Q&A: Brent Burns on acting in Vikings, playing in NHL amid pandemic

San Jose Sharks defenceman Brent Burns scored a beauty, dangling his way through all five Minnesota Wild players on the ice before roofing the puck on Kaapo Kahkonen.

Brent Burns is back on the ice and back playing well. Not only is he making fans laugh, he’s lighting the lamp.

But it’s what he’s doing to entertain us off the ice and on the screen that is making waves. Burns is the latest athlete to act in the show Vikings, which is in its final season airing Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HISTORY. Burns’ character, Skane, is a big, formidable and ruthless Viking leader who has joined forces with King Harald to attack and take-over the royal town of Kattegat.

I caught up with the San Jose Sharks star to find out what it’s been like to return to play in the NHL amid the pandemic and how he felt being a rookie again as a novice actor.

Sportsnet: How did the opportunity to star in Vikings come about?

Brent Burns: I was a big fan of the show, and I would just crush the episodes on the airplanes on the road with a bunch of teammates.

We’re big fans of it. I was tweeting them and trying to kind of work my way in there. Josh Donaldson had just been on and the Edge had a big role on it. We were able to get in touch with the right people and make it happen, it was pretty awesome.

SN: So how do you compare your job on the screen to the other athletes that you’ve seen on the show?

BB: I wouldn’t even consider it my job, I was just glad to be there and get the experience seeing it. You get to see the real actors on the show and how good they were. I knew I was kind of out of my element large.

It was not my specialty. So, I was just going in hoping they didn’t cut everything that I was in and me right out of it. So, I was glad to make the stuff and just be a part of it. It was pretty awesome.

SN: What did you learn that you had no idea about?

BB: There was just so much, I mean, with Vikings, just how big everything was and how amazing the behind the scenes stuff was.

Just to shoot like 30 seconds of something that ends up on TV, how long it takes to do that. The professionalism of those real actors knowing their lines, the dialect side, how to how to walk around and do the same thing over and over again for each consecutive shot. I never really realized they had to do that stuff.

Just incredible to see the talent behind the cameras and in front of them. The costumes there and the set building. It was unbelievable. It was real. The dwellings were real, the fires were real. They had real animals on set. It was unbelievable. It’s crazy.

SN: So normally, at this point in your career, you’re the vet taking a rookie under your wing. In acting, it’s the opposite. Obviously, you were the rookie. Did any of the actors give you some tips and pointers?

BB: Oh, for sure. The three people that I work with a lot on the show was Alex Hogh Andersen, who plays Ivar Ragnarsson, Marco Ilso, who is Hviserk Ragnarsson, and then Peter Franzen plays King Harald. All three were awesome to me. I mean, really talking me through different things and making sure I was comfortable.

And everybody behind the camera was awesome. From hair and makeup all the way to the hospitality. It was a first-class thing and such an incredible experience to be a part of it. And yeah, they definitely helped me as much as I could. I don’t know if they can really help me with the acting dialogue part, because that stuff, I think you probably get a lot of experience and a lot of talent, which I didn’t have either.

SN: How similar or dissimilar was your character from you?

BB: It was pretty different. I think they talked about it being the big bad army leader coming in and helping King Harold and I remember the election scene. I was a little too nice coming in, walking through the crowd.

They wanted me to be pushing around people and stuff. And, yeah, it’s just it was a cool experience to try to think of what those guys were going through back in the day and coming back to their village to take over or take back they thought was theirs.

SN: What did the boys in the room have to say about your acting?

BB: Some of the boys have known because I filmed a couple of years ago, so some of them knew that it was coming. All the guys were pretty supportive and a couple of little jabs about screwing up some lines and stuff. But that’s pretty typical of a hockey dressing room.

It’s definitely one of the more popular shows in the dressing room, I think, for guys on the plane and in the room, and so it was pretty cool.

SN: You guys have lots of time on the road to crush shows. What else are you watching?

BB: I always like the kind of historical dramas, The Last Kingdom, another Viking show.

I still am watching Vikings, so I actually just finished the full season, in the U.S. it is on Amazon Prime, and then my family is watching episode by episode on History in Canada, so they just did it differently between the two countries. But I finished that season. I’m watching The Woods right now, which is kind of historical piece to about back in 1700s in Europe, I kind of I thought it was going to be more like Robin Hood, but it’s not really.

