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“Nobody knows me. I’m just a guy with a silly haircut,” said Fimmel, who for his role has shaved his hair into a Mohawk topped by an artificial braided ponytail, and a tattoo of a raven on one side of his mostly naked scalp. But just one tattoo, he kids: “It’s a budget thing. Can’t afford two.”

There’s no doubt Fimmel looks fine on horseback or skewering an enemy with his broadsword. He’s a confident physical performer and _ more Fimmel self-deprecation here _ suggests he likes the sword fighting best “because you don’t have to remember lines while you’re doing it.”

But it’s an open question as to whether he has the dramatic chops to make audiences believe in his declared quest for knowledge, riches and power.

Fimmel himself sounds unsure when asked if “Vikings” will win enough of a following to fight into a second season. “No idea man, it’s up to the audience and the suits,” he said.

But Hirst sees a complex soul in Fimmel, whose self-made audition tape persuaded Hirst to dump another better-established _ and unnamed _ actor who was within hours of signing on as Ragnar.

“I wanted someone who can fight, but who has depth in their eyes, because this guy Ragnar’s a thinker, not just an action man. We were getting desperate. We nearly went with someone else. We nearly made do,” he said. “But Travis has that depth and stillness I was looking for. He’s going to be a star, no doubt about it.”

While the first season is expected to end with Ragnar triumphant versus Byrne’s earl, Hirst has picked a legend with legs: The real-life Ragnar spent decades expanding Viking sea routes and pushing armies all the way to a besieged Paris.

“Obviously I want to do four or five seasons of `Vikings,’ but I already know it’s a better show than `Tudors.’ Everything has worked. And it just looks astonishing,” Hirst said. “Whether it’s a hit or not is in the lap of the gods. Which is a pretty appropriate place for it to be.”

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Online:

http://www.history.com/shows/vikings