A Chinese slave in Vikings series

Vietnamese- Canadian actress Dianne Doan plays a slave in Vikings Season 4.
Vietnamese- Canadian actress Dianne Doan plays a slave in Vikings Season 4.PHOTO: 2016 TM PRODUCTIONS LIMITED / T5 VIKINGS PRODUCTIONS INC.

Fans of historical TV series Vikings were surprised at the announcement that a Chinese slave character would feature heavily in its fourth and latest season.

What would an Asian woman be doing among the Vikings in 10th- century Scandinavia, they wondered, questioning the show's historical accuracy.

But Dianne Doan, the Vietnamese-Canadian actress who portrays the new character, believes that the scenario would have been "absolutely possible".

Speaking to The Straits Times in a telephone interview from her home in Vancouver, the 25-year-old says: "The Vikings were known to have travelled far to find new lands and, historically, they did travel East. So I think it's possible for sure that they would have come in contact with Asians at some point."

Her character Yidu is described as a Chinese slave who was originally kidnapped on the Red Sea and taken to Paris. After the Vikings, who are led by Ragnar (Travis Fimmel), conquer Paris, they take her back to Scandinavia with them.

The actress adds that the writer and creator of the show, Michael Hirst, has always been a stickler for historical accuracy: "He makes sure to do his research."

Indeed, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Hirst, 63, was quoted as saying: "Who knew the world was small enough even then for people captured by pirates in the red sea to end up in Frankia, and then in Scandinavia?

"But I checked with our historical consultant and he said it's all possible, it's all plausible, it almost certainly happened."

Hirst is also the Bafta- and Emmy-award winning writer behind historical films such as Elizabeth (1998) and Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007), as well as the popular historical TV series The Tudors (2007 to 2010).

Doan says that she has had a blast filming Vikings. As soon as she stepped onto the set, she was blown away by the meticulous detail and lavish costumes.

Sounding excited, she recalls: "I was just shocked, really, about how much time and effort they put into everything. For the costumes, I had fitting after fitting and they would be very particular about everything that would be seen onscreen, right down to hair and make-up."

She concedes, however, that she was more wary about doing the show's famously violent scenes. Before joining the show, she had seen only a "couple of episodes here and there" because she was "traumatised" by the violence.

"I've never been very good with watching violence and I had the perception that Vikings were all about violence, conquering lands and more violence.

"Now that I'm caught up with the storyline, I see that the show is also about family and loyalty. It does a good job of portraying the Vikings as people looking to make a name for themselves, to earn respect and to leave a legacy.

"I think there's a great deal of vulnerability underneath all those battle scenes."

Vikings is certainly a far cry from her previous role in TV series Disney Descendants: School Of Secrets (2015), where she played Chinese warrior Mulan's daughter.

She says: "It's really like black and white. I went from singing and dancing on a Disney musical comedy to doing a very dark period piece.

"I couldn't have asked for a better chance to experience both ends of the spectrum. Right now, I'm just curious to see the response to my character on Vikings because it's so different from what the fans of the show are used to."

•Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

•Vikings Season 4 premieres on History (StarHub TV Channel 401) on Friday at 10pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 17, 2016, with the headline 'A Chinese slave in Vikings series'. Print Edition | Subscribe