Vikings Star Katheryn Winnick Invades TV Again for Big Sky

The former History series star discusses her new David E. Kelley drama on ABC, its shocking premiere cliffhanger, and how her loyal fans will like the soapy mystery.

by | November 17, 2020 | Comments

"Big Sky" stars Katheryn Winnick

(Photo by ABC/Frank Ockenfels)

There’s really only one reaction to the cliffhanger ending of the first episode of ABC’s soapy Montana-set mystery series Big Sky: What?!

The series, which marks the return of super-producer David E. Kelley (Big Little Lies) to network television, is based on the Big Sky book series by C. J. Box and, according to ABC’s advertising campaign, is a drama about a trio of private detectives with messy love lives (read: a love triangle) who investigate the disappearance of two sisters who go missing after driving on a stretch of highway in Big Sky Country.

Spoiler alert: This article discusses events occurring in the series premiere of Big Sky. Stop now if you have not watched the episode.

Kylie Bunbury and Katheryn Winnick in Big Sky

(Photo by ABC/Sergei Bachlakov)

But that’s not really what the show is at all. While the two women, private detective Cassie (Kylie Bunbury) and ex-cop Jenny (Katheryn Winnick), have a full-blown fist-fight when Jenny learns Cassie has been hooking up with her pseudo-ex, Cody (Ryan Philippe), that will all become moot now that Cody is dead.

Of course, the women don’t know that yet, but viewers who watched to the end of the first episode certainly do — and maybe their neighbors, too, if they screamed loudly enough at the screen like this reporter did at the conclusion of the hour.

“Right? Shocker,” teased star Winnick when Rotten Tomatoes spoke with her on the day the show was set to premiere. “And that’s what I love about the show — the unexpected is expected when you have David Kelley writing it. When I was reading the initial script, I was blown away that you would kill off a lead character, especially someone that’s so prominent in the pilot and also prominent even in terms of how ABC is marketing it. I think that’s what draws people in — you never know what’s gonna happen.”

But what, exactly, will the show look like going forward? Winnick, who starred for the better part of the last decade as the fierce Lagertha on History’s Vikings, promises plenty of surprises as Jenny and Cassie hunt not only for the two teenage girls abducted in the pilot, but for Cody, too.

Read on to find out what else the Canadian actress had to say about the series, which is currently filming its first season in Vancouver.

Now that the cliffhanger is out of the way and you don’t have to talk around it — Cody is dead, though Ryan Philippe will continue to appear on the show occasionally — how would you describe Big Sky to viewers?

I think it was a very smart and interesting marketing campaign to use him as part of the draw. That triangle that you actually see, it’s physically on all the posters with my character, Jenny, and Cassie and Cody Hoyt. Even though he isn’t in majority of the rest of the series, his character — because he is the thread for Jenny and Cassie’s relationship — he will constantly be in the back of the mind, if not part of the underlying tension between the two of us. So he’s very much still a part of the show, a part of who these two women are and what drives them to solve the cases. Even though they’re two polar-opposite, strong, independent women, they have a mutual love for Cody Hoyt, and they also have a mutual respect for one another and a mutual goal to help try to find a him and try to help find the girls now.

What does the show look like going forward? Obviously Jenny and Cassie will have to team up, but are they going to be looking for Cody? Are they going to focus on looking for the girls? How much do they have to work together?

You don’t really know until you read the scripts of what exactly is [coming], but these are two very empowering characters, very flawed as well. They each have their own quirks and traumas independently. What’s interesting about Jenny’s character, she’s gone through so much and obviously she definitely feels betrayed by Cody, but also by Cassie, her friend. And that was added in on a last-minute basis — we reshot that opening scene, just really, honestly, two and a half weeks ago. I can’t believe it’s already airing today. But I think it highlights the fact that it was important to establish that they do have a history. And in terms of where this series is going to go, well, you do know that it’s based on C. J. Box’s books, David Kelley is adapting and making Jenny a big part of the case-solving moving forward. But for Jenny, it’s really one step at a time right now. You will see her find out the news of Cody’s death, and she has a lot of healing to do and needs closure. And one way of doing that is to figure out how that happened, and to get the girls and to try to find them.

