I've found that using historical material and being rooted in historical material is liberating because I always think to myself, 'Well, this actually happened, and this is fantastic!' That's why I don't like fantasy, in a way. Because it's sort of in emptiness.
I felt that a lot of Viking culture had been caricatured and misconstrued. After all, they were far more democratic than the Saxons and the Francs, who were exercising really hierarchical social structures at that time. The Vikings had popular meetings where everything could be discussed.
I got interested in the Vikings, and then you realize that there isn't much to be read about them because they did not write their history. It was written by hostile witnesses, by Christian monks and so on. From what I could see and understand, I was really excited about it. I loved their culture and loved their gods.
The Vikings certainly didn't write anything about themselves; it was not a literate, but rather a pagan, culture. So what we get was written later by Christian monks. But there were occasional reportings and recordings of people who had traded usually with the Vikings.
When you're a screenwriter working on a film, you're not really even welcome on set, even if you know... When I wrote 'Elizabeth' and Shekhar Kapur was a friend of mine, but I wasn't really welcome on set, because the director is God and it's a very difficult position for a screenwriter who's put so much passion into that, into the writing.
Of course I had written a film about Elizabeth I, and I loved the Tudor period, and I think at the time Working Title and I had debated on whether to do Elizabeth I or Henry VIII. I'd always wanted to do Henry VIII. Like Elizabeth, I'd had this feeling that it had never properly been addressed.
I'm very bad at delegating writing responsibilities, because I've never been able to do it; I've never had any help or looked for any help.
The American obsession with 'Downton' amuses me slightly because it's such a fiction. I've always been questioned about my historical veracity, and 'Downton' just flies past, when it's completely made up.
Everything in 'The Tudors' is initially based on my historical research, and the fact is that the most unlikely scenes were the ones which were probably most based on reality. I prefer to be as real as possible, and there is so much of that story that you just can't make up.
For 'Vikings,' we have to do so much outside shooting, and it's normally - I think with American shows, it'll be 60 or 70 percent inside and a little bit outside, but with us, it's almost 70 percent outside, and that's huge and really difficult.
I couldn't give 'Vikings' away - I mean, I love these people. And I'm not sure anyone else writing it would necessarily have the same feeling towards the characters that I do.
'Downton Abbey' is just one cliche after another, and it is a really, really poor piece of drama. But that's only me talking. That's just my take on it.
My instinct is to absolutely recoil when talking about writing in a mechanistic way. Nothing could be dumber than writing a film or TV script based on prescriptions, on other peoples' ideas of what character should be.
People offer me loads of stuff, and some of it I like, but I just can't do it because I can't write it all. So I might get in the position where I have some sort of company and just write maybe the first episode, but these are love projects, in a way.
I wasn't setting out to write a documentary; if I had, I would have done it in a completely different way. I was asked to write a drama that would appeal to a big audience in America that had no knowledge or interest in The Tudors at all.
The key for me with historical characters is they're interesting because they're human beings. A little bit of Hemingway goes a long way here, but journalists and writers should honestly look at their material and have a real interest, a real passion in what they want to write, and they should also have a lot of knowledge as well.
TV drama - not always, but on the whole - were pretty appalling and very secondary, too. No one expected it to be like watching a movie; that was the point. But I think when you start watching 'Vikings,' it is like watching a movie - you're taken somewhere else.
When you're making a TV drama, the showrunner is God, and so however onerous and difficult and consuming that responsibility is, you're being treated with respect, so it changes your whole outlook to the production. You're being asked about costumes, set design, music, every aspect of the show.
With 'The Tudors,' I had a huge amount of material - I mean, so many books and so much stuff about what they really said. So, in a way, it was kind of trying to strip it out and find the stories inside all this material. With 'Vikings,' there isn't that - things to strip away. There's very bare storylines; we know a few facts about Ragnar.
You have to create characters - certainly in series TV - who people engage with. They don't have to be nice; you don't have to agree with them. But they do have to be compulsively watchable and believable and human, and you want to know what happens to them.