Vikings: Valhalla Star Sam Corlett Is Ready to Chart New Territory

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Sam Corlett looks almost unrecognizable, at least if you only know him from his star-making turn on Netflix’s global hit Vikings: Valhalla, which returned Friday for its sophomore installment. The 26-year-old Australian dons long hair, a beard, and, often, a somber, worn-down look while playing iconic explorer Leif Erikson. And yet, talking to me over Zoom just days after Christmas from his parents’ apartment in his home country, Corlett has much less hair—and a much bigger smile.

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The cast and crew of Vikings: Valhalla, an Ireland-based production, have been on quite a journey. In the following exclusive behind-the-scenes photos Corlett shot and shared with Esquire, he documents the adventure of filming Valhalla’s newest season.

Sam Corlett

“Knowing now that if Season Four gets greenlit, [we won’t film] until 2024? I feel so open,” Corlett tells me. “In-between Seasons One and Two, and Seasons Two and Three, I only had a few months between filming, so there was always a part of me that was still in it. And that was both a blessing and a curse. [Erikson] has such hardened energy, and sometimes his behaviors would rub off and I could be quite harsh to my family. But when Season Three wrapped, I literally wept. It was relief. I just cried.”

He then adds, this time with a laugh: “And then I shaved my face clean—which I hadn’t done for three years, because I was scared I couldn’t grow the mustache back.”

It’s been two years since Corlett was cast as Erikson on the highly-anticipated sequel series to Vikings—and it’s been a life-changing experience, but also a draining one. The cast and crew of the Ireland-based production have filmed three seasons, almost back-to-back-to-back, all while battling COVID scares and unpredictable—and unfortunate—weather conditions.

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“When I was a kid, I was really into magic and I used to always Google how the tricks were done, and so I suppose I wanted to entertain the little kid in me by showing other people what we get up to,” Corlett explains of his photos.

Sam Corlett

“Don’t be! It gets old,” Corlett jokes when I tell him that I’m jealous of his time living in Ireland. “I ran into a mate from Australia, who’s one of the most Australian Australians, and he was like, ‘My family’s Irish, and when I got there, I was just so stoked that my ancestors left, because Australia is so nice—I couldn’t live without the sun for that long.’ And that was a little grueling at times. When we were filming all the deep winter scenes for Season Two, we had a heat wave. We were rugged up, like layers upon layers, and we’re doing some scenes where it was real physical exertion. While we were filming, a couple of the cast blacked out, like full-on fainted because of the heat.”

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“Man, Season Two was such a pleasure,” Corlett says. “And the group that we call the Falkers, because their boat is called the Falk, we really became like family.”

Sam Corlett

Despite any complaints about the physical or emotional effects, Corlett has nothing but appreciation for the blessing that is Leif and the Vikings Universe. “I am still pinching myself,” he says, pausing for a moment. “Whenever I come back home, I’m reminded of who childhood Sam is, and then I open up my Instagram and it still doesn’t look like me. I’m like, What?’ I can’t believe that I did a viking show. It’s so strange but very cool.”


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“Whenever I come back home, I’m reminded of who childhood Sam is, and then I open up my Instagram and it still doesn’t look like me,” Corlett adds.

Sam Corlett

While Valhalla takes some liberties with the exact history of Erikson’s story, Corlett’s life almost went in a drastically different direction. After a few small roles in Australia, he landed his big break with a recurring role as Caliban, the often-shirtless Prince of Hell, on Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. That 14-episode run earned him fans at the streamer. It led to an opportunity to audition for Valhalla, Netflix’s follow-up to History’s popular series Vikings, which would be set 100 years after its predecessor. For someone with minimal credits to their name, playing a historic figure like Leif Erikson—on an established property, no less—should have been a no-brainer, right? “When I got offered to go to Ireland to test for the role, I was like, I’m not sure if this is the right thing for me to do,” he admits. “And I don’t know how I had the balls. Obviously, to be the number one on a Netflix show is a fucking good gig. But I was uncertain whether this is where my energy is most well spent for what I have to offer.”

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“I’ve always been interested in photography, and I bring my digital camera to set sometimes as well,” Corlett says, “but there’s something beautiful about the ephemeral nature of film.”