It’s interesting on procedural shows because usually there’s just an opening close case per week, sometimes it may bleed into several episodes. But what’s interesting about David Kelley’s writing stakes are higher and there’s a personal motivation to do it. You see that it’s very evident in the first episode, and it’s very important also as the series goes on to see that this is what’s really driving Jenny to find her husband and to find the reason why and find these girls.

BIG SKY - ABC's "Big Sky" stars Katheryn Winnick as Jenny Hoyt, Ryan Phillippe as Cody Hoyt, and Kylie Bunbury as Cassie Dewell. (ABC/Kharen Hill)

(Photo by ABC/Kharen Hill)

You can tell from the first episode that Jenny is passionate, which is exemplified in this physical fight that Jenny and Cassie have over Cassie hooking up with Cody. But do you think that two grown women would really have a fistfight about some guy?

Right away, especially when you see the first episode, you want to get as much information as you possibly can and where the series is going to go and who these lead actors are. And I think that says a lot about it — these girls have no problems getting down and dirty and fighting for what they believe in. And in that situation, when you find out you’re betrayed by a close friend and your husband, there are heightened emotions. We’ve all gone through traumas and sometimes you react a certain way that is not necessarily the right way. But I think for me also, coming from a martial arts background and training martial arts for many years and running martial arts schools and doing my own stunts, it was important for me to keep this raw and real and dirty in a lot of ways, because you don’t really see two girls just going at it. I wanted the hair pulling and the punching and stuff like that — it’s Montana, [and] these girls are rough and tough. They’re outdoors women, and they can hold their own.

Well, clearly you’re very good at playing a woman who can hold her own.

I’ve been really lucky in my career to work with incredible showrunners and creators that write women well, and I’ve been so blessed. I think that’s why I signed on to this series, especially so quickly after Vikings. David Kelley, I had been a huge fan of his for many years, from the Ally McBeal years, and obviously what he’s done with Big Little Lies. He knows how to write women, and not just their strengths, but also their flaws and their vulnerability. And I think that’s important, too, for everyone to see that you can be strong, but you also can be empathetic and you can be authentic as well as a woman.

Vikings Katheryn Winnick as Lagertha in season 4

(Photo by Bernard Walsh/History)

After being on Vikings for the better part of a decade, did you intend to sign on for something that could also run for another 10 years or so?

I told the TV department of my agency, I’m like, “I’m gonna take a break.” I have a movie coming out with Sean Penn that I’m very excited about called Flag Day, and I got a chance to direct Vikings, and I was honored enough to get an award for Best Director just recently for the Women’s Image Awards. I was kind of ready to settle down and get to L.A. because I was in Ireland for so many years. But this was a straight offer and it’s David E. Kelley, and there are some times in your career where you’re like, “Well, I can’t say no to something like this.”

And I’ve been so blessed also with ABC taking a risk, and they’re taking a risk in so many different ways: They’re taking a risk with not only two strong female leads, but also it’s a very dark show, it’s a very twisted show, and to be on a network, on ABC, where typically it feels like this should be more of a cable show, but to take that risk and try some new material, I commend them for that. Also, even our casting choices — such a stellar cast: everybody from John [Carroll Lynch] to Natalie [Alyn Lind] and Jade [Pettyjohn] and Brian [Geraghty], but also the first non-binary [series regular] on the show as well [Jesse James Keitel]. I’m just really proud of them that they’re not afraid to tackle not only great casting choices, but also material; we’re dealing with sex trafficking, the pandemic is also written in the script, and topics that are somewhat uncomfortable, and that’s what I find really makes compelling, exciting television.

BIG SKY - “Pilot” – KATHERYN WINNICK - ABC/Darko Sikman

(Photo by ABC/Darko Sikman)

Vikings has a very devoted fan base. Do you think that Big Sky will appeal to those fans?

This is a very different show in a lot of different aspects. This will appeal to people that love thrillers and love suspense. This also will appeal to people that love strong women characters. This will appeal to people that are looking for a serialized procedural that want to come week to week to turn on their TV screens. So the show has a lot of different elements.

[With] Vikings, we were so blessed to have the most devoted fans from all around the world in all these different countries. I really found that it was a show that was a lot of water-cooler talk, that people started talking about and telling their friends, and we developed an incredible loyal fan base as the years progressed. Whereas this show, I feel that it can check a lot of boxes really quickly and that if you’re in any age range, any ethnic background, you will come for the show for not only just thrills, but you will stay for the characters, and you’ll stay for the interesting storylines.

