Dianne Doan took quite the leap when she transitioned from Disney’s “Descendants” franchise to History’s “Vikings.”
The young star went from playing Lonnie, the daughter of Fa Mulan and Li Shang to starring as a Chinese slave who is freed by her Viking king when she gets him high with an edible opiate.
The trippy scene, from the “Yol” episode airing March 10, is the real beginning of the relationship between Yidu and Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel), Doan said.
“For Yidu, it was almost a sense of extending a hand,” she told me during a recent phone interview with reporters. “I know the relationship is king and slave but it’s almost like [she’s saying], ‘You can trust me.’ ”
Yidu came to Kattegat a prisoner of the Vikings, one of their winnings from their victory in Paris last season. She had been kidnapped on the Red Sea at some point and was ultimately sold to Queen Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland). Despite her enslavement, Yidu hasn’t lost her empathy for others, and Ragnar appreciates her kindness.
“I think that was a moment of relief and release for Ragnar. It’s so evident that he carries a lot of baggage and a lot of loneliness,” Doan said. “When he does take the drug, … I think it’s almost as if he’s accepted a new friendship and her support.”
Yidu’s relationship with Ragnar grows even deeper in “Promised,” airing at 10/9c March 17 on History, when the Danish duo of King Harald and his warrior brother, Halfdan, threaten Ragnar’s rule. Doan hinted that from “Promised” on, Yidu will get more involved with the Vikings of Kattegat.
Doan talked more about her experience on “Vikings”—yes, Fimmel did prank her—and what will become of Yidu. Check out the edited Q&A below.
Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) and Yidu (Dianne Doan) ride through Kattegatt in “Vikings.” (Jonathan Hession/History)
Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) and Yidu (Dianne Doan) in History’s “Vikings.” (Jonathan Hession/History)
Dianne Doan plays a slave named Yidu in History’s “Vikings.” (Jonathan Hession/History)
What’s it like to take the leap from Disney royalty to Viking slave?
[Laughs.] I couldn’t have asked for a better transition out of that Disney experience just because the audience range is so limited, I guess? Challenge-wise, I think I was definitely pushed in my work as an actor, coming on to a show that’s already been so established with the course of three years, working with Travis and then numerous directors that I was able to come across. It definitely was intimidating, and it pushed my limits, I would say that, but it was so rewarding.
Can you tell us anything about the relationship between Yidu and Ragnar?
He is a person who seeks to learn about different cultures and different religions which is why I think he does raid lands. … I would say our initial relationship starts out of that curiosity.
Describe her backstory.
I definitely did research for my character just to make sure that I knew what era and what dynasty I come from, the rights that women had during that time, how I would react in certain situations. I want to bring that. What was fascinating to me was I found out during that research that, in fact, women at that time in my dynasty had a voice and had an opinion and had rights to an education. I wanted to make sure that Yidu was a strong character coming into the show even though … she’s a slave.
Do you think Ragnar will hold her on a pedestal because she has seen things that he hasn’t?
I think that’s established within Episode 4. Definitely, he holds me higher than say a regular slave just because I do come from somewhere else. If you watched Episode 4, there is that moment of interaction when I almost stand up for myself and as a slave, I have no right to really speak to a king, yet I do, so he questions where I get that power.
Will we see some interesting parallels between Yidu and the late Athelstan in terms of how he views her?
Athelstan meant so much to Ragnar. I don’t know if it would be a parallel of that relationship. … I’m a confidante just because he is so alone in Kattegat. He doesn’t feel like he has anybody to talk to. Everybody just talks at him and not with him, if that makes sense.
What it was like physically for you to take on a role like this?
I’ve never moved across the world to work before and so that was definitely a game-changer for me. Like I said earlier, it was really intimidating and nerve-wracking coming on to the show that is so well-established and respected in the industry. Luckily, the cast and crew are phenomenal over in Ireland; it wasn’t so much a challenge working at all. [Laughter.] The only challenge I would say was the elements. … The weather was probably the biggest thing I had to adjust to, because everyone was so gracious and welcoming.
Was it more demanding for you than you expected?
We’re put in a position where we got to play around with so much. The sets were made beautifully. Everything felt that you were transformed into this world. If anything, the weather would help. It was difficult as I said earlier, just like being pushed out of my comfort zone acting-wise. I’ve never been challenged like that before. I couldn’t have asked for a better project.
Do you have a favorite scene?
I would say Episodes 4 and 5 were really special for me. I got the chance to really play around and explore with my character and I think you’ll really learn a lot about Yidu. Also, that I got to work with an amazing director [Helen Shaver] during that time and I learned the most probably then. It’s the start of my story arc.
Travis is known to be a huge prankster. Did he prank you?
Of course he did. Luckily, I didn’t actually get it that bad. … The worst that I got—and I don’t want to get anybody in trouble—but he tied me to a boat. I am going to be dramatic and say that I could have possibly died—I’m just kidding. I didn’t. But yes, he tied me to a boat by my life jacket and as I was trying to exit off the dock, I got pulled back, and everybody laughed at me.