It was almost too easy: I was anticipating the typical brand ambassador, for whom watches are merely another means of promotion, but Katheryn Winnick opens our interview with: “I got my first watch at seven years old. It was a Timex, digital, and it was white. I had a small wrist and my brother had to get it resized – it was one of my favourite things because it also had a stopwatch function.”

Raymond Weil chose wisely, for Winnick doesn’t simply “get” watches: she understands time itself. “That Timex allowed me to appreciate the minutes. It allowed me to stop and realise, wow, the whole day went by, a whole minute went by – how do I feel differently than I did a minute ago? Or: Do I feel a day older? Or a year older? It also made me understand that a watch is something that has an emotional value, and that time can be really precious.

Katheryn Winnick

“My first really nice watch was my grandfather’s pocket-watch, which was a gift from my grandmother. This brings in why I love being a brand ambassador for Raymond Weil, in that there’s a meaning behind it. It’s not just the functionality of a watch. We live in a time where you check your iPhone, there’s always a clock connected to your smartphone or computer. But a watch means something that you can pass on through the generations.

“A watch is something that you want to keep. I’ve always been a person who believes in meaningful things around my wrist or my ears, or my neck – I’m looking at my wrist right now and I have a bracelet, a tiny, little gold chain with a small plaque that has on it the date that I was baptised. I’m not a flashy person, so my watch has to have sentimental value.”

Raymond Weil Shine 1600
Raymond Weil Shine collection

Family first

Winnick says she responded to Raymond Weil because it’s a family-owned company. “Elie [Bernheim, CEO of Raymond Weil] is very passionate in being able to expand his family’s legacy. That really struck home with me for my core values, because family is important – I come from a very strong Ukrainian family, one of four children. My parents stressed family values, we had dinner every Sunday, and I’m still extremely close to them. Symbolically, a watch can remind you of that, it’s something you can pass on to your children.”

According to Bernheim: “We first met Katheryn on the set of the fourth season of Vikings and immediately became inspired by her strength of character and innate beauty. She perfectly embodies our feminine collections and we are delighted to have her as a brand ambassador.”

Winnick says that Bernheim watched the entire first season of Vikings during a flight from London to Las Vegas. When he attended a watch conference, someone said the brand was missing a female ambassador with strength and femininity at the same time. “The way Elie tells the story, he says: ‘I got the girl! Lagertha! Let’s find her!’ And that’s how the offer came about.”

Raymond Weil reacted by designing a watch in the Shine range based on the colour of Winnick’s irises. “They took the colour of my eyes, which is a strange steel blue, more than anything else, and made that the dial colour in their line of watches. I thought that was such an amazing honour, and something that I was connected to.”

Lagertha
Vikings

Born in Canada, Winnick is an accomplished martial artist with a 3rd-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and a 2nd-degree black belt in Karate. After completing her university education in Toronto, Canada, she went on to successfully pursue an acting career in New York and Los Angeles.

Her list of guest-starring roles includes appearances in numerous television shows including House, Bones, and Criminal Minds, along with several films including Love & Other Drugs and the forthcoming Ron Howard-directed adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. Now best known for her leading role as Lagertha in The History Channel’s Vikings, currently in its fourth season, Winnick was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the 2015 Television Critics Choice Awards and Best Performance by a Lead Dramatic Actress at the 2014 Canadian Screen Awards.

Winnick showed focus at a young age, starting with martial arts at seven and attaining her first black belt at 13. “People ask me all the time, where does that drive come from, where do you get that ambition? Maybe I get it from my father, because he was an entrepreneur. At a very young age, I was involved in gymnastics, so I would consider myself a highly competitive person, but mostly with myself.”

A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III
The Art of the Steal
Bones
Killers

Drama queen

Was acting of interest at a young age? “I started doing plays in community theatre and schools, and we had these after-school programmes. In high school, they had a drama department and one of my favourite teachers encouraged me to try out for a play. That year they tried to make it more experimental and it ended up with me submitting a script and directing it. And from that little experience I managed to get a scholarship. I loved acting – it always got my interest to express myself because I felt acting was a way of really connecting to the truth and actually making you check in with yourself on
a day-to-day basis.”

At university, Winnick studied the art of film, television and acting and she plans to work, too, on the other side of the camera, saying: “I’m excited about the possibility of that, but for now it’s about acting and being in front of the camera and having that connection to the material and the words and the other actors, in telling the story through that medium, through the eyes of the lens of the camera – I feel that is something that drives me personally to find authenticity in the moment.”

Fitness and martial arts have impacted on her acting. “For many years, I found that there was a strong lack of action roles for women. The scripts I was getting were one-dimensional, but when I read the scripts for Vikings, I instantly fell in love with it. I called my agent and said, ‘I need to do this. I’m Lagertha, I just know it’.”

Katheryn Winnick
Vikings
Vikings

So she actively went after it. “I actually ended up taping myself in my living room. I used my curtains as the backdrop, I taped myself and I fought for the role. I ended up going to Toronto and doing a screen test. They flew me back to LA, and I did a screen test with Travis [Fimmel] to see if there was chemistry and five days later I was off to Ireland [the set for Vikings]. It did happen quickly but I know that they did an extensive search for Lagertha around the world to find someone who not only had her physical capabilities, but also that sense of strong will. I feel that my martial arts training has really allowed me to connect and to understand her as a person because of that training and that sense of self.”

Winnick continues to train for her role, but in different disciplines, and she does her own stunts. “When I was first hired for Vikings, I had no experience with a sword or a shield, so for me that was a very different way of learning to be able to defend yourself in battle. For me, the sword should be an extension of your own arm – instead of doing a punch or a strike, it would be the act of the sword, and a thrust or an attack. I really fought for making her believable,” says Winnick. During filming she insists that Lagertha, “takes some hits. She may fall, she may trip, she may lose her sword, she may have to pick up someone else’s axe – it’s really fight-or-flight mode. I think that’s what makes it real.”

Marvelling at how she balances being a self-proclaimed tomboy as well as an elegant star of the screen, she explains to me: “Yes, I feel like a tomboy at heart, but I also feel that there is strength in femininity. I think that strong is sexy, and that elegance is also sexy, but can be strong, too. For me, it is not two different worlds and these are the same characteristics that I would use to define Lagertha and to define myself.” Raymond Weil clearly agrees.

Katheryn Winnick