But it’s pretty good. I like the historical stuff. I’ve got a list I can go through.

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SN: Am I going to see more of you on the screen? Have you been bit by the acting bug?

BB: I would love to do more. I don’t know if they’ll let me do it after that performance, I think I’ve got to learn a little bit (laughs). I really can’t speak enough about how great that whole experience was going to Ireland and experiencing a new country. You know, the work, it was hard, it was long days, but, I couldn’t stop just looking around.

I’m sure it’s the same kind of experience, like the first game I played coming into the rink. And you walk out onto the bench and you’re looking around and you look at the retired numbers, the banners, and you see the quiet rink in the morning. And then at night, it’s filled. This is obviously different. But for me, being the first time going in there, just looking around and seeing the village, all the buildings that they built, the boats, all the extras, all geared up as vikings, like it made you think you were really there.

They do such an incredible job of building everything and making it real. It really translates, that’s one of the reasons I love the show, which is getting to experience what those guys would have been going through back in the day.

SN: You filmed this a while ago, so it wasn’t impacted by COVID-19, but your day job is. What has it been like for you with the new scenarios and restrictions this season?

BB: It’s definitely different. We’re grateful to be back working and getting to play the game we love. With all that everyone is going through, it’s going to be different. So, we just got to roll with it and figure out ways to try to make it as normal as you can, which it is not going to be, but just enjoy being back. I think it’s just the mentality of trying to go through the process and figure out steps to make it as normal as you can and just enjoy it.

SN: One of the differences is, the divisions have a little less travel, a lot more games seeing the same team nine times. It’s early but what’s your read on that?

BB: Well, I think this is like the baseball set up. I think they’re calling it. I don’t know what the real term is for it, but playing the team multiple times has been incredible so far. Going to a city multiple times and playing them and staying in overnight, you have better access to the gym, better recovery after the game, less travel.

That’s been incredible. I mean, it’s been a really cool difference in all of this. And hopefully, that sticks. I think it offers a really cool experience with fantasy. The little changes, it makes a little bit more like the playoffs, where you can kind of make some little differences in your game and your preparation and that’s been really, really cool. That’s really a unique thing and from what I’m reading and seeing, the fans in Canada are loving that. It’s tough to beat, they’re going to be some really cool rivalries. Obviously, there are some huge star players there. They get to play each other a little bit more with each team up there and the media coverage. I think it’s just a really cool thing that they did to bring some more heat into this different year. Listen, there’s one thing we want to continue moving forward because every business is changing. I didn’t play hockey for 10 months, so I’m just trying to figure out how to get dressed and figure out my routine again (laughs).

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

SN: Your former teammate and friend Joe Thornton had a good start with the Toronto Maple Leafs before getting injured. Have you been paying attention from afar?

BB: He’s just something special, not only personally, but I mean, incredible hockey player, He’s going to go down as one of the best ever. I think those guys are all really lucky to be around him to see what he puts into the game and just his mindset to see how he attacks a game.

The whole process that he goes through is just going to help those guys. And they have incredible players already. But to be around a guy like him is just going to make them better. So, I was definitely sad to see him go, but happy for him to be close to home, which is a really, really cool experience for him. I know he was excited about that and I had no doubt that he was going to be a great player back on the ice and you can see his passion even the time off, he goes and plays in Switzerland and loves it.

And you have to see him playing with Matthews and some really special players. And I think he really is a good help for those players, the way he plays and the way he can protect the puck and share the puck. That’s a scary line to play. I think they are going to create a lot and do really well.

SN: 2021 is shaping up to be a big year for you. In the final season of Vikings and playing at a high level in the NHL. What’s it been like to have these outlets to express yourself during such a tough period?

BB: I was definitely a little heartbroken to hear that it was the last season. It’s always tough to hear the show that you love and that’s coming to an end. But on the other side, you get to see how they wanted to end it. And so, I’m looking forward to that. I’m just grateful and blessed to be back playing hockey. What we love to do and back to work obviously has been a tough time for a lot of people, so, you know, looking at it as a chance to kind of give everybody else a little bit back, a little bit of normalcy back in their lives and hopefully give them some joy, too, and bringing the game back and giving them something to watch at night. Those are the things that you are grateful for.

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