One of the best TV programs you'll find in this or any season. -USA Today
Click an image below for more on the character and actor.
The King of England.
Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor Damian Lewis is not far from English royalty himself: born and raised in the affluent St. John’s Wood neighborhood of London, and educated at the esteemed Eton College boarding school, Lewis was named Officer of the Order of the British Empire by The Duke of Cambridge in 2014.
Well known to MASTERPIECE audience as the cold and complex Soames Forsythe in the 2002 reboot of The Forsythe Saga, Lewis additionally starred in the miniseries Band of Brothers and as Sergeant Nicholas Brody in cult-classic series Homeland.
When approaching the tired trope of King Henry VIII, Lewis felt a strong conviction to show a new side of the character. “I think we all have this understanding that he was this womanizing...bloated, genocidal Elvis character,” Lewis told the Wall Street Journal. “And actually the truth is...he had a 32-inch waist and he remained that way for quite a long time. He was the pre-eminent sportsman in his court.” This young, athletic Henry also had a surprising sense of playfulness and humor. “He was always boasting how his calf was bigger than Philip the Fair’s, of France, in a sort of schoolboyish way.”
Everything that you are, everything that you have, will come from me.
The closest advisor to Cardinal Wolsey and King Henry VIII.
Born to English parents but raised in the American Midwest, English stage veteran Mark Rylance wouldn’t seem a natural fit for the stage: as a child, Rylance suffered from an intense shyness that kept him from speaking a word until he was six years old, he told the Wall Street Journal. He has since become world-renowned for his performances, and has been honored with a BAFTA Award, two Olivier Awards, and three Tony Awards. He is perhaps best known for his work as a Shakespearean actor--garnering critical praise for his unconventional portrayal of Countess Olivia in Twelfth Night--Rylance has performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company and acted as the first Artistic Director of the Shakespeare Globe Theatre upon its opening in 1997.
Though he had worked on Tudor-centric projects before, playing Sir Thomas Boleyn in 2008 film The Other Boleyn Girl, Rylance was hesitant to do so again--though he was eventually persuaded by his wife’s love of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall series, and his respect for director Peter Kosminsky, whom he worked with in TV-movie The Government Inspector.
To spend 85 days as Thomas Cromwell was a deeply immersive experience for Rylance, who often puzzled over the complicated Cromwell-Henry relationship. He found unexpected insight in an encounter with a man who keeps grizzly bears in Montana. “He said to me, the thing with bears is they are incredibly emotional, they’re made of emotions,” Rylance told the Wall Street Journal. “You have to be very clear and very loving towards this bear, which is emotionally like a 15- or 16-year-old autistic child. I compare Damian’s Henry to that.”
Rylance has been married to musical director and composer Claire van Kampen for more than 20 years. The two have often worked together; Claire offered her period-specific musical knowledge as Wolf Hall’s historical music advisor.
You do not need to trouble God...I'll take it in hand.
The object of Henry VIII’s infatuation and future Queen of England.
Actress Claire Foy didn’t study drama until age 22; having been a very shy teenager, she never felt she was a natural choice for the profession.
Foy first made a name for herself as Amy Dorrit in MASTERPIECE’s Emmy award-winning Little Dorrit, and then as Lady Persephone in the 2010 reboot of Upstairs, Downstairs. On film, she has appeared alongside other MASTERPIECE alums, including Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) and Shaun Evans (Endeavour) in Wreckers. Foy recently starred in the feature film Rosewater, the directorial debut of beloved political comedian Jon Stewart.
Previously, Foy worked with director Peter Kosminsky on the UK television series The Promise, but admits that she was nervous to tackle a role as complex as Anne Boleyn. She told the Financial Times, “When Peter asked me to audition for it I said, ‘I don’t think this is a good idea. I don’t want to let you down...’ ”
Foy won the role, and joined the rest of the cast in hours of intensive preparation, paying special attention to proper bowing technique and period-specific eating etiquette. Throughout filming, the production stayed true to historical detail, keeping everything Tudor-specific, from the lighting methods to the costume sewing practices. “When we were doing the [costume] fittings, it was just incredible that the structure and the way they put the dresses together, was so accurate, everything was pinned on – nothing was sewn, it was done exactly as they would have done it in Anne's time,” Foy said.
Never mind who grudges it, this will happen. I mean to have him.
