Frida Gustavsson is having déjà vu.
She’s in Paris for the Chanel show during Paris Fashion Week, an invited guest of the brand with a seat in the show, as is par for the course for an actress in a hot new Netflix show. It’s a far cry from the Paris Fashion Week days she’s used to, back when she was a model and by herself, trying to find her way around.
“It’s like a flashback to 10 years ago,” she says, over Zoom. “It’s amazing how life puts you on these journeys and you end up in the same place where you started. Now I’m 28, I’m a grown woman, and I remember coming here in the summer of 2008 and I had just turned 15 and I was by myself, living in a model apartment, seeing all these people that I looked up to coming in for couture. And then being chosen to open Maria Grazia [Chiuri] and Pierpaolo [Piccioli’s] first Valentino show.” She pauses in reflection. “Yeah, it brings back a lot of memories. With the launch of the show lately I’ve had a lot of these beautiful full circle moments.”
After a decade-plus career as a model, the Swedish-born Gustavsson is now fully living out her dreams as an actress, with a starring role in the Netflix series “Vikings: Valhalla,” as Freydis. It’s something she’s wanted ever since growing up in suburban Stockholm in a “very sporty, very normal working class family,” the daughter of a teacher and a salesman. Yet it never really seemed like a realistic career goal.
“In my world, it didn’t exist that someone could do something creative,” she says.
At age 10, she was scouted while at Ikea with her father, and though she hadn’t previously thought of modeling she figured it could be good exposure.
“I never expected my modeling career to take me to the places it took me to. I got to work with creative geniuses, everyone from Lee McQueen to John Galliano to John Paul Gaultier. It was incredible; I’m really thankful for those years,” she says.
She started doing more commercial work for the likes of Maybelline or Nina Ricci, whose fragrance campaign she was the face of, and she found herself drawn to the long days on set with close ups and more individuality.
“It lit that fire inside of me that I tried to put down for so many years. It was like I could breathe, I could express myself,” she says. “I’m not just a vessel for someone else’s creativity, I’m not just interpreting what they want to say with the styling or with the makeup but I could actually express myself, and I loved it.”
Gustavsson lists Charlize Theron, Diane Kruger and Uma Thurman as personal heroes in the world of a successful transition into acting from modeling.
“I feel like there are quite a lot of negative stereotypes of the ‘model turned actress’ so I feel like I spent a lot of years shying away from the side of me, until it came to a point where it was, like, ‘No, I have to dedicate myself to what I want,’” she says.
“I feel like there are a lot of double standards with women in the film industry, and same with fashion,” she continues. “We’re expected to look a certain way and have a certain size and color of our skin but at the same time you’re supposed to not care and just show up and be natural, and it’s a difficult position that you can find yourself in sometimes.”
She was a big fan of the original “Vikings,” and learned about the reboot while chatting with a costar one day in the makeup chair on the Transylvanian set of their vampire movie.
“He said ‘Hey Frida you’re Swedish, could you help me do a Scandinavian accent? I’m doing a tape for the new Vikings show.’ And I was, like, ‘Give me a second, I need to make a phone call,’” she says, recalling running outside to phone her agents.
Ten minutes later, she had her hands on the scenes. “Sometime about them, I just clicked with Freydis,” she says of her character.
Back in Paris, thanks to an acting project and not a busy week of shows to walk, she’s allowing herself a moment to pause and take it all in.
“I’ve had so many no’s, more no’s than anyone can imagine. And it builds you a little armor,” she says. “In a way I think modeling could be a great prep.”