Legend has it that Lagertha, the Norse shield-maiden of History’s Vikings, had the courage of a man — only her long blonde locks revealed her gender.
So it’s no surprise that Katheryn Winnick plays Lagertha on the popular series, returning February 27 for season 2. As a girl of 7, she started studying taekwondo in her hometown, Toronto, and by 13 she’d earned her first black belt. She’s now ranked third-degree, and she also sports a second-degree black belt in karate.
Winnick feels a mighty connection to her Vikings alter ego, a mother who wages war against her tribe’s foes with as much mettle as her wanderlusty husband Ragnar (Travis Fimmel). “She’s very strong-willed. She will speak her mind and fight for what she believes in.”
In Winnick’s childhood home, her parents — Ukrainian immigrants — emphasized energy. She, her sister and 2 brothers “all grew up doing martial arts,” she recalls. But she considers her younger brother, who served in Afghanistan for Canada, the family hero.
At 16 Winnick opened her own martial arts school, teaching kicky moves to members of the Toronto entertainment industry and eventually opening satellite schools, including one in New York. She parlayed that into a smorgasbord of movie and TV roles.
“I started from nothing. I didn’t know anybody,” she declares. “I’ve definitely paid my dues.” Here and there, she took acting classes — and knocked out a degree in kinesiology at Toronto’s York University as a backup.
Leaping to L.A., she scored guest shots on dramas like Criminal Minds and the lead as Ivana Trump in the telefilm Trump Unauthorized. Her personal breakthrough: going mano-a-mano with Hugh Laurie as a psychotic patient in an episode of Fox’s House. That led to a recurring role as David Boreanaz’s ex on Bones.
Now she’s immersed in pagan history. The Viking warriors will “go down in history as being barbaric,” Winnick observes, “but they had a faith that drove their choices. They would go to Valhalla. They had no fear of dying.”
She’s also poring over fem-power biographies. “I love learning about what people had to overcome,” she explains. Lately, Winnick has been reading everything about Yulia Tymoshenko, Ukraine’s former prime minister whose imprisonment sparked public protests. “She’s such a beautiful role model.”