The Cast Comments
Ray Winstone (Henry VIII)
Helena Bonham Carter (Anne Boleyn)
David Suchet (Cardinal Wolsey)
Emilia Fox (Jane Seymour)
Sean Bean (Robert Aske)
My idea of Henry is quite mixed. I think he was a very troubled man -- paranoid and psychotic at times, charming and funny at others. The last words his father left him with were 'you must have a son,' which preyed on his mind for the rest of his life. When Katherine of Aragon couldn't give him a son, Henry had to start making decisions, and that's when it all started to go wrong for him.
This is a man who allowed two of his wives -- women he loved passionately -- to be murdered. At the same time, he wrote beautiful love letters, understood science and, to a certain extent, was a great ambassador. He was an intelligent, gentle romantic man who lost his way when it came to love. He sells his soul for his country and for the duty he inherited and from then on it became easier and easier for him to discard the women he loved. Jane Seymour finally gave him the son he wanted, but he lost her and that must have destroyed him. Back then, there was a strong belief in God, death, heaven and hell and I guess he punished himself [for her death] for the rest of his life.
Powerful men usually have a weakness and that always seems to be sex! Also, if you look at other powerful men throughout history, they had to be leaders and have that evil streak in them to survive. Everyone is fighting for his or her position, and people like Henry didn't know who their friends were. There must've been a lot of paranoia and Henry had to keep his wits about him.
In my mind, only winners make the history books, though you have to read a little between the lines. For example, I've tried looking at things from Anne Boleyn's and the Boleyn family's point of view, trying to understand why they wanted to become so involved with the King when it would have been safer to stay away. It's good to look at that kind of stuff and get a greater understanding.
(Writer) Pete Morgan has done his homework. All I have to do is just come in, dress up as the King and bring all the emotion, pain and joy that goes with it. Henry's passion for being an Englishman, his passion for being in love -- I can relate to that. The passion for wanting to be violent at times -- I can also relate to that. But to actually hurt someone you love, I can't understand that.
I think you would have had to be tough to survive in those times. There's certainly no room for nice guys. It was dog eat dog. So no, I'll leave the Tudor Court to the 16th century. Definitely not for me!
I've really enjoyed wearing the costumes, as I'm usually in a pinstriped suit! You see pictures of people throughout history and you think they are these stiff characters who are nothing like us. But they are. They walk, talk and have the same haircuts as us and that's how I've approached this costume -- it's just like putting on a suit.
The dialogue has been tricky, and it's hard to make tricky dialogue your own and make it conversational and demanding and powerful. So that's been the trick, trying to melt that altogether.
Every day has also been very diverse. For instance, there was one day when I had sex with Anne Boleyn, she gave birth, we got married and I raped her -- all in the same day! Also, I'm playing a 30-year-old Henry right through to 50-year-old Henry. So you've really got to try to remember what's happening, and what stage you're at because it's not all done in chronological order. Sometimes you forget which scene you're on and where you are, but that's half the enjoyment and the challenge.
I love working with Helena. She's such good fun and you can have a laugh on set with her -- and that's important if you've got to snog someone all day! It's been something I've been looking forward to for a while, as I have always respected her as an actress.
I really enjoyed the horse riding, which I learnt to do on my previous film, Cold Mountain. It's strange because twenty years ago I was terrified of horses and wouldn't have been able to do it. But I've had the same horse since then called George, and he's great. He does all kinds of action stunts; I call him Robert DeNiro!
It's really flattering for me to play a King. I mean, I'm a kid out of Plaistow and I'm playing one of the most famous kings of England. It's fantastic!
> More about Ray Winstone
Helena Bonham Carter
Anne Boleyn was certainly a bold, dramatic creature who had a huge influence on the King, the church, and, ultimately, England's history. She was someone with sex appeal who had learnt the art of flirtation and seduction and how to use it. She was everything an 'ideal' woman of that time wasn't meant to be -- she wasn't submissive, she didn't withhold her emotions. And I think that ultimately she wanted to be in control of her own destiny.
