Not ready to say goodbye to Lord M? Bask in his company just a little longer when Rufus Sewell, who spoke to MASTERPIECE before the Season 2 premiere, shares moving and revealing insights into his character, his cast mate Jenna Coleman, and his experience of returning to Victoria.
MASTERPIECE: Was it always the plan for you to return for Season Two of Victoria?
SEWELL: No, in fact, when I did Season One, he was only in episode three. I’m flattered that they wanted to extend it. My only concern was that Melbourne wasn’t extended beyond his natural shelf life, so I wasn’t hanging around without much purpose or dynamism. But they worked it out very nicely, so I ended up being there for a couple more.
Then, once I’d gone, the difficulty was, I was loath to return unless they could make it more or less true, for a start, and also not have me just hang around like some magic granny dispensing advice until the end of time in my bath chair. But again, they managed to work that out so it didn’t feel contrived and it felt natural. It’s all been a bonus, really.
MASTERPIECE: Victoria and Lord M’s parting after her wedding was heartbreaking and beautiful. Were you at all worried that Lord M’s return would undo all the work of a perfect exit?
SEWELL: Yes, that’s naturally the kind of thing that I do worry about. But the way I thought of it was, it was alright for me to come back as long as no one tried to artificially revive dead story strands…The benefit of having the relationship less complicated, and to have the kind of fatherly aspect play out uncomplicated by all those other confusions, is actually quite nice—to be able to be more fully supportive of Albert without it being misconstrued, or without all those worries, was actually quite a nice opportunity. So it was really all about how it was treated, and I think it was treated very well.
MASTERPIECE: I’d like to know: what dark magic did you use in order to make all of us fans want Victoria and Melbourne to be together, and then shift our allegiance immediately to Victoria and Albert, and go forward with that? How on earth did you all accomplish that?
SEWELL: Basically, to keep all other men out of the way and off screen for as long as possible for the competition to be greatly reduced, I think that helps! If Albert had been there right from the start, it would’ve been tricky, but I did have two or three episodes clean, with no competition. I know she’d never really been in a room with a man before…
No, that’s obviously something we weren’t going for. I believe that Melbourne always had Victoria’s best interests at heart. If he ever did have any feelings, he wanted to protect her from them, as well. The fact that he was completely unexploitative is one of the first things that she responded to; he didn’t want anything from her. And he was able to steward her feelings and those complications in a way that was more responsible for her than she perhaps might be herself. That was my feeling about it.
I think the timing was just right. My feeling is that when Albert turned up, once he realized that there was a genuine affection there, he was a great champion of them—he certainly was in real life. But actually, once he knew that it was the right thing, he did everything he could to guide it towards happening.
MASTERPIECE: Can you talk about the evolution of Lord M’s relationship with Albert, and the moment they share at Parliament?
SEWELL: Well, I was always against the idea of artificially ramping up some kind of competition between me and Albert. I think it was largely imagined. Tom [Hughes] can really speak for Albert, but as far as I was concerned, it was just that complications made it a little bit tricky; that Albert felt a little bit sidelined, and Melbourne was concerned that someone was being brought in from Germany who might see her as a bit of a cash cow who didn’t really appreciate her. Obviously, it’s complicated by the fact that he had feelings towards her that he kind of struggled with, but he was protective over her. It wasn’t a straightforward cheesy triangular sexual jealousy, even though that’s a quite handy way to frame it on the cover of a TV magazine. I think once he’d met Albert, and certainly once he’d realized that there was genuine feeling between them, he was really a champion, but he had to be very subtle.
What was very nice about coming back for the second season is the opportunity to show that in a really unfettered way. I was very happy that we did finally get to have a scene together where it’s not about Victoria so much…It’s a very sweet scene. I’m only sad we didn’t get to have a little more, but that’s probably why I like it as much as I do, that it is quite rare. It is a moment of vulnerability between the two of them, an opportunity to show the way Melbourne felt towards Albert. The fact that they actually did have a kind of chemistry. I think that Melbourne actually likes Albert—he might have been slightly amused by him—but I don’t think there was ever any animosity, and it was nice to have the opportunity to show that.
He made me laugh, and I thought he was very odd and sweet and generous. I like the fact that he was really a fan, throughout his life, of very independent, spirited, smart, brilliant women.–Rufus Sewell on Lord Melbourne
MASTERPIECE: The scene in which Victoria gives the mechanical bird to Melbourne just destroyed me. How did you go about making it? Did you rehearse it quite a bit in advance?