Sam Corlett

A pre-audition chat with showrunner Jeb Stuart (co-writer of Die Hard) convinced him that they saw eye-to-eye both personally and creatively, as well as with what they wanted to say with this story. Corlett quickly went from uncertain to all-in. “If I was going to do this role, I had to give my whole heart to it; that’s just how I operate,” he says. And that philosophy extended to all elements of the character—from the makeup, to the costume, to the writing. He pitched ideas for Leif’s tattoos, outfits, and dialogue, with costume designer Susan O’Connor Cave even creating vegan leather armor for Corlett, a plant-based vegan who felt constricted by constantly wearing traditional leather.

Corlett says that Stuart encouraged notes, wanting him to own his character by midway through Season One. “My scripts would be covered in writing on the side, which would just be the inner monologue going on,” he shares. “Some of the shit that comes up in your mind while you’re filming a historical drama can be pretty gruesome.” Corlett even began journaling, showing me his latest notebook, which was right by his side during our conversation. “It helps keep me sane,” he says, mentioning that he has dreams of publishing his writings. “If anything, it gives me time just to succinct the information overload that I get. Sometimes poetry comes up, sometimes it’s a stream of consciousness, sometimes it’s reminders. I was listening to a lot of spiritual teachers during that time, and I think I was distilling them for myself.”

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“The story of Season Two beautifully reflects what became our reality—individuals from across the globe, with a shared vision, becoming a family along the way,” Corlett says.

Sam Corlett

It’s hard for religion and spirituality to not be top of mind for Corlett while he works on Valhalla, as the clashes and tensions on the series often harken back to the differences in beliefs between Christians and Pagans. But his exploration of spirituality began at a young age, as he traveled through Southeast Asia as a kid, adventuring through historic temples. It was his mother who took him on these trips, and her three battles with cancer only pushed him further into the divine.

“The idea that death could happen became very present, and an encouragement of meditation in mum’s life took me a bit more to the spiritual,“ he says. “I got an A in my Year 10 test on Viking history, and I think the main thing that was alluring was the mythology and the spirituality of it. And then to be able to explore that through the character of Leif, and his wanting to outshine the shadow of his father, seeing faith and religion being thrown around just for other people’s self benefit, that was really interesting.“

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“This little zine offers but a glimpse of the epic journey that Leif and Harald take down the Dnieper River,” Corlett adds of his photos.

Sam Corlett

Journaling, meditation, and yoga—as well as a morning run and dip in the ocean—proved to be the essential pillars that Corlett needed at the outset of each day to prepare himself for filming. Corlett says the energy he gets from Valhalla is in the creation, rather than the “numbers on a screen” that tell him how well the series is supposedly performing. “It doesn’t feel as personal or tactile,” he says. And maybe that’s why he was drawn to the idea of documenting the creation of Valhalla through his passion for photography.

“Man, Season Two was such a pleasure, and the group that we call the Falkers, because their boat is called the Falk, we really became like family,” he explains of the exclusive behind-the-scenes photos he shot and shared with Esquire. “I’ve always been interested in photography, and I bring my digital camera to set sometimes as well, but there’s something beautiful about the ephemeral nature of film. I just wanted to make a little sketchbook for myself; it was another creative outlet. And I’ve always been interested in what’s going on behind the scenes. When I was a kid, I was really into magic and I used to always Google how the tricks were done, and so I suppose I wanted to entertain the little kid in me by showing other people what we get up to.”


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“Where he went from grief to absolute rage at the end of Season One, he comes to a bit more grief and acceptance,” Corlett says of Leif Erikson’s Season Two journey. “And it’s beautiful.”

Sam Corlett

Before looking at what Corlett and company get up to in Season Two, we have to revisit where we left him. The Season One finale, appropriately titled, “The End of the Beginning,” featured the monumental Battle for Kattegat, which claimed many lives—most notably that of Leif’s sidekick and lover, Liv (Lujza Richter), who is mortally wounded by the brutish Olaf (J√≥hannes Haukur J√≥hannesson). Liv dies in Leif’s arms. When some of Olaf’s men begin assaulting innocent women nearby, the tender, reserved Leif snaps, brutally attacking and killing them. In the season’s final shot, Leif, covered in blood, lets out a feral scream.

“We got to rehearse the fight for a month or so, and I knew the shape I wanted to be in: a bit sinewy, wolf-like,” he shares. “I didn’t allow myself to fully go there until the day. I felt such a strong kinship with Lujza; she evokes such emotion in me. From the get-go, we had a very beautiful creative marriage and intuition that spoke between us. And when I carry her in, some actors might step a little bit to help you carry them—she just went full dead. [Laughs.] In the moment that someone’s going, you don’t want them to go. The thing that you miss when they are gone is the ability to hold them. I just wanted to hold her as she was going—and then the rage comes. And the rage was the inner turmoil that had been building throughout the whole season.”