Wolsey’s successor as Lord Chancellor. A family man and England’s most fearsome intellectual. More is driven by a deep religious orthodoxy and is relentless in seeking out heretics. He is one of Cromwell’s greatest adversaries.
Riveting in the role of Thomas More, MASTERPIECE fans will recognize Anton Lesser from a trio of recent, diverse appearances in the series: as Chief Superintendent Bright in Endeavour, Richard Mayfield in The Escape Artist, and Mr. Merdle in the Emmy Award winning Little Dorrit (alongside Wolf Hall's Claire Foy). Earlier MASTERPIECE credits include The Politician's Wife and Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes, among others.
Other notable television roles include Qyburn in Game of Thrones, Clarence Fendley in The Hour, and Charles Dickens in 2002’s Dickens, among many others.
An active and honored theater actor in the UK, Lesser has been seen in numerous productions at London’s Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theater, often in principal roles. Off stage, Lesser regularly lends his vocal talents to radio and audio book projects.
When we meet again in Heaven, as I hope we will, all our differences will be forgot. But for now, we cannot wish them away.
The Cardinal's position as King Henry's trusted confidant and advisor to the Pope imbued him with tremendous power and protected him from his enemies. But when Wolesy can't secure an annulment of Henry's marriage, Cromwell's beloved patron falls from grace and it's up to Cromwell to first try to save him, and then try to avenge him. Like Cromwell, he comes from low birth, a bond that makes the two men even closer.
A veteran of stage and screen, Jonathan Pryce once dreamed of being a pop music sensation. As a child growing up in the 50's he would stand in front of the mirror strumming a tennis racquet, and singing into a hairbrush. Born John Price in Holywell, North Wales, Jonathan left home at 16 to attend an art school, and then for a teacher training college in Lancashire. It was a tutor there, who convinced him to apply to RADA (the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art).
Pryce worked hard as a stage actor and went on to gain critical acclaim and awards for performances in Comedians (he won a Tony), and Hamlet, (for which he was awarded the Laurence Olivier Award). Supporting roles in film and television followed, leading to his big break in the 1985 cult film Brazil. Later films include Evita, Tomorrow Never Dies, and Pirates of the Caribbean. He has also appeared in independents such as Glengarry Glen Ross and Carrington. MASTERPIECE viewers may know him from Cranford, and his recent work includes the television show Game of Thrones, and films, Narcopolis, Dough, and The Wife.
On preparing for Wolf Hall, Pryce says, "It’s always very difficult researching the material for your character within a film or TV because often you can end up wanting to put things in which can’t be put in because of time or whatever, so I suppose essentially what I do is I respect the screenwriter. I respect the fact that he and the director have done tons of research, and what I want to do then is to bring that character to life based on their research."
The King wants me gone. He wants to humiliate me.
Cardinal Wolesy's secretary Stephen Gardiner, a touchy and haughty academic, defects from Wolesy at the first signs of the Cardinal's downfall, becoming King Henry's secretary and Thomas Cromwell's nemesis.
Born in Sedgefield, in the North of England, noted author, actor, comedian, screenwriter, and playwright Mark Gatiss watched countless episodes of Hammer House of Horror and Dr. Who, as a youth, and says that the supernatural, and later acting, were a diversion for him. He also grew up across the street from an Edwardian psychiatric hospital, where his mother worked, and jokes that it probably influenced the sardonic and macabre direction of his work.
While attending Bretton Hall Drama College, Gatiss met the actors with whom he would form the comedy group The League of Gentlemen. In 1997 they were the first sketch group ever to win the Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The League of Gentlemen went on to become an award-winning television show, and was just one of Gatiss's many screen roles including, as MASTERPIECE fans know, appearances in Poirot, Miss Marple, and Sherlock, a show in which he performs, but also co-created and co-produces. Viewers can look forward to seeing Gatiss in the television production Game of Thrones, and upcoming movies Victor Frankenstein and Dad's Army.
Gatiss does not disappoint in Wolf Hall. As the UK Telegraph describes it, "Mark Gatiss drip(s) poison in another tantalising cameo as Stephen Gardiner." A self-professed politics junkie, Mark says about his Wolf Hall role, “There’s always been fixers, shadowy people behind the throne, doing the king’s dirty work. Part of the reason I’ve always been obsessed with politics is essentially it's a replay of the same story: the struggle for the crown.”
I went down to Putney. I learnt things about you.