Where talent is concerned, most people tend to embrace one of two mental perspectives.
Some adopt a fixed mindset, believing that intelligence, ability, and skill are inborn and relatively fixed, In short, we are what we are.
Others adopt a growth mindset, believing that intelligence, ability, and skill can be developed through effort -- that we can be whatever we work to become.
Katheryn Winnick clearly falls in the latter camp. Her interest in martial arts led her to open her own school when she was just sixteen. Then she learned how to choreograph and prepare actors for fight scenes.
Then she decided to become an actor, spending years taking any parts she could to gain experience until eventually landing the role of Lagertha on the hit series Vikings. (The sixth and final season premieres with a two-hour episode on December 4th).
The latest step in her career is a big one: Episode eight of Vikings marks her directorial debut. (I've seen it; it's great.)
But as you'll learn, it's a career step she spent years preparing to take.
You figured out how to go from teaching actors to becoming an actor. This time it's from actor to director. How did you develop that new set of skills?
Directing is a lifelong passion. I started directing before I was an actress. In high school I wrote plays, directed plays, and won a scholarship award for directing. So I've been preparing for this all my life.
And I've been on the show for seven years. That's a school in itself. Instead of just staying in my trailer I would shadowing other directors. See how they work. See how they approach prep. See how they with the actors, the crew, the editors, etc.
Still, nothing prepares you for the first time you're in charge of a huge budget and you need to coordinate 600 crew members. (Laughs)
You don't have to wait for someone to decide to train you. You can always decide to train yourself. Plus, learning more about directing probably made you a better actor in the process.
One hundred percent.
As an actor you approach the material with a single focus -- to play your role the very best you can. But with Lagertha, I'd take her storyline and create her own little movie in my mind, creating her own arc within the entire season: What she knows, what she still needs to discover...
That means looking at the story as a whole, to understand the transitions, both in terms of plot and visuals...
Learning to direct gave me an even stronger sense of storytelling and plot -- and also to have greater respect for production time, for getting the shot right while being as efficient as possible...
As an actor, it's easy to think it's all about you. But it's definitely not.
Speaking of team: Anyone who has gone from being a team member to team leader has to content with that major shift in interpersonal dynamics.
I'm lucky enough that I consider the crew members as family. And that they gave me so much of their time and energy and expertise. They created an environment I could flourish in.
But you're right. It's still challenging. There will always be people that see you only as an actor, so when you're on the other side calling the shots... you could get pushed over.
The key is to not take things personally and keep your focus on the end goal. Sometimes you need to have a strong voice and tell people what you want or need.
As director you're in charge of creating the mood, being efficient, being collaborative while also being decisive... and you need a great support system.
Which I definitely had on Vikings.
I pursued a TED Talk, something I really wanted to do... but when they said yes, I thought, "Oh no. Now I actually have to do it."
I completely get the idea of not feeling worthy. (Laughs.)
I had always wanted the opportunity to direct. When they wanted me back for the sixth season, I fought to get that opportunity. It wasn't easy. Michael Hirst (creator, writer, and executive producer) supported me, so did HISTORY... but I still had to earn it. Other actors wanted to direct, and I'm the only one that got the chance to go behind the camera.
There's always that "Can I do this?" feeling. But you have to set that aside... and stick to your guns, have a vision, and be clear about your own point of view.
The title of director is great, but you still have to earn respect.
Still: When you're nervous, sticking to your guns can be really hard.
That's where relationships become important. I definitely had the support from people who are not just coworkers, but friends. And my co-stars: I can't tell you how much love and support they gave me for rehearsals, for doing extra takes...
Plus, those relationships create an advantage. I know them so well as friends and family... as a director, that made it easy to call BS on them. (Laughs.)
And it helped me worked with them. To say, "Think about (this moment) I know about you. Draw upon (this) thing." Being colleagues and friends let me almost have a secret dialogue with each actor.
After all, that's how I approach acting. I take what's going on in my life, what's relevant, what makes me tick or scream or cry or laugh... and bring that into Lagertha.
Having that relationship with the other actors, I could whisper something in their ear: "Use this..., " or, "Channel that..."
Being able to take that approach to working with the actors gave me a strong foundation to help create something great.
Last time we talked about vision boards. What's on yours for the next year?
(Laughs.) I just did one a couple months ago. What you hope to accomplish should always evolve.
And I would like to direct more. I recently directed a show for Netflix.
My experience with Vikings definitely gave me the fire in my belly to do more directing -- and more importantly, become the best director I can be.
Success is never overnight. It's a long, slow climb -- and I wouldn't want it any other way.