In our version of the story, she is playing very hard to get. At first she had genuine repulsion for this man, who had mistreated her sister so badly [Mary Boleyn was one of the King's longest standing mistresses, bearing him two children only to be rejected once he had tired of her]. It's only when her uncle points out that she could become Queen if she plays her cards right that she manipulates Henry by becoming his 'chaste' mistress -- that is to say she refused to have sex with him until she was certain that she would become Queen.
We are led to believe that they took great pleasure in each other's company, as they were both well-educated and probably had in-depth discussions on political and religious reform. It's portrayed that she does fall in love with him only once she gets her guarantee of marriage. Henry was a very good looking, charismatic man -- tall, athletic, a Renaissance man and a warrior King who had incredible power and a gift for languages [Anne spoke fluent French] and music...it would have been difficult not to fall in love with him eventually!
Her main objective -- to have a son -- is the one thing she can't control. Like Katherine of Aragon, who was cast aside for her failure to bear children, Anne too was incredibly unlucky after having Elizabeth. To be under the pressure she was to produce a son, it really isn't a surprise that she miscarried at all. It is so ironic that, with Henry driven by this obsession with having a son throughout his whole life, it actually turns out to be his daughter Elizabeth who becomes one of the greatest monarchs in history.
Each day's shooting was very different and packed with heavy dramatic scenes. I'd get raped in the morning, give birth to Elizabeth in the evening, the next day I'd be executed and the next I'd miscarry! The rape scene was unpleasant; it brought home just what a monster Henry could be. That's when their relationship reaches its all-time low. The only thing that would put Anne back in his favor would be to produce a son, but he can hardly stand the sight of her, let alone sleep with her. Desperate for that son, he rapes her and she does actually conceive. When she miscarries, that is the last hope destroyed for both of them.
But I've loved doing this production. I just love the Tudors and I love the story -- it's dramatic, sexy and, given their fame, in a way, glamorous. Even my execution is quite exciting, although I've been executed before! When we were filming the execution scene, I had expected something similar to my last one, which was at Dover in the snow with a huge crowd of people. But for this one, it was done in a car park, at the back of Pinewood studios with just fifteen or so people shouting 'ooh, you're a witch, you're a whore, you're so naughty!' Everything else will be added in post-production. Actually, it's quite strange to get your head around your own execution -- oh God, crap joke! Sorry!
Ray's really down to earth. He's a dynamic choice and looks perfect for the role. He makes it immediately exciting and puts a different slant on it because he is so unpredictable, which is fun and brings a raw brutality to it.
I was pregnant during filming, making dressing up in the lavish costumes required for a Tudor queen no mean feat! It's not exactly suitable maternity wear! But the corsets gave some continuity while I got bigger each week. Luckily they are not too tight or I may have ended up with a baby with a flat head!
Some of the costumes were re-cut up to four times during filming. The dresses were designed with longer bodices than typical Tudor dresses to distract from the waistline and the lacings were placed at the backsides for ease and comfort.
I seemed to be labeled as this person who is fighting the tag of a 'period actress,' when in fact I do as much period as any other type of drama. It might seem a cliché for me to do another period drama but that's not going to stop me doing something that has a meaty part in a good story. Anyway, me being 'Mrs. Period Cliché' is balanced in this project by Ray being definitely not!
> More about Helena Bonham Carter
Cardinal Wolsey was very friendly with Henry VII, and when Henry left his throne to the young Henry VIII, Wolsey became a second father to him. From the moment he was promoted to Cardinal, he became one of the most wealthy and influential characters in England. Some people have said that he even advised Henry on certain regal visits and decisions.
