy. I really don’t think Haestan hates Uhtred, I think he sees him as a necessary evil. But he loves to taunt him (laughs). You’ll probably see more of that in season 4.”
Season 4, you say? What else can we find out about that?
To start, Beck Laursen wanted to assure fans that, despite the exits of huge characters like Alfred in season 3, season 4 won’t see a drop in terms of quality.
"So many great characters departed in season 3, so I think people are sort of apprehensive about season 4, but I think it’s just going to kick them in the teeth. They are going to love it. I am most certain of that. There are new, very powerful characters. I think everyone will be happy about it. We’re happy about it, and if we weren’t happy you’d have reason to worry. We have some surprises for you guys!"
In some cases, the surprises were so big even Beck Laursen was taken aback. “I read all the episodes, but mainly just my part. I don’t really read stuff that Haestan isn’t supposed to know about, so that I can’t act on it. That’s why, every season that I have been there have always been so many surprises for me. I’m a huge fan of the show.”
Honestly, I’m not sure I could do the same in that situation.
Like any fan, Beck Laursen talked about favorite scenes, including one Last Kingdom fans are all too familiar with: “Something about that scene in season 3, episode 9, the dialogue, the reconciliation between Alfred and Uhtred, Alex and David made me cry in my own living room,” he said. “Screw them (laughs)! I don’t get emotionally involved in shows I’m working on, because it’s hard to see past the work. But I cried my eyes out seeing that scene for the first time.”
Did I do the same? No comment.
In terms of favorite episodes, Beck Laursen chose another great one. “One of my favorite episodes is the slave episode, when Uhtred meets Finan, they come back and talk with Ragnar. That scene in the field with Eva (Birthistle) and Alex, is just so… I feel so blessed to be part of the show. It’s just so good.”
In addition to the story itself, part o the reason The Last Kingdom is so compelling is the performances, and Beck Laursen is one of the few actors who gets to work with most of the actors, since he loves to play both sides of a conflict.
"There are so many good actors on this show, and everyone brings so much to the table. I’d have loved to do more with David (Dawson), Harry (McEntire) and Liza (Butterworth), all the Saxon side, but from a story point I feel very lucky to have sat down and done a few scenes with David. David is just, I don’t have to say anything, he’s amazing. I wish sometimes we could work more cross faction, but we hang out a lot in our spare time, so it’s not like we don’t meet each other. We go out to dinner, paintballing, bike rides in the city, so we hang out together a lot, but there are a lot of people on the Wessex side I’d like to work with more."
Saxon or Dane, the cast and crew of The Last Kingdom posts a steady stream of behind-the-scenes images to their social media accounts, tiding us over until season 4 arrives. Beck Laursen revealed that it’s a deliberate choice. “We get guidelines on what we can and can’t post, so we know. We don’t post the entry of new characters, or the departure of old characters. We just love to give the fans some insight into what we do, and that we can’t wait to show you guys what we’re doing. As long as there are no spoilers, I don’t see the big deal.”
"I actually feel like a big part of our fanbase feels more included and incorporated in the show because of that. I think that’s the way to go. This helps us to get the word out there, and I think it’s a very inclusive way to do it. I enjoy it. I think a couple people have posted things a little early, and it’s not that the hammer comes down, they just get told, ‘hey, be more careful.’"
I think I speak for most of the fans when I say keep the pics coming!
Image: The Last Kingdom/Netflix
Outside of The Last Kingdom, Beck Laursen has kept busy. “I did an HBO show last fall that I love, it’s called Beforeigners. It’s very interesting, and it’s kind of satire of the whole immigrant situation in Europe and the States. Our immigrants come through time though, so outside Oslo there are time holes that open up and people are pouring out from the Viking Age, the Stone Age and they are trying to integrate into society. Outside of that, I have some stuff in the pipeline that I can’t talk about yet. But I’ll let you know!”
Finally, we asked Beck Laursen what he likes to watch when not working. Apparently he binges everything just like the rest of us. “I enjoyed The Witcher, I binge a lot. I recently binged all of Breaking Bad again, and once a year I binge Band of Brothers. One of the best mini-series ever made I think. I feel pretty lucky to be in this business and get to enjoy it from the outside as well.”
There’s a notable exception to the list however, and one that Beck Laursen revealed is especially hard to wait for:
"I want to see The Mandalorian, but I don’t want to download it. Disney+ doesn’t come out until May here. I can’t do that, I’d feel like a hypocrite. One of my biggest dreams would be to act in that universe, I kind of became an actor because of going to Star Wars for the first time in 1979, with my dad. Just experiencing that in the theater, I think it was Star Wars and E.T. that made me want to be an actor. I would do anything to be, stormtrooper five from the left (laughs). To be in that universe, is a dream."
Who wouldn’t want to be stormtrooper number five? Also, we feel terrible that some people have not seen The Mandalorian!
We thank Mr. Beck Laursen once again for his time. We’re all looking forward to The Last Kingdom season 4. Destiny is all!