Most Hollywood actresses begin their careers with the goal of getting as much screen time as possible and learn the physicalities of their craft along the way, but for Canadian actress Katheryn Winnick, who’s played some of the toughest women to grace our television screens, it happened the other way around.
Winnick, 43, holds a third-degree black belt in Taekwondo and a second-degree black belt in karate. At 16, she started her own martial arts school in Toronto teaching self-defense to women and children, an accomplishment the Big Sky actress credits to her entrepreneurial parents. “I saw that drive from my father, and was able to start a school at 16 and had three schools by the time I was 21, but even before that, when I was much younger, I would put on Christmas plays around the house and charge people admission—it was just crazy. I’ve always had a business mind, and I’m grateful for it.”
That business mind has parlayed her into a whole new realm of Hollywood’s elite. Not only has she worked for some of the most notable filmmakers in the business—including Vikings showrunner Michael Hirst, Big Sky’s David E. Kelly, and Sean Penn, who she stars alongside in Flag Day—but she’s also taking on the role of producer, which she says gives her a say in creating projects for strong, intelligent, dynamic women, much like herself. “I’m drawn to strong content, especially strong female characters,” she explains. “I’m developing five or six different projects, and I am also very excited to continue my directing career and directing Big Sky as well.”
With a balance of Old Hollywood beauty and the brawn of an action star, Winnick’s fans often refer to her as “the perfect woman.” Her followers are so loyal, some of them have even committed to permanently tattooing her fierce Vikings shield maiden character on their bodies. “It’s the biggest compliment in the world, obviously, if they’re tattooing your face on their bodies. They’re stuck with me for life,” she says with a laugh. “It can be a little strange when you meet them in person, and you see their back or their arm or their leg and it’s your face. I was just lucky enough to work with and develop a character that people respond to and are inspired by. Most people in their lives don’t really have that opportunity to have such an iconic role. I’m very fortunate that I had the opportunity to help create Lagertha and make her legacy.”
Big Sky’s second season is in full swing, and Winnick returns as the tough ex-cop Jenny Hoyt. The series is currently shot in New Mexico, where she says she’s able to connect with nature, a practice that keeps her grounded. “It’s a way to really reset,” she explains. “I try to stay near a trail or hike so I can just get out there be with nature and just meditate. I do a lot of meditations with different healers. You have to keep your mind positive and strong, especially under crazy work conditions.”
“I started teaching actors martial arts on movie sets at a young age. When I was getting a degree in kinesiology at York University, I would go and teach at different schools, and then I got involved in teaching actors at their houses, as well as on movie sets to train them for the upcoming scenes. That gave me a chance to spend some time on set, and I realized what an incredible world it is to have every day be completely different. That’s when I set out by my goals to get in front of the cameras.”
“Water, water, water, water, and oils! I drink a lot of water at room temperature and I pretty much chug it at once versus sipping. It’s important to stay hydrated all the time. Right now, I’m shooting in Albuquerque, so it’s important to also have hydrating oils for my skin. Instead of lotions, I find that oils absorb better. I’m also religious about cleaning my face two to three times a day. Before bed, I make sure to take off all makeup and sunscreen from the day. And of course, sunscreen is huge for me. In the morning, even when I’m driving, I put sunscreen on my face. It’s really important to make that part of your daily routine.”
What do you keep in your toiletry bag when you’re traveling back and forth to set?
“For my face wash, I use Luzern. It’s a company from Switzerland and they have great skin-care products. It’s absolutely fantastic and I love it. In terms of recovery oil, La Mer The Renewal Oil is my splurge that I can’t live without. I love the Supergoop Mineral Mattescreen because it’s really mattifying and works great. They have another one that has a little bit more sheen that also works great as a primer. I usually put that on when I get my hair done and just let my skin soak it in for about 20 minutes before I put makeup on.”
What do you do at night—are you a retinol or mask person?
“I wish I could say yes, but I don’t do any of that. I’ve never gotten into the retinol. I have very sensitive skin, and I’ve had some bad reactions in the past. I’m a big fanatic about facials, and I try to get one in at least every two months. I like a good, deep cleanse and exfoliation, whether it’s a microdermabrasion or a nice peel to get all the debris out of my pores to keep them nice and tight.”
Do you have a go-to facialist or do you just go where you can when you’re traveling?
“I’ve been traveling, so I have my key spots in different cities, but for me the most important thing is getting that microdermabrasion, so it’s always a good facialist who isn’t afraid to get in there and do a good scrub. Also, I’m big on extractions—if there’s a choice between getting a relaxing facial with a masks or massage, versus getting extractions, I’d go with the latter. It’s like going in for a workout and getting your skin prepped.”
How do you unwind after a tough day?
“I take a bath every night no matter what time I get home. It also teaches my body that it’s time for bed. The hot water ensures I don’t take a long bath and it’s a great way to steam and help take off my makeup, even if it’s just for five to 10 minutes.”
What does your workout routine look like, and does it change when you’re filming?
“It changes when I’m filming. I hop on my Peloton bike, which I absolutely love, or I’ll do the elliptical. Right now, if I can get a chance to ride a bike or go into nature, that’s always my preferred choice. Just to get out there, being in the elements, especially now with fall and the changing leaves. Nothing makes me happier than going for a nice hike or nice bike ride in the nature reserves.”
What are you excited for next?
“I am an investor in several companies that are doing well, and I feel that every woman should try to create her own financial independence. Regardless of your marital or single status, it’s important that women educate themselves on how to be able to continue to grow financially. One of the companies I invested in is Vuori, a performance apparel line that is opening like 100 new stores in the next two years. Also, Juneshine, an organic, probiotic hard kombucha that is inspiring, artistic and gaining popularity. There’s also my self-defense company that I really want to get out there more—I really want to help more women by giving them the tools that they need to be able to defend themselves.”
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