Yet Wolsey was not immune to Henry's extreme temper and suffered a similar fate to others who were loved by the King as he was. Like Katherine of Aragon, another of Henry's most loyal and time-honored devotees, Wolsey was banished and left to die, penniless, as an outcast of the court. His crime? He couldn't secure an agreement from the Pope to allow Henry a divorce from Katherine, enabling him to wed Anne Boleyn. A harsh overreaction which was fueled by Anne, who hated Wolsey from the moment he saw through her cunning seduction of the King. It was an overreaction that Henry may never have forgiven Anne for.
Historically, Henry's reign was a reign or terror. If you didn't do what he asked of you, or he didn't agree with you, you would lose your head. I don't think anyone deserved what Wolsey got. You can't really blame him for the Pope's decision.
To have all that wealth and power and then to lose it all so suddenly must've been a big lesson to learn. Wolsey was used to lavish parties and the show of power and money -- he practically built Hampton Court for himself. He was a very garish and pompous man.
However, he was also a genuine father figure and considered himself a dear and close friend of Henry's. He died not long after he was banished, actually on his way to the Tower of London to stand trial. It is rumored that he killed himself through poison, but we don't know that for sure as there were no police investigations or autopsies then! I think he did commit suicide rather than to be charged in front of his former peers and public. He would have been so very ashamed.
That whole cruelty of mankind doing the unspeakable to his own kind doesn't bear thinking about. Having said that, there is something within me that would love to have been around to take a peek into such periods of history. Purely out of interest -- I'd have run a mile from the cruelty though!
I've done many 'real' character roles and I always find it fascinating. It's fascinating to get under the skin of these people, especially with a character like Wolsey, where I got to show very different sides to one man. I did a lot of research. I read through so many history books, watched documentaries, went to galleries, looked at portraits. I love doing all that.
The process of the costume and make-up really helped me to become Wolsey. I do feel I become another person on set. And the more I get used to television crews, the easier it is to ignore them and to imagine myself fully in that era. It's just something you have to do or you may not be truly believable.
I'm lucky to be allowed to play such a wide variety of characters. Poirot has been so successful internationally, that, being in disguise, I don't really get any attention as myself, which makes it easier for me to move on to other characters. I've just played a homosexual psychopath in The In-Laws so I tend to move between very different roles!
I've enjoyed playing Wolsey enormously. It's been so diverse. One day I am watching knights jousting and the next I'm lurking in the shadows watching someone -- Charles Dance actually -- being tortured! In fact, I think there should be a series just about Wolsey!
It was great to be in the company of such fantastic actors. It's been wonderful to walk into that 'family' really, when you know a lot of them are fine actors who are such familiar faces on screen. It was also lovely to work with people I have worked with before, like Helena [David and Helena starred together in Live From Baghdad].
> More about David Suchet
Not only was Jane Seymour courageous and strong but also I think she became a symbol of love to Henry VIII. She is quite an inspirational character as she is so true to herself. The popular belief is that she was pious and demure -- all the things that Anne Boleyn wasn't! And she must have been terrified at first by Henry's wooing -- as she had seen what life was like at the center of the court. She was a lady-in-waiting to both Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn so she knew that it wasn't exactly a bed of roses. Some people believe that she was only interested in ambition of the rise to Queen and manipulated her way to be there. I chose to believe that her initial turning down of Henry to be his mistress was due to fear and morals rather than tactics.
It was a time when it was difficult to say no to men, but she did her best to do it in the right way. Ultimately, it appears she was a good wife to him, providing him with a son, reuniting him with Mary, and it seems that Henry found a love for her. This is backed up by the fact that he asked, on his deathbed, to be buried with her in the chapel of Windsor.
I think it's important to research. For me, if I know as much as I possibly can about an historical figure, I can form my own opinions. The views are often from history's survivors and not always necessarily the truth, so I think you have to work out your own truth about of what happened, using the script first and foremost and research as an insurance policy.