And also the marketing campaign is completely different. This show is coming out with a bang — so you can see it in bus stops and billboards and commercials and everywhere. We’re here shooting in Vancouver, so we’re a little bit in a bubble, so I haven’t seen it firsthand, but I’ve been hearing about it. We’re so lucky to have ABC really believe in us and believe in the show, and we’re one of the first shows in COVID land to really be out there and making it work. We’re just so lucky to be able to work in this time.

The pandemic is written into the show, but it almost feels like it’s happened in the past and isn’t actively happening at the moment so viewers aren’t necessarily in the thick of it.

I’ve been fortunate to spend a lot of time in Montana recently. I have a house there with my fiance, so it’s nice to actually see what Montana girls are really like. And it is a small place. Everybody knows each other. The women are pretty tough there. The sense of equality is really strong — women do take care of themselves and provide for their families. It’s a very interesting culture for women there. And in terms of the pandemic, I feel that now it’s hit everywhere, but at the time we started shooting it was definitely a zone that wasn’t necessarily as active for COVID. And also there’s a lot of landscape, there’s a lot of free, open air. You will see that in our show as well.

Katheryn Winnick directing on the set of HISTORY's VIKINGS_(episode 608) Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Hession and History

(Photo by Jonathan Hession and History)

You got to direct an episode in the final season of Vikings, so is that something you’re hoping to do more of in the future?

Absolutely. I actually will have the chance to direct Big Sky, hopefully in the coming seasons if not next year. I think for any actor it is such a blessing if they ever have the opportunity to get behind the camera. I was so lucky to get a chance to have my directorial debut on Vikings and have a crew who, after six years, really had my back. It’s one of the reasons I got a chance to direct. But it’s it’s something that has been such a learning curve and and for any actor is such a great learning experience because you really see a different view of storytelling through a director’s lens. If anything I started directing before I was an actress. I started directing plays in high school, so directing has always been my first love, believe it or not. In front of the camera has always taken precedence for many years, but I will be directing a lot more, and you will see me in the future direct a lot more.

Big Sky airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.

Like this? Subscribe to our newsletter and get more features, news, and guides in your inbox every week.

On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.

