An exclusive interview with actress, model, and Raymond Weil brand ambassador Katheryn Winnick, star of the hit TV series ‘Vikings.’
INC – Sure, Katheryn Winnick’s IMDb page lists over 60 credits. Sure, she’s appeared on a number of magazine covers, not to mention scores of feature stories and interviews.
And sure, on the hit TV series Vikings (just renewed for a fifth season) she plays one of the most multi-layered characters on television.
Talented actress? Absolutely — but inside Katheryn Winnick also beats the heart of an entrepreneur.
This is another in my series of interviews with people you might not think are entrepreneurs — but they absolutely are. After all, actresses and actors are in business — the business of themselves. And while you might think you have nothing in common, you’re wrong.
When you were sixteen years old you opened a martial arts school. A few years later you had three. How did you pull that off?
I got my first black belt when I was thirteen, and then I started teaching martial arts at after school programs and over time more and more people asked me to teach them. So I started a school in Toronto and it expanded through word of mouth and just took off.
My dad was an entrepreneur so I had a great role model. He showed me that if you want to do something great the best way is to do it yourself. Watching him made me realize that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. He made things happen for himself and seeing that was so inspiring and gave me a lot of confidence… so the thought of starting a business of my own was really exciting.
I knew I wanted to work, I knew I wanted to help people, and starting my own business was the best way to accomplish both.
So how did you go from teaching martial arts to acting?
I was asked to teach martial arts to actors who were preparing for roles. I spent time on movie sets and very quickly decided actors have the best job in the world: every day is completely different, every day is challenging, every day they’re surrounded by all these creative and talented people…
I was really inspired and thought, “That’s what I want to do.”
Many people might think of you as an overnight success, but you were in the business for a number of years before Vikings brought you widespread attention. How did you hang in there during the lean years?
A lot of people do see me that way, but I definitely had to pay my dues. I took any parts I could get just to gain experience. I did horror films, student films… I would do almost anything that came along.
It was a long process and in truth is still a long process… and I’m still excited by it. Success is never overnight. It’s a long, slow climb and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Without the tough times I wouldn’t be as prepared for the opportunities I have now, and I wouldn’t be as hungry to do even more.
Achieving a certain level of success makes it hard to know when people are telling you what you want to hear and not what you need to hear. How do you decide who you should listen to?
From a personal perspective, in one sense my family and especially my mom and dad are my biggest critics, and I mean that in a good way. They tell me the truth.
My close friends are the same. They never tell me what they think I want to hear. They tell me if they don’t believe my acting. They’re honest about how I come across in interviews. Whatever they see, whatever they say, I trust them.
I’m pretty private and I’m very cautious as to who I bring in professionally. I have new agents and new teams, but other people have been with me since day one. I met my attorney when I first came to Los Angeles and I consider him a dear friend.
I look for people who are good at their jobs and have good taste, but what really matters is when people care about you both as a professional and as a person.
Speaking of privacy, you have a huge following on social media — how do you decide how far to let people in?
I’ve always been shy about that. I try to stay controlled. And I definitely stay protective of my friends and inner circle.
You’re right, though: on one side there’s what you may want to share or are told you should share… and on the other side there’s deciding how far to allow fans into your personal life.
I’m conservative where sharing is concerned. I’m pretty selective. It’s important for me to remember that I’m an actress first and not a celebrity. What really matters is your craft and your work, not social media and selfies.
I want to be — and want to be known — as an actress first.
You’re getting offered lots of gigs now, for acting and endorsements, and you’re definitely in a “seize the opportunity” business. How do you decide what to say yes to?
There’s a lot of power in saying no. That’s especially true now because unlike earlier in my career, I’m lucky that I can say no more often.
It all comes down to trusting yourself, trusting that if you have the talent the right opportunities will come. Gaining that perspective has been really important but it definitely didn’t come overnight.
Plus, I know if I work hard I can always find work. I think that’s true in any business.
In a larger sense I hope to continue to have a positive influence on women and girls. I’m working with Women In Film, a nonprofit dedicated to helping women achieve their highest potential within the global entertainment, communications and media industries, and with Girl Up, the global community of advocates changing policies and raising funds to support United Nations programs that help the hardest to reach girls living in places where it is hardest to be a girl.
And I hope to continue to work on great projects and work with great people like Michael Hirst (the creator of Vikings) and work on great films.
I’m inspired by strong women and people dedicated to their craft and I hope I’m laying that foundation now and building lasting relationships.
Your martial arts background may have helped, at least a little, when you were up for the part of Lagertha. Flip that around: are you doing things now that you hope will pay off later?
I think so. I strongly believe in vision boards and life plans. I’ve been working on a life plan since I was fourteen. I set goals and keep them on my desktop so whenever I open it they’re right in front of me.
Some of the things I’ve dreamed about have come true. I’m an actress. I’ve been able to help women. I’m working with different charities to help support young girls and women… all of those things are a part of my life plan.
Recently I even hosted a vision board party. I don’t know if those exist; I just asked some of my friends over and each of them used words and pictures to put together their dreams and goals.
That’s a neat idea, since doing it together automatically lets people help hold each other accountable in a supportive way.
Exactly. I think that’s really important.
Most entrepreneurs are very diligent about creating plans and setting goals and sticking to a timeline. I’ve been inspired by that and use the same approach to set my own goals. In the future I’d love to do a video game. I’ve always wanted to design a t-shirt and now I’m doing one through Omaze to help support Women in Film.
But I should also add this. Planning is really important, but you sometimes also need to let go and be in the moment because that’s where the gold is. I can be as prepared as possible for a scene but when it comes to shooting it I just have to relax and be present.
Plan and prepare… but when the time comes, trust yourself and let go.