I'm a lot more sympathetic towards Henry now that I know more about him. He was surrounded by people scrutinizing his every move, manipulating him and constantly trying to guide him religiously and politically. He never knew who was telling the truth. He definitely had a much harder job that anyone can imagine, which was a great burden to him in the end. Yet, with Jane, he appeared to be kind and capable of love.
The costumes are so beautiful -- slightly difficult to breathe in but I did love wearing them and I think they've been incredibly important in the production. They make you hold yourself differently and behave more regally. Jane's outfits were a palate of creams, blues and lilacs -- an English Rose to contrast with Anne Boleyn. Each queen had a different style of color and silhouette, so each is easily recognizable on the screen.
Ray Winstone as Henry VIII was a genius piece of casting as far as I'm concerned. I have always thought he was a fantastic actor. Ray is very well known for certain parts so I think this will really surprise people. During rehearsals I remember [director] Pete Travis saying he didn't want our production to be crammed full of facts or be 'just another historical costume drama.' He wanted it raw and dark and full of the tension of the Tudor Court would have actually been full of. Ray manages to do all of that in his performance. It's so dynamic.
My favorite scene was the one where I tell Henry that I am pregnant. It was such a joyful moment in the story and she gives as good as she gets with the banter. It was just one of those scenes which was blissfully romantic. I also loved the scene where I'm ill and I watch Henry talk to the doctors, asking them to save me -- it's really heartbreaking.
I would certainly have liked to have been a fly on the wall back then. I say a fly because I think it would've been really terrifying to have been a person! If things were going well for you then it was great, but if things went bad, it was terrifying. If I were the Queen though I would wake up really early every day so I could fit as much into the day as possible! I'd put on my best dresses and have terrific suppers with my King and servants and have lovely balls with lots of dancing and insist on much, much merriment...
> More about Emilia Fox
Robert Aske was a very passionate promoter of the Roman Catholic faith in England who commanded a lot of respect from the people of the country. Henry sees Aske as a threat, which he obviously was as he got together an army of 50,000 against him following the burning of the monasteries and the mass murder of monks and priests. Aske genuinely believed in what he was fighting for and that passion made him quite a formidable enemy. Even though he is not around for too long, he makes quite an impact in history. He was an influential and notable character as far as his threat to the monarchy was concerned.
I think you must admire someone who is so committed and courageous that they would give their life for the cause, which he did. It takes great courage to confront a king. And his were all very altruistic demands. He didn't gain anything personally from them. He simply couldn't stomach what was happening in England -- this random brutality, cruelty and destruction -- and had to put a stop to it. Monks and nuns dying in the street, monasteries burning, icons smashed to pieces... it's offensive to his beliefs and he's very much sickened by that. That is his main drive.
I've done a few death scenes before but I guess the pain in each death is reflected in different ways. I can only imagine how painful Aske's was! To be left to die over a period of days with various wounds must've been horrific. I wanted that scene to be as real and gruesome as possible. If someone was left hanging by their arms over an archway in public, festering, there's no point trying to ignore that. I don't think it should be minimized in any way as it could seem acceptable then and you don't die a death like that in a peaceful manner.
I only had a few scenes with Ray Winstone; I think they'll be nail-biting stuff. When I first heard he was playing Henry, I thought it was a genius bit of casting. I can imagine him being all of the things Henry VIII was as he's such a larger than life character!
It really depends on the role and the script but I do really enjoy working on period dramas. It's more magical to me. They are fascinating generally -- not only am I having a great time acting, but it's great to learn about the past and the costumes, the horses, the swords... everyone gets quite excited about it all no matter how old they are! Everyone loves a sword fight!
Aske was quite a physical part. I was doing a bit of everything -- horse riding, fighting and being hung up to die! I loved the atmosphere too with all the castles with the fires burning... to experience all that helps create the whole world and you can just immerse yourself in it.
> More about Sean Bean
An Interview with Pete Morgan, screenwriter | The Cast Comments
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