‘Driven’ is one of the words Katheryn Winnick, the beautiful star of the History Channel’s Vikings, uses to describe herself. But, as our STEPHEN CHRISTOPHER finds, for this five-degree martial arts–wielding expert, that’s an understatement.
It’s 9:45 a.m. and Katheryn Winnick, who’s been up for about half an hour, is at home in her Venice loft. She jumps on a call with me, takes a sip of her morning coffee, and tells me she’s trying to figure out what to have for breakfast. She’s just arrived back in town, so her fridge is bare—save for that leftover steak from her dinner at Boa. The first thing I ask her for is the five words that best describe Katheryn Winnick.
“Five words? Okay, how about driven, caring, hardworking, fun, and, hmmm…adventurous.” By most accounts, Winnick, who portrays Lagertha, the badass sword, shield, and axe-wielding young warrior and mother on the History Channel’s very authentic and raw original series, Vikings, was made for the role. The show, penned by Emmy-winning screenwriter Michael Hirst (Elizabeth, The Tudors) tells the tale of Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel), a Viking warrior on a mission to explore and conquer distant shores. It’s a story of warfare and pours out its share of ratings-getting bloodshed, but it’s also a touching story of family and brotherhood. Winnick and the show are catching fire.
In real life, Winnick, who is blonde and generally photographed in a sexier light, doesn’t look anything like her warrior role. Truth is, she thrives on physical challenges and Vikings certainly brings them on. “You’re either training on a horse or stunt coordinating, or battle-training with sword and shield—it’s a very intense show for that. Then there’s the challenge of shooting in the weird weather of the mountains in Ireland. It can change on a dime, from sunny – to raining – to hailing – to freezing cold and windy – and back to sunny, and all within an hour and a half. It’s crazy. It’s tough shooting those battle sequences in the rain.”
Like Lagertha, Winnick comes from a strong, close-knit family, and, like Lagertha, she’s someone who can fend for herself. Since the age of 7, she’s been involved in martial arts and holds a third-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and a second-degree black belt in Goju-Ryu karate. “I’ve owned my own dojos and have been teaching women’s self-defense for many, many years,” Winnick says. “It’s a passion of mine to see women transform their inner strength—to see them walk more confidently and be able to protect themselves. It’s really empowering.”
The 36-year-old Ukranian-Canadian Winnick was born Katerena Anna Vinitska. She grew up speaking Ukranian as her first language until she was 8. She keeps up with the current politics and recent upheaval in Ukraine and hopes to come face-to-face with the country’s imprisoned ex-president, Yulia Tymoshenko—one of her heroes. “It’s encouraging to see that she is enduring…her strength, how she’s inspiring
the people—even when she’s still behind bars. She was wrongfully imprisoned, and right now Ukraine is going through a revolution. Hopefully she gets out, and hopefully Ukraine survives what’s happening.”
Shrinking from fear is not on this girl’s radar. Besides her martial arts expertise, she’s also sky-dived a few times and wouldn’t mind trading places with an astronaut. “It sounds crazy, but I’ve been fascinated about space for a very long
time. I know it’s the wave of the future and I’d love to be able to go up in space and see the world. I think that would be a magical moment.” Crazy as it sounds, somehow we believe her.
Winnick’s Favorite Things:
Restaurant: Capo in Santa Monica
Getaway: Napa Valley
Holiday destination: Europe, Italy
Market: Farmers Market, Santa Monica
Fruit: Asian pear
Pizza topping: Everything
Ice cream: Baskin Robbins
Mint Chocolate Chip
Weather: Right before a storm
Song: ‘Hotel California’
Movie: Shawshank Redemption