I’d been told to meet the Australian actor Travis Fimmel, best known for his role as Norse warrior Ragnar Lothbrok in the History channel’s Vikings series, at his ranch outside Los Angeles. Given the popularity of the show—four seasons, an Amazon Prime release, and season five in the works—I had assumed that Fimmel’s pad would be some secluded midcentury hideout with a well-stocked kitchen and a gym worthy of a broadsword slinger who’d also recently anchored a Warcraft film adaptation that made nearly half a billion dollars worldwide.
But the address led to a dusty outdoor riding arena just off the highway, where Fimmel, barefoot in a pair of camo cargo shorts and a surf tee, greeted me from the back of his 15-year-old chestnut quarter horse, Wanker.
“I’m just getting him warmed up so he doesn’t buck you off,” says Fimmel, who is 37 and was raised on a dairy farm in Echuca, Australia. He grew up working in his family’s cherry orchards, camping and fishing with his two older brothers, and surfing behind dirt bikes in irrigation canals. He came to L.A. when he was 21, after being scouted by a modeling agency and dropping out of architecture school. Almost immediately, he was stopping traffic on billboards modeling Calvin Klein underwear.
Still mounted, Fimmel led me in my rental car up to his broasis, which, it quickly became clear, was actually a dilapidated 18-foot beige and white Nomad travel trailer parked permanently in the shade of a pepper tree between a water tank and the tack shed.
“Got it real cheap, over in Phelan,” says Fimmel. “Towing it back, the side panels were flapping, and the back door fell off.” The ranch belongs to longtime stunt coordinator Walter Scott. Fimmel showed up in 2010 looking for riding lessons ahead of a big-screen remake of the 1960s TV show Big Valley. Most of the work around his family’s farm was performed on ATVs, so he was a novice horseman.
“Just ask me about when I first met him,” says Scott. “He says he knew about horses—everything he learned right here, on that horse. Roping and everything. Him and another guy came. He never left.”
The film went down in flames after the director was convicted of committing tax-credit fraud on a previous project, but Fimmel stuck around the stable and now squats there when he’s not traveling. “Out here it’s just good people. No industry,” Fimmel explains. “Just the stunt boys.”
Among a generation who’ve shunned material possessions as barriers to life experience, Fimmel has achieved an advanced state of stoic minimalism. According to him, his only worldly possessions are Wanker, the Craigslist trailer (which now has air-conditioning), and a red 1982 GMC stepside pickup with a ’73 bed (which does not). Before the trailer, he lived in an old Ford Econoline with a pop-up bed.
“It got taken off me,” he says. “It wasn’t road worthy.” Unlike the cool kids who gussy up Sprinter vans and Westfalias, Fimmel only recently upgraded from a flip phone to an iPhone 4, does no social media, and rarely checks his e-mail. “I’m always getting texts asking why I’m not responding on Instagram or Facebook, and I’m like, ‘It’s not me. You’re writing to some stranger.’ ”
Fimmel helped me into the saddle, and we headed out for a hack on a trail behind the property, him riding Scott’s horse Josey. It was hot, and Wanker wanted to stop in the shade. Fimmel’s ultimate goal is to save as much money as he can and end up back in Australia on a nice spread—“with three or four wives,” he jokes, though at the moment he says of the opposite sex, “They all hate me, although it’s not for lack of trying. When you do a lot of traveling, it’s hard.”
He eats what he wants, works out only when he’s forced to, and does his drinking at the local VFW hall. But for a guy who regrets his modeling days and says he wasn’t looking to get into acting—“Still not looking to, mate”—he’s stripped away everything else. If he could, he’d spend three months studying for each of his parts. “You get sucked into it, trying to be good at it,” he says. “I wish you could make money and people never saw what you did. Then you could relax and not care about how bad you are.”
It’s the proper amount of self-hatred for an action hero who’s actually good at his craft—more Viggo Mortensen than Chris Hemsworth. He starts shooting a blockbuster bank-heist film, Finding Steve McQueen, in September, starring alongside Kate Bosworth and Forest Whitaker.
Fimmel is extraordinarily soft-spoken—introverted, even—for a guy at risk of being typecast as a barbarian. At an interview with three of his Vikings castmates at Comic-Con in July, Fimmel managed to get through the entire Q&A saying exactly zero words. But he’s only now being tested in parts with more range, like his supporting role as a bearded-hipster pickle entrepreneur in the 2016 romantic comedy Maggie’s Plan and a loving, alcoholic father in an adaptation of the horse-racing novel Lean on Pete that was shot in Oregon and wrapped this summer. On that project, he ducked out for a few days to reel in his first steelhead with a friend at the mouth of the Chehalis River.
It was nearly 100 degrees on the trail. The Blue Cut Fire had just broken out in San Bernardino, and disaster-relief crews were a constant presence on the highway. Each of the past three summers, Fimmel has escaped this kind of heat, shooting Vikings in the cold mists of Ireland. The Ragnar role even landed him an endorsement deal as the face of high-end down-jacket company Canada Goose, which photographed him earlier this year among the icebergs of Newfoundland.
Here, though, it was just really hot. We put the horses up, Fimmel hosed Wanker down, and we went for a Bud Light at the VFW. If any of the vets and bikers recognized him, they didn’t show it. This time next year, it may not be so easy.