SEWELL: I’m sorry it destroyed you. Or I’m pleased—I’m not sure! We did do it rather a lot. For me, it’s always a regret that you don’t ever film the first rehearsals because actually—as is normally the case with the Jenna—the first time we did it, it was kind of there. And then it was more a matter of sustaining the delicate thing that it was for repeated takes and different angles. With a scene like that, it comes and goes, but the connection was always there. It’s a very tender, very delicate scene. We spent a long time shooting it. By the time we came into the close-ups, because of the way we had to shoot it, we’d already done it about 50 times.
MASTERPIECE: Fans have been overjoyed at Lord M’s return. What do you think it is about him that makes him such a fan favorite?
SEWELL: I don’t know, and I certainly don’t like to talk about my own roles in that way; it makes me a little bit uncomfortable. But I do like the fact that he was, well, uncomplicated. He was genuinely nice, but not silly. He could see what was up with people—he had a laser-like ability to see people’s foibles, but he wasn’t unkind about it. When I read about him, I genuinely liked him. Politically, he was certainly a man of his time, and actually, if you examine his politics, you might not agree with it all. But as a man, the more I read about him, the more I liked him. He made me laugh, and I thought he was very kind of odd and sweet and generous. I like the fact that he was really a fan, throughout his life, of very independent, spirited, smart, brilliant women. I liked him for that reason.
MASTERPIECE: We understand that you and Jenna Coleman could become quite silly together on set.
SEWELL: “Become quite silly?” That’s understating it. Yes. I suppose that is one of the reasons that there is a kind of undercurrent of fun underneath it all is that basically we just made each other laugh. And I’m not talking about japes. I’m just describing my personality and Jenna’s, when she’s with me, at least. I spend most of my time giggling like an idiot. I’m not brooding in silence—I wish I was! I’ve always tried to be, and then I think of something funny I want to say and I ruin it. I’m just saying that was generally the vibe on set. On those days for example when we realized that they were shooting B roll, that we were dancing together and they were filming us between takes. The dawning horror that they’d been filming us just gurning and pulling faces and giggling at each other. I just mean we’re just a little bit daft rather than cool and reserved. That’s what makes it fun.
MASTERPIECE: Who is a better rider, you or Jenna Coleman?
SEWELL: She’s better at side saddle.
MASTERPIECE: The series, a lot of it was shot in an airport hanger in a remote location. Were there any particular challenges, surprises, associated with that site?
SEWELL: I discovered last night, to my tremendous annoyance, that it’s now warm. Now that I’m gone, they’ve discovered a way of heating the enormous place, but before then, I became one of those octogenarian British ladies at bus stops complaining about cold shins. Yes, that was the problem—it was just freezing all the time. Apparently, now Melbourne’s gone, it’s lovely and warm and everyone’s really cozy and comfortable, which pissed me off, no end.
MASTERPIECE: If you could rewrite history, what would you hope for Lord Melbourne?
SEWELL: That he’d get a prequel.
MASTERPIECE: What lasting imprint do you think that Lord Melbourne and that relationship they had might have had on Victoria’s long, long reign?
SEWELL: I don’t know. I think Melbourne was very instrumental in allowing her to develop without other people getting in on the act in the early, very vulnerable days. Her first meeting alone with a man was with Melbourne. Luckily for her, it was someone who had been through the protocol the process and let go of all ambition. He was on the verge of giving up, really, and was kind of jaded, but didn’t want anything from her, but only for her. He’d grown up with kings and princes. He didn’t have any need for social mobility, any need for riches. He wasn’t interested in titles. He was already a lord. There was nothing he wanted other than just to do right by her. His inclination was to just meet her and retire, but something happened between them that they just genuinely, really liked each other.
Her first ever meeting alone with a man was also, coincidentally, the first time she’d ever met someone who didn’t want something from her. She was living with people who were trying to educate her and manipulate her and steer her towards certain things. Here was someone, when she was worried about Lord Conroy wanting to control her, to say, ‘Get rid of him, then. Do something else.’ That was such a disarming statement that I think it completely took her by surprise.
I think the very fact that the person who got in there first, in the first moments of her power and freedom, was someone who encouraged to trust her own instincts, rather than set doubts in her and manipulate her, was very, very formative for her.
MASTERPIECE: Do think it was something in his character? Do you think Melbourne would he have treated any new monarch that way, or did he see something special in her that he could support and nurture?
SEWELL: I think there was something. He was certainly politic. He’s certainly someone who would do the best. He’d do his duty as he saw it, but certainly it was a response to her and the qualities that she had and that he saw she had. Yeah, I think it was his nature to be as positive as possible and to look at the person and the problem squarely in the eye and deal with it in the most optimistic and tactful way, but I do think there was definitely a genuine connection, a meeting of minds between the two of them.
They had tremendous fun together. They used to get drunk together—I’m really disappointed we didn’t have that scene, but they just hung out all the time, for a very long time.