“Henry [VIII] as a brand, is right up there with Coca Cola,” Damian Lewis said, of the oft-portrayed Tudor king he plays in PBS’s six-part miniseries Wolf Hall. “My vanity will always relish a challenge,” Lewis said, of trying to turn in a fresh performance of the historical figure. “In fact, that probably encourages me.”
Not so fresh, maybe, were his answers to question about his character, on stage this morning at Winter TV Press Tour 2015; his “syphilitic, philandering Elvis” line, in re how Henry VIII is most often perceived/portrayed, is getting a little worn out as Lewis make the press rounds to promote the project.
Lewis is maybe the hottest “get” when seeking someone to talk to about the project, though it actually stars internationally acclaimed actor Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell, who became Henry’s closest adviser. Cromwell is the focus of Hilary Mantels novels, on which the miniseries was based, and the Masterpiece project debuting in the spring focuses a bright light on the relationship between Cromwell and Henry’s second wife Ann Boleyn, played by Claire Roy. “Spoiler alert – Ann Boleyn dies at the end,” director Peter Kosminsky joked.
Rylance said this morning Cromwell “reminded me at times of Robert Duvall in The Godfather films. “He was around very violent people, dangerous people,” and learned it was “best not to speak unless spoken to and to be careful what you say.”
Kosminsky called Cromwell’s political career “the beginning of modern government.” He was the first civil servant, the director explained – a man who did not come from aristocracy or the church, and was instead “a blacksmith’s son who grew up to be the second most powerful man in the land, and Henry’s fixer…using Parliament in ways not used before.”
Exec producer Colin Callender called the miniseries, airing as part of PBS’s Masterpiece franchise, a very “modern” story, perfect for TV “in this post Sopranos and post Breaking Bad” world. “This is an opportunity to tell a story of a character who, in the past, has been portrayed as a two-dimensional villain in the wings…Contemporary audiences expect this sort of moral complexity in our characters,” he said.
Masterpiece franchise this morning also announced two titles for 2015. Arthur & George, is a three part adaptation of Julian Barnes’ novel in which author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle investigates a crime for which a half-Indian son of a vicar is accused of committing. Martin Clunes (Doc Martin) stars as Doyle.
Home Fires, stars Samantha Bond – of Downton Abbey and Miss Moneypenny fame – and Francesca Annis (Recklesss) as members of a group of women living in small rural village during World War II, separated from the men in their lives and living under extraordinary pressure in a rapidly fragmenting world.