Tag Cloud

HBO Go Martial Arts Tubi zero dark thirty Super Bowl hidden camera debate American Society of Cinematographers Crackle harry potter 45 Arrowverse PaleyFest franchise rt labs critics edition Drama based on movie Sci-Fi joker historical drama royal family wonder woman Rocketman scary movies Song of Ice and Fire Warner Bros. christmas movies films football women boxing kong parents cooking Amazon Prime Video richard e. Grant Mary poppins FX Pop VICE 21st Century Fox CBS black Pride Month Cosplay Horror Mary Tyler Moore biopic Wes Anderson The Walking Dead laika award winner TCA Awards TBS dragons 007 Action Kids & Family Tokyo Olympics talk show Women's History Month Discovery Channel BBC One Marvel 2017 RT History rt archives teaser Infographic Funimation psycho 71st Emmy Awards sequel mockumentary live event IMDb TV ID strong female leads Amazon Winter TV lord of the rings The Academy SundanceTV popular green book reviews golden globe awards The Arrangement GoT social media black comedy The Purge Apple TV+ ESPN Stephen King travel Black Mirror Musicals ABC Signature Reality spy thriller reboot movies game of thrones screenings rom-coms singing competition YouTube high school streaming movies technology pirates of the caribbean batman CNN Sneak Peek renewed TV shows Amazon Prime Watching Series Universal Pictures australia cancelled TV shows king arthur E3 natural history sitcom The Walt Disney Company razzies free movies comedies Reality Competition Premiere Dates comiccon twilight kids Sony Pictures universal monsters TCA 2017 sequels 90s tv talk Hear Us Out ghosts BBC America crime drama Superheroes TNT rotten movies we love Classic Film Amazon Studios genre adventure Fox Searchlight trailers disaster nfl Masterpiece Mindy Kaling First Look cults Music BAFTA slashers stoner IFC Films Crunchyroll El Rey Mudbound SXSW know your critic Country The CW blaxploitation Alien Writers Guild of America Star Wars Oscars GLAAD dramedy heist movie classics cops Extras sopranos Fantasy Shudder FXX Rom-Com young adult Polls and Games CMT Showtime new york worst Comedy Central directors Thanksgiving miniseries breaking bad international fast and furious child's play emmy awards casting Universal Pirates Paramount Network Superheroe E! worst movies scorecard foreign jamie lee curtis Lionsgate Lifetime Quiz romance Disney+ Disney Plus spider-man Ghostbusters screen actors guild Trophy Talk zombie deadpool Mary Poppins Returns Nickelodeon cancelled television cancelled TV series mission: impossible animated independent concert APB 2015 Schedule OneApp olympics children's TV Apple TV Plus Film Festival Netflix book adaptation USA Tumblr comic boxoffice fresh San Diego Comic-Con toronto slasher Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt television movie Baby Yoda Pixar Interview Starz Turner Walt Disney Pictures Opinion Apple docudrama cats DC streaming service TIFF discovery ITV Neflix HBO asian-american Spectrum Originals science fiction SDCC critics gangster Spike Mystery anime YouTube Red festival indie thriller NBC Hulu First Reviews Nat Geo Cartoon Network period drama A24 ViacomCBS canceled mcc nature hispanic finale AMC Plus 93rd Oscars DirecTV 1990s war Broadway BET Awards medical drama venice USA Network crime thriller TV Land MSNBC Heroines YouTube Premium Red Carpet name the review Avengers GIFs rt labs WarnerMedia Set visit TV renewals Marathons 2019 aapi serial killer HBO Max Fall TV crossover japan crime TCA Winter 2020 criterion adenture 2020 Star Trek comic books Biopics best PlayStation binge Pet Sematary Chilling Adventures of Sabrina FX on Hulu zombies italian unscripted Sundance TV cars TCA dc Disney President DC Universe OWN See It Skip It indiana jones new zealand Vudu NYCC CBS All Access Pop TV Endgame 72 Emmy Awards CW Seed Calendar Binge Guide series target diversity Pacific Islander transformers AMC LGBT Awards revenge ABC Family Marvel Studios VOD Tarantino Disney Channel 99% cartoon Creative Arts Emmys quibi Television Academy Box Office New York Comic Con streaming PBS mob 2021 Sundance RT21 Captain marvel new star wars movies spanish language Christmas book robots ratings Family Food Network french toy story video Ovation latino monster movies Black History Month Animation documentary Shondaland 2018 TLC ABC NBA comics Hallmark Christmas movies true crime Grammys Best and Worst Summer Year in Review FOX Holidays rotten 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Esquire Brie Larson National Geographic blockbuster Winners documentaries TruTV Legendary spider-verse Lucasfilm game show History comic book movies Toys Lifetime Christmas movies dexter Dark Horse Comics Fargo Marvel Television Teen police drama satire Fox News live action Nominations Ellie Kemper Comic Book king kong MTV chucky vampires vs. jurassic park VH1 Image Comics critic resources MCU hollywood Instagram Live stand-up comedy versus Columbia Pictures justice league legend Rock festivals Photos Rocky supernatural A&E Western Certified Fresh suspense Logo political drama TV halloween doctor who spinoff Acorn TV south america Countdown Elton John biography TV One a nightmare on elm street Film marvel comics romantic comedy Comic-Con@Home 2021 anthology art house Trailer feel good 20th Century Fox Election Disney Plus facebook cancelled scene in color DC Comics BBC Valentine's Day YA hispanic heritage month psychological thriller Podcast Comedy IFC james bond stop motion what to watch aliens action-comedy elevated horror news 2016 Emmys Academy Awards spanish posters all-time Sundance Now spain blockbusters Netflix Christmas movies docuseries 24 frames sag awards werewolf Comics on TV kaiju BET Hallmark space Anna Paquin Paramount superman remakes Peacock godzilla sports TCM dreamworks dceu nbcuniversal Turner Classic Movies Exclusive Video Syfy Paramount Plus witnail Trivia WGN archives Freeform canceled TV shows 73rd Emmy Awards DGA superhero telelvision mutant Emmy Nominations Video Games halloween tv basketball 4/20 dogs prank marvel cinematic universe composers theme song adaptation Travel Channel Disney streaming service obituary Spring TV dark Cannes video on demand Adult Swim hist Television Critics Association Holiday Britbox scary TV movies Chernobyl Tomatazos saw die hard Character Guide Awards Tour Musical golden globes LGBTQ The Witch japanese Bravo politics X-Men Epix comic book movie cinemax