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|AOL TV Canada|
By Anna Dimond April 11,2010
Illicit affairs, political intrigue and a teen vixen are in the royal mix when 'The Tudors' returns to Showtime tonight at 9PM ET for its fourth and final season.
The show, which depicts the history and personal life of King Henry VIII (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) in lurid detail, begins season 4 just as the king has married his fifth wife, the 17-year-old Katherine Howard ( Tamzin Merchant). Lacking royal lineage and prone to the type of behavior befitting girls her age, Howard's poor behavior catches up with her, and her eventual execution leaves the King to marry for a sixth and final time.
His next queen is Catherine Parr [Joely Richardson], a much more mature woman than her predecessor. As Henry enters his mid-40s, he becomes more unpredictable, ruling with an iron fist and picking fights with other countries more out of a mid-life crisis than a desire to expand his rule.
Just ahead of the season 4 premiere, 'Tudors' creator and writer Michael Hirst chatted with AOL TV about his experience working with Meyers, his "mourning" for the show and what he'll be doing next.
What was it like working on the final season, and what has the transition been like since it wrapped?
It was many things, the final series for me. It was great to know that we could actually finish [the show] in the way that we wanted to finish it, because from year to year you never know whether the thing's going to be picked up, or whether you're going to be able to do what you originally intended to do. So, it was fantastic when it was picked up, and it was fantastic to finish it properly and tell the whole story of Henry VIII ... And then it was pretty unendurable to write the last episode, because I felt I was dealing with the deaths of lots of my favorite characters, and leaving behind a whole world that I'd lived in for five years. The last episode was, physically, quite difficult to write, and very emotional.
Why did you choose to structure the seasons the way you did, and end it after four seasons?
It was organic because the first couple of seasons had dealt with [former queen] Catherine of Aragon and then [Queen] Anne Boleyn. It took a long time for Henry to deal with the end of his relationship w Catherine of Aragon, and when he actually got married to Anne Boleyn, it wasn't long before he killed her. After that, the wives came along pretty thick and fast, so it was actually concentrated history. So I had a much shorter historical period to deal with. Each wife was only taking up two historical years as opposed to six or eight initially ... I just came to the end of his wives.
I wasn't so interested in his ending, I was always interested in his relationships with women because 'The Tudors' is really a kind of extended essay on love in some ways, and different kinds of love he had with his wives and mistresses. Once I got to his last wife, Catherine Parr, I'd almost reached the end of the story. It was just a natural place to end it.
Where do we pick up with Henry and what's his arc for this season?
There's no question about it that Henry becomes a complete tyrant, a murderer. When we pick up at the beginning of the series, he's going to marry Katherine Howard, who's ... 17, and who briefly rejuvenates him. He was getting very cynical. He had probably fallen out of the idea of love, and he was probably impotent. The relationship with [former queen] Anne of Cleves (Joss Stone) had been disastrous.
He wasn't aware of how manipulative his courtiers were in producing this young girl, Katherine Howard, for him to enjoy. But for a while he was kind of fooling himself, pretending to be young again. And he does two things: He falls in love with Katherine Howard and he also goes to war with France. Two things which suggest a mid-life crisis. He doesn't buy a red Ferrari ... He's probably clever enough to know that the relationship with Katherine Howard isn't real -- he's in denial. And in fact, the war with France is a similar thing. ... Six years later, he's going to sell [the conquered town] to the French ...
He really is getting unhinged by now. And because he's killed Cromwell, his last great servant [who was executed in season 3], it's like the ship's status is foundering. Nobody knows what he's going to do ... who he's going to kill. I think even Henry doesn't know that.
Season 4 also reveals a little bit Henry's isolation, such as when he meets again with Anne of Cleves.
This is Henry VIII the human being, as opposed to the king. As a human being, I think he knew perfectly well that Katherine Howard was unsuitable for him. But he recognized that his immediate reaction to Anne of Cleves had been wrong. When she changed -- she became very Anglified -- [he realized] he totally overreacted to her, and that she's a much more appropriate woman for him. That's very human that he would go back [and see her] ... One of the things, hopefully, that 'The Tudors' is full of, is human moments as well as historical ones.
Has your work on the show affected your perspectives on modern power and manhood?
What studying history tells you of course is that what goes around comes around, and that history continuously repeats itself. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So, ultimately, Henry is a monster. But the interesting thing I think about the show is that still right at the end, you can feel great sympathy for him. When you remember where he started from, how much he wanted to be an enlightened monarch, how much he wanted to reform the system, how much he wanted to be a just ruler. And then during the course of the four seasons, we've seen how all those dreams have been destroyed and corrupted and corroded. And in the end, he's almost mad in his tyranny. It reminds you slightly of any leader you've put your faith in -- it's almost impossible for them to produce what they've promised.
What were some of the specific challenges you faced in the making of season, as well as some of the goals?
