Handsome British actor Clive Standen is best known for his roles on Starz's Camelot and the BBC's Robin Hood and Doctor Who. But he's now breaking out into leading-man territory and causing blood pressures to rise as the fearsome, seafaring Norse warrior Rollo on History's new hit series Vikings, airing Sundays at 10/9c.
Standen, 31, may play a brooding hottie on the tube, but he recently opened up to PEOPLE and revealed his softer side. Here are five things to know about the charismatic actor:
1. He appreciates women more than ever, now that he's had long hair.
For Vikings, Standen had to grow a bushy beard, sport tattoos and scars and don long tresses that extended past his shoulders.
"I wore hair extensions for six months. I have a newfound respect for women," says Standen. "I'd wake up with all the hair stuck to my face and spend the next 20 minutes trying to take out all the tangles. I don't shout at my wife when she's taking forever to get ready anymore."
2. He's a romantic and a pro with sweet gestures.
He and his wife, Francesca, 45, who works in the music industry, have been together for years and married for the last five. "I was very lucky to find the woman of my dreams at an early age, and I haven't looked back," he says.
He popped the question with an all-day proposal that included spray-painting "I love you, Francesca" down her street, writing love notes on big placards, dressing up as her favorite celeb, Elvis Presley, and singing "Fools Rush In" as he got down on bended knee. "I couldn't afford the big expensive engagement ring, so I had to do something big," he explains.
The actor still keeps the romance alive today by cooking meals that he serves in the garden by candlelight after the kids are asleep.
Raising the couple's three children – Hayden, 10, Edi, 6, and Rafferty, 2, whom he calls "the loves of my life" – is the time Standen cherishes most.
"I really love being a house dad. To pick up the pieces and do everything that is needed for them is a great pleasure," he says. "It's important to have one-on-one time. It's great to get down on the carpet and play cars with them or give the kids a bath and play spaceship."
4. He's a thrill-seeking adventure type.
When he's not filming in Ireland or home in London with the kids, Standen enjoys deep-sea swimming.
"The scuba-diving thing came from my wife and I trying to find a hobby," he says. "My wife is an amazing swimmer, and I love marine life. I've swum with sharks before. I'm trying to get to good enough to go diving in the Arctic Circle. I want to go into the extreme and go under the ice."
5. He's a Muay Thai boxing champ.
To play Vikings, Standen and his castmates had to look like skilled fighters. Luckily for the actor, he already had the experience and physical prowess to portray a warrior – growing up, he was a national Muay Thai boxing champion. He also grew up near Sherwood Forest and did jousting as part of a live-action guided tour.
"With this [Vikings] role, I get to live out all my fantasies," he says. "I'm swordfighting, I go horse riding and row long boats. It's come full circle!"