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Since he was first introduced on Valhalla, Leif Erikson has been attempting to outrun the legacy of his father, the murderous Erik the Red, and to ensure that he never becomes what he fears.

Sam Corlett

Since he was first introduced on Valhalla, Leif has been attempting to outrun the legacy of his father, the murderous Erik the Red, and to ensure that he never becomes what he fears. But with Liv gone, and Leif last seen showered in blood, it’s clear that he’s no longer the same man. His sister, Freydis (Frida Gustavsson), tells him in an early Season Two episode, “You’ve changed. There’s a look in your eyes. A coldness. I’ve seen it before, with father, but never with you.”

“I think it is fully there, and he has to accept that it’s part of him,” Corlett says of Leif reckoning with possessing his father’s darkness. “It’s a rage that he wants to press upon Olaf, but, in the meantime, he’s kind of flicking it everywhere. He’s a bit lost, and that lostness fuels the anger, and the anger fuels the lostness. He has to figure out what to do with himself, and there’s no better place to start to build yourself up than from rock bottom. Leif’s story is the breaking down of a man so he can rebuild himself to be the Leif Erikson that we know him to be.”

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In addition to documenting Valhalla’s making in photography, Corlett also kept a journal. “Sometimes poetry comes up, sometimes it’s a stream of consciousness, sometimes it’s reminders,” he says.

Sam Corlett

Corlett promises a “powerful” journey to get Leif to where he ends up, and it was a ride that forever left an impact on him. “During Season Two, there were two of the most sacred days I’ve ever had on a set,” he shares. The first of these memorable sequences finds Leif smoking opium, which, combined with his ongoing sorrow, gives him visions of Liv, who calls him to the top of a building and encourages him to jump and join her in Valhalla.

“Essentially, it was him contemplating whether or not to take his life. Hopefully it’s a moment that we can honor, because those moments are, unfortunately, happening more and more in society with our mental health crisis,” he says. “That was a big day; it was really cathartic for a lot of people. After the close-up, I bawled my eyes out for about 30 minutes. I was on the way to the bathroom and I just got hit with this overwhelming sense of emotion. And then one of the grips was literally patting my back as I was taking a piss. [Laughs.]”

Corlett teases that the other sacred memory happens in the Season Two finale, with the “antithesis” of Leif’s bloody scream. “Where he went from grief to absolute rage at the end of Season One, he comes to a bit more grief and acceptance. And it’s beautiful.”


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The hard work of Valhalla’s team has certainly paid off: last year, a report found that the series had been streamed over 80 billion hours globally.

Sam Corlett

Even though Corlett is chatting to me a few weeks ahead of Season Two’s premiere on Netflix, he’s already completed production on Season Three—and he now awaits word on the future of Valhalla. Having grinded through three seasons in short order, he’s looking forward to a year outside of Ireland and Vikings, with a gritty Australian independent drama on tap, and hopes of developing his own series and clothing line.

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Valhalla already filmed its third season, which should allow its cast and crew much-needed rest in the coming months.

Sam Corlett

“I’m going day-by-day,” he says, with a carefree demeanor, fitting of a self-described nomad, who currently doesn’t have a home—and is set to drive eight hours to the coastal town of Byron Bay after our conversation. “I’m a bit everywhere. A lot of my stuff is in a storage container on my dad’s property. I’ve just been following where work’s taken me. There are beautiful scripts and projects that are coming my way at the moment, but it’s like the moving staircases in Harry Potter: you don’t know which door’s going to finally be able to be opened.”

Time will eventually tell what doors Corlett gets to walk through. Until then, like the man he portrays, he’ll keep exploring new worlds, opportunities, and educations.

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Corlett’s parting note? “I trust you’ll enjoy the adventure as much as we loved making it.”

Sam Corlett

“I got cast [on Valhalla] when I was 23, and I had to learn how to lead a show,” he says. “I felt confident in my acting skills. And though it was the dream, it still felt like an education, and an opportunity to learn a shit ton about myself and how things operate. And so the next set I step on outside of the Vikings world, I feel super confident that—if my soul is in the right place with the character—I’ll know how to assist in elevating the story in every way.”

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