Life is an evolution. Former WWE superstar and current Vikings regular Adam “Edge” Copeland understands that well. The 44-year-old native Canadian and current North Carolinian, who’s a father to two young daughters with wife and fellow WWE alumnus Beth Phoenix, has adopted several onscreen personas over the past two decades. Among them have been brooding goth, perennial prankster, cocky ladies man and on Syfy’s Haven — which ended its run in December 2015 — literal magnet for flying bullets. That made him the perfect chameleon to be cast for season five of History’s Vikings, itself about those titular primal settlers who are the unheralded link in the story of us.
Copeland plays the spectacularly named Kjetill Flatnose, a proud warrior and family man who’s about to lay it all on the line joining forces with enigmatic ship builder and rogue discoverer Floki Gustaf Skarsgård. Flatnose first appears in this Wednesday’s episode, and will recur throughout the remainder of season five. And two days removed from his big Vikings debut, Copeland spoke with us while on Christmas hiatus from his home about the badass women in his life and on Vikings, as well as his watchful eye on the current wrestling landscape and which current sports entertainer could make a serious go on prestige TV.
Vikings has no shortage of strong female characters. Given your married to Beth Phoenix, was that a major draw toward the show?
In general, I liked that there was that counterbalance, and I think that’s changing in entertainment as a whole. But I think Vikings was one of the first shows that spearheaded that. Lagertha [Katheryn Winnick] – you don’t mess with her, and that’s proven throughout the seasons. And yeah, being married to a Glamazon [laughs], I know what strong women are all about. It’s one of those shows Beth and I did watch, and she always appreciated it because of that. I am with a woman who can bench 225, so she likes to watch strong female characters.
Kjettil’s a fairly internal character compared to Edge, but was that actually a relief for you?
Yeah, it was a relief. It was also a challenge, but I was looking forward to the challenge. These characters are not over the top until it’s battle or things of that nature. It was much more subtle, and that’s the difference between acting and wrestling — the subtleties. What I really like about my character is he is not what you would expect. I assumed I’d be all battles all the time, and when it wasn’t that, that was really fun to come at, and I’m quite happy it’s not what a fan from WWE could expect, and I’m hoping they’ll give it a chance. Not to say it won’t eventually go where you had assumed.
It’s still a very physical show. I’d imagine that much as you respected more seasoned actors’ resumes, they appreciated your wrestling background.
Everyone realizes when it comes to fight scenes, that’s gonna be my wheelhouse. That’s, for me, I don’t want to say the easy stuff. But in terms of preparation, that’s the easy stuff. What I will say about this show is that if you see these battle scenes, if you see us rowing boats, we’re doing it. That still taps into that physical nature I obviously have, and that’s fun. It hits every vein of what I’ve wanted to do and have done.
Even as a former wrestler, were you in awe dramatizing how much people from the Viking-era endured?
It really is amazing they were able to do all the things they did, and that’s why there can be a Vikings TV series. You’re doing these things to mimic what they did, but we can take a tea break in between. [Laughs] And at the end of that day, you’re tired and sore and you’re like, “Wow, these were some tough folks.”
Your own journey to get to the top in wrestling was arduous. How did you steel yourself for essentially starting over in acting at age 37?
I was able to check my ego enough to know that would be the case. I might have a leg up on someone who hasn’t had an entire career or doesn’t have a social media following, but I’m still going to have to prove myself and knock on doors. One thing about wrestling, it keeps you humble. We’re independent contractors. That helped with the transition. I understood there was going to be a growth to this. It wasn’t just going to be, “Oh, I’m in a Marvel movie now.” I was OK with building a body of work to prove I could do this. I have a plan, and I sit down with my team and go, “OK, this is where I’d like to go next,” and we work toward that. And Vikings was at the top of that list. I have a forehead you can watch a movie on, so my Scandinavian heritage helped in that respect. [Laughs]
Since even WWE is such a grind, why do you think more wrestlers don’t go the Cody Rhodes route and reinvent themselves independently?
It’s different for everyone. There’s something to be said for sticking it out. With WWE, it’s a massive machine, and you will air in 120 countries and have action figures and towels. I also think now it’s possible to do what Cody has done and the Young Bucks have done and carve your own niche outside of WWE. That would be fun. It’s definitely more work, because you’re having to slog different kind of miles, and probably not going to be wrestling in better arenas with better showers. But at the end of the day, it’s still the same job. As glamorous as WWE may seem you’re probably eating at a Waffle House at 1 in the morning, and you’re probably going to see the Ring of Honor guys there too.
Wrestling is getting more mainstream coverage now than at any point since the Attitude Era. Are you surprised to suddenly see WWE on, say, ESPN?
Twenty years ago, outside of Hulk Hogan doing Santa With Muscles and things like that, it would have been difficult for someone like me to land a role on a dramatic, huge series. And now it’s happening because of guys like Dwayne [Johnson] and Dave [Bautista], who are helping legitimize what we do. And what it is we do is a lot of different balls to keep in the air, and I think people are really starting to appreciate that now.
You also left wrestling with a bit of mystique left to your persona. Now, between reality shows and social media, the lines get blurred. Could that be a handicap down the road?
I fought the social media thing kicking and screaming. It can demystify. But it’s a different world now, and that is part of what we as humans have developed: right, wrong, good, bad, I don’t know. Part of me has always been a private person. That’s still there. Just occasionally, I’ll tweet out that my daughter said I’m annoying. When I was talked into Twitter, I was like, “Eh, I feel like I’m losing part of what I built.” Putting yourself out there also adds. I’m sure it didn’t hurt for Vikings to see that I have six million Facebook followers and a million Twitter followers. Why not take control of it and let everybody know from the WWE fanbase that I haven’t forgotten about ya?
Is there a current wrestler who you’ve thought might have a second life in acting the way you’ve had?
[Laughs] He wouldn’t have a lot of roles to choose from, but a guy like Paul Heyman would have a definite niche. Whatever Paul Giamatti plays, Paul Heyman could also read for it. There are a lot of people you might not realize because they aren’t getting promo opportunities or the chance to hone that side of it. It could be a guy like Luke Harper. I see him and believe that guy is what he’s portraying on TV.
A guy like Bray Wyatt, he could easily have played something in True Detective. Would people have assumed that Batista would have been in a Bond film and these Guardians of the Galaxy movies? Probably not. But if you watch his promos, he kept it close to the vest, which worked for his character, and it totally works for the subtleties he brings to the screen. But if you had said at the beginning of Evolution that would happen, people would have said you were crazy.