Vikings in Ireland? Thank Morgan O’Sullivan

Part of the richly detailed viking village on the Ardmore lot

DUBLIN, Ireland–Viking ships in the middle of an Irish farm field?
You’ll find them at Ardmore Studios, home of Vikings. Ten new episodes are in production, with the second season set to premiere in the new year on History.
Executive producer Morgan O’Sullivan led myself and a few other Canadian reporters, including Rick Campanelli and crew from ET Canada, around Ardmore’s large, state-of-the-art studios. The main space offers 30,000 square feet of space, with 40 feet of height.
The place once housed The Tudors but is now packed with longhouses and various thatch-y village structures. These Vikings like their beds hard and covered in fur, just like their women. (Note to self: stop typing after three nights of pub crawling through Dublin’s Temple bar zone).

Leather costumes are stitched by hand

Just outside the studio walls is an outdoor back lot where more village structures stand. Two of nine wooden viking ships built for the series float in the waters, although the real seafaring scenes are shot in the ocean waters off the coast of Ireland.
Ardmore is a one-stop shop, with several rooms dedicated to wardrobe, makeup and even hotel room-like dressing rooms for the stars. The large, upstairs commissary features hot meals and a view.
O’Sullivan is a story in himself. He’s had an exciting life, launched years ago when he was a radio man broadcasting out of the famed Twenty-One Club in Manhattan, where he rubbed shoulders with the likes of CBS chairman William S. Paley. I wished there was more time to hear his stories about New York’s Cardinal Spellman. O’Sullivan still has that smooth radio voice with stories to match.
He spent part of his career in Los Angeles working at MTM Studios back when they were “The” television studio. O’Sullivan worked on both Hill Street Blues and Remington Steele.
His career took him back and forth to Ireland, where he never lost hope of building a movie business. He was instrumental in getting Mel Gibson’s Braveheart shot there.

Only a numskull would pick the Giants over the Vikings

He moved on to movies of the week and Showtime productions and eventually crossed paths with Toronto’s Temple Street productions. He started advocating for Irish-Canadian co-production and his efforts eventually led to The Tudors and eventually Camelot and Vikings. Read more about O’Sullivan and this unique effort to make two small market TV nations add up to better, exportable TV shows here at this feature I wrote this week for The Canadian Press.
Had a nice chat with Michael Hirst, who so far has written every word of two seasons of Viking scripts. The bespectacled Englishman looks a little like a middle-aged, retired Harry Potter, but don’t let the laid-back look fool you–he calls most of the creative shots on this show.
Take the casting of Travis Fimmel as his lead viking. That was all Hirst.
With time running out and production near, the other producers had narrowed things down to another actor. Hirst and his wife took one look at the test shots and both felt the dude just wasn’t their guy. They rooted around for Fimmel’s audition tape. He didn’t try to dress like a viking, or speak with a Nordic accent. Hirst liked Fimmel’s “more thoughtful approach” plus his physical edge. The networks wanted a more typical heartthrob for the lead, but, to Hirst, none looked like they could even lift an axe, let along swing one in anger. Eventually the writer got his way and the Aussie got the part.
As Hirst says, on his show, “I’m really the guy with the axe.”

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