Once in Love with Amy
Posted On Apr 07, 2016
From ballet stage to theater stage to big screen and small, Amy Bailey twirls through the tumultuous world of performance with grace—and a big, Texas grin.
A ballet dancer’s world is one of introspection, intense focus, and quiet stoicism. It is a world far removed from the History Channel’s Vikings and its promiscuous Queen Kwenthrith of Mercia, played with winking, wild abandon by the beautiful Amy Bailey—or is it? In this fictional world where women—even royal ones—don’t have it easy, Bailey’s Queen dances through a world of dudes with deft determination. But then again, Bailey, 40, knows a thing or two about surviving in style.
When a back injury threatened this small-town, Texas girl’s budding ballet career in London, she pirouetted across the pond into the arms of Mel Brooks as an understudy for the lead female role of The Producers—and hasn’t stopped since. Whether she’s singing on stage, sending searing looks on Vikings, or making us smile with her natural comedic charm, we think the world’s love of Bailey is only just beginning.
New You: What was the transition like between dance and acting?
Amy Bailey: I was very fortunate. I’d had a serious back injury in my ballet company, so I was forced to take some time off. I always loved to sing, so I thought naively Oh, I’m going to do a musical. Without too much thought, I went and auditioned for a huge musical, The Producers with Mel Brooks. It was just some sort of crazy twist of fate and luck and I ended up being cast as the understudy for the lead female, Tabula.
New You: That was pretty brave of you.
Amy Bailey: I think it was more naive. I look back now and I don’t know if I would be so brave. Sometimes if you are given the chance you really are grateful, and you go, okay, I’ve got to pull it out now that I have the opportunity. So I worked really hard.
New You: What was it like to throw yourself into comedy?
Amy Bailey: There is a broader sense of freedom on the stage. For me, it was a big change to really have fun on stage and to know that I could let go of a little bit of my perfectionism. In ballet, it’s so intense and regimented. Even backstage, the dancers are in their own shells in their own minds because of the extreme physical demand. In The Producers, the cast was very lively, and because they were singing and acting they were very vocal backstage because they had to keep their instrument warm. I was blown away by the joy of performing and I rediscovered being joyful on stage.
New You: On Vikings, Queen Kwenthrith’s name means “woman of power.” How does that translate for you—both in the role and out of the role?
Amy Bailey: It’s funny because I seem to get cast in these very extreme roles. Even in the ballet company, I would get the intense roles. Off screen, I’m the opposite; I’m more of a disorganized, silly person. I never get mad about anything, and I don’t have a temper so I find those characters a lot of fun. I’m a hard worker but I’m not competitive. If I compare myself to Kwenthrith, I can just barely find any similarities at all, to be honest.
New You: Does that make the role especially challenging?
Amy Bailey: I have to find a balance of not making her a caricature because she is so extreme. You don’t want to hit that point of her just being crazy. I talked with [series producer and creator] Michael Hirst a lot about her backstory, and it actually helped. I had an easier time in Season 3 because I discovered why she was so crazy and also why she is so sexually liberated and promiscuous, which is unusual for a woman of that time and of that stature. Women in power, if they had any power, were expected to be mothers and wives and keep quiet. I couldn’t quite get my head around why she was so rebellious. When he told me about the abuse in her family, it all kind of clicked and fell into place. I was able to identify in the sense that I can imagine what it would feel like to be such an oppressed person. I also had a much easier time this year because I became a mother and Kwenthrith was a mother.
New You: How did you work your pregnancy around your filming schedule?
Amy Bailey: It was a huge surprise. I got pregnant with twins and filmed until I was 34 weeks pregnant. I had to make a choice if I would go back and keep filming. I didn’t want to leave the babies so young so we decided that I would go ahead and make an exit from the show. For me, it felt like a little too much. I would have had to be back in Ireland already when they were two months old.
New You: How did you prepare for that very sexual scene between you and Ragnar, played by Travis Fimmel, in the field?
Amy Bailey: Ah, the infamous pee scene. Travis and I are good friends, and we sort of wanted to take it in a very awkward direction as opposed to sexual per se. Also, Travis and I were trying to figure out how and why these characters would bond because it didn’t really feel true that they would fall in love. We thought that maybe they would have a sort of understanding with each other, because they both understood abusive power. There was a scene that Michael wrote that was beautiful where I was able to tell Ragnar about my abuse, and from that point they started to have an attraction based more on mutual respect than a torrid love affair. But the pee scene, it was really funny to do. We were lying in a field and there were bugs everywhere, so it wasn’t exactly romantic or anything. But yeah, we wanted it to be strange, and we also wanted it to be a bit of a cliffhanger, because the scene doesn’t really say what happened in that moment. A lot of people are wondering did they or didn’t they? Is it Ragnar’s baby?
New You: Is it unusual that Michael was open to suggestions from you and Travis for that scene? In your opinion, does that openness make for a good director and writer?
Amy Bailey: Oh gosh, yes. I don’t think it’s very common at all. I have worked on other shows and you don’t have access to the writers and a lot of time you get restricted in what you have to say. So it is an absolute joy to be able to even have your say. It doesn’t mean you always will get your way, but at least you had your say and that feels pretty good.
New You: Unlike Queen Kwenthrith, you seem happily married.
Amy Bailey: His name is Anthony Gordon and I met him in a ballet company. We were dancers together. We trained together with Cirque du Soleil and we also did an acro-balancing act. Then he retired from dance when I did and he manages a singer with Sony records and is also in fashion so he manages people all over the world. We’re really committed to just being each other’s cheerleaders. He is my absolute. He’s such a good intuitive person. In this industry there’s a lot of people coming in and out of your life, a lot of cast members and directors, and he’s always just a good sounding board of who he thinks is a good person.