It was very difficult to approach the end, even though I had some idea of how I wanted to end it. I had the culmination of four years of living with this guy [Henry], and I wanted to say things about him. The easiest thing would have been for me to kill him off -- and there would have been some cheap emotion. I didn't want to do that, but I did want to say something about both him as a man, and about his place in history. Occasionally I've been criticized for my portrayal of him. I wanted to make the point that even historians make it up. I knew that with the last couple of episodes, I was approaching this juncture, between what I'd been developing and writing, and what historians had said. So the last episode, I had to confront these things. I couldn't run away from the fact that this is my Henry VIII.
Do you believe you achieved what you set out to do?
I do. The last day of shooting, we shot this visionary scene, where Henry imagines himself dying, and the scene of what he sees when he faces death. And Johnny [Jonathan Rhys Meyers], who'd by this stage aged a lot -- we'd changed his appearance quite a bit -- and in this vision right at the end, he becomes young again. We were all watching, and we had a very special set. It was outside in a tunnel of trees, and we had wind machines and leaves and white horses ... it was a hyper-tense, beautiful set. And just to look on the monitor, and see Johnny as the young man as we'd first seen him, was so incredibly moving, as if we'd come full circle. I did try hold it together, but I did break down when I [saw] Johnny. This guy has held the show together for four years.
Did Meyers have feedback for you throughout that process?
I talked a lot more to a lot of the other actors. A lot of them were more intellectual, where they'd read more history books. Johnny knew his stuff, but he wasn't interested particularly in the historical [perspective], it was more the immediacy of it ... We had emotional discussions about things. He's very instinctive as an actor.
Are you ready to move on from 'The Tudors'?
There's a sort of mourning period [afterward].
And what are you looking to do next?
I'm doing 'The Borgias' for Showtime, which is the next big, historically based Showtime series. We're shooting that in Hungary. Neil Jordan's directing, has written the first two episodes, and I'm taking over as show runner, and possibly writing the [remaining] episodes. I never meant in a position of writing all the episodes for 'The Tudors,' it just worked out that way ... I'm an adviser on 'Camelot,' and I'm working with Michael Mann on a movie about Agincourt, so I'm quite busy.
By T.L. Stanley April 9, 2010
'The Tudors' returns to Showtime with a new season of villains, scheming and plenty of suds.
That possible scenario didn't stop Thomas Culpepper, one of the king's grooms, who befriends and then beds the naive young Katherine Howard in the fourth and final season of Showtime's hit costume drama "The Tudors," which launches its last 10 episodes beginning Sunday. And that's after he rapes a peasant woman and kills her aggrieved husband.
"He has no redeeming features at all," series creator and writer Michael Hirst said recently from London. "Lots of other characters in the show have a dark side, but he's a total villain, which makes him sort of enthralling."
Though the series has had its share of virtuous characters, such as Henry's first wife, the devout Katherine of Aragon, and beloved religious leader Sir Thomas More, it's the sinners who have propelled much of the action and helped draw in 2.3 million viewers last season.
"It's fun to watch people who create chaos," Hirst said. "They're charismatic but unstable and unpredictable."
There's been a veritable rogue's gallery of schemers, liars and all-around heels in the series, including home-wrecker extraordinaire Anne Boleyn; her pimp-father Thomas Boleyn; assassin-for-hire Sir Francis Bryan; and brutal reformer Thomas Cromwell. In the upcoming season, Culpepper (played by Torrance Coombs) takes his place among the worst of the worst, as does the Earl of Surrey, who tries to overthrow King Henry. (It ends badly for him, naturally).
"Villains are always more complicated psychologically and emotionally than the good characters," said Karen Tongson, professor of English and gender studies at USC. "You want to figure out what drives these rich and thick, gnarly personalities. They're strangely alluring."
On top of that list is Henry himself, played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who devolved during his 16th century reign into "a tyrant and a monster," Hirst said, but one who has fascinated fans of the steamy period soap opera. It probably doesn't hurt that this chiseled Henry, played by a two-time Golden Globe nominee, looks like he just stepped out of a designer jeans commercial. (He did).
Rhys Meyers said he sees Henry as "a very complicated and egotistical man" who slaughtered 70,000 of his own subjects, beheaded wives and executed even close friends on a whim. In the new season, he starts a war with France just because he's having a midlife crisis, and being in battle invigorates him.
"People were disposable to him," Rhys Meyers said. And even though the king is shown to be consumed with regret by the end of the series, "there's no redemption for the devil," he said.
That kind of anti-hero is right at home on Showtime, where series based on borderline or full-blown sociopaths have become the pay cable network's bread and butter. "Weeds," "Dexter" and "Nurse Jackie" all center on dynamic figures who are written to repulse and compel at the same time.
"Audiences have embraced these willful, flawed central characters who don't do the right thing and don't ask for forgiveness," said Bob Greenblatt, Showtime's president of entertainment. "But viewers still have to care about these characters and root for them."
One of Hirst's goals for "The Tudors" was to dispel some myths about such people as Boleyn and Cromwell, who have had a lot of bad press over the years. "I wanted to undermine the clichés," Hirst said, while not overlooking the killings, betrayals, tortures and manipulations that are undeniably part of the characters' résumés.
History provided plenty of villains from the Tudor era, Hirst said, and he used their exploits to help the series resonate with contemporary audiences, taking them "out of the museum and showing them as human beings."
Alan Van Sprang, as Henry's drinking buddy and mercenary Sir Francis Bryan, played the baddie with relish -- aided greatly by an eye patch -- because he saw evil as the predominant force in "The Tudors." "You couldn't be a hero in King Henry's court," he said. "If you tried, you'd be executed immediately. That would be the end of your heroism."
Van Sprang's Bryan was responsible for one of the most cringe-worthy scenes of Season 3, in which he purposely got the executioner drunk the night before Cromwell's beheading. As a result, the barely standing hatchet man sawed away at Cromwell's head until someone else had to step in to finish the job. "If people didn't hate Sir Francis before that," he said, "they certainly did after."
|Sunday Times - February 7th, 2010|
King Arthur to the rescue of Ardmore
By Eithne Shortall
Just as the Irish film industry looked to be in distress, the Knights of the Round Table ride to the rescue. Camelot, an American-funded TV series based on the legend of King Arthur, is set to be filmed at Ardmore Studios in Wicklow. The project is likely to be worth tens of millions to the local economy each year. Sources said Camelot will be an even bigger production than The Tudors, which was shot at Ardmore over four years. The Tudors, starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers and based on the life of Henry VIII, resulted in a €20m spend in Ireland last year alone. The Camelot series will be a joint production between an American television network and Morgan O’Sullivan, the managing director of World 2000 Entertainment, whose credits include PS, I Love You, King Arthur, and The Tudors. Camelot is envisaged to be a five-season series, which should mean five years of filming in Ireland. Hundreds of extras are expected to be recruited to create armies for battle scenes. Michael Hirst, the creator and writer of The Tudors, has drawn up the outline for Camelot and written the first four episodes. He has also been signed to work on The Borgias, a television series to be directed by Neil Jordan which will star Jeremy Irons. That goes into production this spring. Hirst said Camelot will not just provide employment for those in the film sector but will benefit hotels and travel companies.
Writer/creator/executive producer Michael Hirst
The film-makers are thought to have been attracted to Ireland by experienced crew and actors, the landscape and tax breaks.
“The landscape is perfect for the Arthurian setting. You get a real sense of the Dark Ages in Ireland,” Hirst said. “I’ve had such fun working in Ireland and with Irish crews, who are the best in the world. I’m so happy that it looks like we’re all back together.”
The drama will centre on the fellowship of the knights of Camelot. While it will feature King Arthur, it will not follow The Tudors style of focusing on one person. Scriptwriters will flesh out the characters of Sir Galahad, Sir Gawain and Sir Lancelot.
Hirst promised that the lust, betrayal and excitement of The Tudors will be replicated. “The more extreme I make it, the closer it will come to reality,” he said.“It’s based on Le Morte d’Arthur, so it’s going to be closer to the Arthurian court than anything you’ve seen before.”
Some critics and historians criticised The Tudors’ scriptwriters for taking liberties with events, character names and relationships. The producers always responded by pointing to the huge audience ratings, and explained that their mission was to entertain not to inform.There should be less nit-picking about Camelot as the story is based on legend. Arthur was a British king who fought off the Saxons.
Dearbhla Walsh, an Emmy award-winning director, and Ciaran Donnelly who both worked on The Tudors, are being considered as directors for Camelot. Cast members have yet to be confirmed, although talks are taking place with several high-profile actors.
James Flynn, a producer with World 2000, approached Hirst with the idea for the drama several years ago. Hirst, who also worked on Elizabeth, the Shakespearean film starring Cate Blanchett and Joseph Fiennes, said the story had always appealed to him. “I like to make the past seem relative and contemporary. That’s what we did for the Tudors.“We’re reinventing the past for today’s audience and making parallels between the two. I hate it when history is treated like a museum piece, as if it came from Mars, because the truth is they were people too,” he said. The Tudors was shot mainly in Wicklow and occasionally in Dublin for several months each year from 2006 to 2009. The last season will air this year.
The Borgias had considered using Ardmore Studios but Showtime, the commissioning network, said last month that Ireland, England and Italy had all been ruled out as locations.
More than 100 films have been shot at Ardmore since it opened in 1958, including Braveheart, the Oscar-winning film starring Mel Gibson, and King Arthur, one of the biggest productions ever filmed in Ireland.Knockout, a Hollywood movie starring Michael Douglas and Ewan McGregor and directed by Steven Soderbergh, starts filming in Ireland this month.Hirst said tax incentives for films are “vital” to the continuation of the industry. “If the tax incentive didn’t exist, there would cease to be production in Ireland. There are other places desperate to get film work,” he said.
Tudors in the Media 2009