"Versailles" interview with Alexander Vlahos

Alexander Vlahos on the journey that has been "Versailles", portraying a character with an underlying instinct to be the star and exploring Philippe d'Orléans' lighter side in season 2. He also reflects on "The Confessions of Dorian Gray" and his favorite part of being an actor.

Foto: Alexander Vlahos - Copyright: Leigh Keily
Alexander Vlahos
© Leigh Keily

September 8, 2016 by Nicole Oebel @philomina_
Here's a German translation of the interview.

Being part of "Versailles", a period drama that's remarkably modern, portraying themes that are equally relevant to our world today, what's the journey been like for you so far as one of the leads carrying the series?

The journey has been a roller coaster. This job, this part, has given me some incredible highs & also some very low lows. That's part & parcel of any job you undertake as an actor, but this one in particular has been tough. I'm blessed to be playing such a glorious character & thank my lucky stars that Philippe, Versailles, the cast & crew have come into my life. Looking back, I just wish I was better prepared for the undertaking when I got the offer. There was a lack of maturity in me back then that stifled the journey somewhat. Hindsight though is a wonderful thing.

Your vibrant portrayal of Philippe d'Orléans took me back to one of my favorite films, the glamrock movie "Velvet Goldmine". In this movie a fictional young Oscar Wilde says "I want to be a pop idol". Your Philippe sort of wants to be, too, don't you think? What do you admire about him?

Of course he wants to be an idol. But doesn't everyone, deep down, have the underlying guttural instinct to be the star? I think Philippe especially has this desire. He wants to cast his own shadow, his own legacy - away from his older brother, who just so happens to be King. His personality, or at least the way I've approached him, (which you could say, is my personality being reflected on Philippe) has all the dramatic flair, ego driven, sexual & proud peacock-qualities to be the very best idol. I admire all of those traits. We were destined to be intertwined.

While contemporary writers depict Monsieur as "effeminate and weak", on "Versailles" Philippe is a deeply complex character, the heart of the show. In that you contribute decisively to redressing the reputation of the real Monsieur. Were/are you scared or looking forward to what challenges they are gonna throw at you?

I don't know if I actively set out to redress Philippe's reputation, it was more a marriage of ideas & agreeing on those ideas, making bold & sometimes purposeful wrong decisions, throwing the metaphorical shit on the wall & seeing what stuck. Acting is half instinct and half guidance, so I can't take all the credit. The Philippe you see on screen is every bit Simon Mirren & David Wolstencroft too. They are the captains, I'm merely the vessel. As for seeing what challenges lay ahead, I think everyone's main concern from Season 1 was not seeing Philippe smile. Or at least have a little fun. Season 2 answers that. I get a lot of fun scenes. There's a lot of humour coming. I'm not one for light hearted characters, I don't tend to get cast as them and that's probably because I'm not drawn to them... But it was a nice change of pace this year to explore the lighter side to Philippe in Versailles.

You were in most of the huge, lavish scenes, horses, fireworks, masked-ball, battlefield, soirée brawl... Which one do you feel was your biggest scene?

Each one you mentioned offered up an array of challenges & I'm very grateful that Philippe was instrumental in those scenes. As far as "biggest"... Well, you never set out to film a "big" scene. You treat each one on their own merit. I guess it's in the edit, the director of that particular episode gives certain scenes a greater importance... Thankfully a lot of mine got that upgrade. My favourite however? I knew while on horseback, cannons firing, galloping towards an army that it was a big moment... I actually joked to Christophe Schrewe that this was most definitely a scene for Canal+ to slap in their trailer. Which they did. Over & over.

When we talked to Evan he mentioned that the "if you don't love me, no one loves me" line was ad-libbed. Is there room in the outline of the MonChevy story for the writers to pick up on the way you and Evan work together and go from there?

Absolutely. It happened a little towards the end of Season 1, but in season 2 especially, you could tell the writers were writing for us. Our voices. Our line delivery. Our mannerisms. It's an evolving beast - so there should always be room for improvisation / inspiration. It's that weird little undefined moment when it becomes the actors' show, rather than the writers'. When the character & actor blur into one entity. I will say though, that Evan is a natural, brilliant, talented actor. He knows the Chevalier inside & out so in that particular moment as you mentioned, the words came out because, well, how could they not? When you're experiencing an emotion like Chevalier was feeling at that time, Evan was feeling it too... It made perfect sense.

Foto: Evan Williams, Alexander Vlahos - Copyright: Tibo & Anouchka / Sky
Evan Williams, Alexander Vlahos
© Tibo & Anouchka / Sky

The MonChevy relationship had a strong arc and survived a huge blow in the course of season 1. What do you think makes Philippe forgive the Chevalier's betrayal of trust?

True love I think. I genuinely believe that. It was the only way I could reason why Philippe would be so forgiving. We all make mistakes in relationships. Some are more forgiving than others. But true love overrides all in the end.

Two of the gut-wrenching brother scenes, the "I command you" scene (ep.5) in the fireworks with Louis' secret smirk in the end and the yellow topaz scene in the finale, left me wondering what Louis values higher, his manipulating skills or brotherly love. What did you make of the underlying emotional factors and motives in these scenes?

To be honest those questions are more for George [Blagden] to answer than me. It's hard to put into words why we as actors make decisions in scenes, because usually it comes from that little bit in the back of your mind that is purely impulse. I think the smirk at the end of ep5 was Louis simply getting a final victory over his younger brother. The topaz scene in my opinion was the scene which completely encapsulates the two brothers relationship. Philippe feeling unloved, lost, torn, fragile & Louis giving in to being a big brother & not a King. Which is all Philippe truly wants from him.

The chemistry between Travis Fimmel and George Blagden on "Vikings" was so gripping, as a fan you tend to be incredulous that anything can ever match up. Cut to the impact of Philippe fighting for Louis' trust with Louis desperately holding onto his emotional barricade, et voilà, onscreen chemistry writing tv history! Can you relate to feels like these of a passionate fan?

Haha! I can relate to feels in shows that I'm not a part of. It's hard to have an outside perspective on Versailles as a fan, because I'm so deeply invested in it. I can understand the reaction it gets, but I don't fully appreciate it as when I watch the show back, I do that terrible actor thing & just pick holes in my performance. "That could have been better", "Why did I say the line like that?", "Why am I pulling that face?" etc...

The fanart for "Versailles" that's around is absolutely breathtaking. I have only ever seen fanart like that for Bryan Fuller's "Hannibal". Don't you think it speaks volumes about the aesthetics and artistic value of a tv show when it inspires creative people in front the screen this way?

100%. It's truly heart-warming & inspirational to see that Versailles has connected with fans that they would wish to create such beautiful creations. I'm in awe of the Versailles family. Such talent. In an egotistical way, it's nice to know we're doing our job properly that fans want to show you how much they love your work.

Foto: Alexander Vlahos - Copyright: Leigh Keily
Alexander Vlahos
© Leigh Keily

So Hamlet is a dream role of yours, right? Following Kenneth Branagh's example, who made some Shakespeare productions with the same circle of actors: Who from your "Versailles" co-stars would play which characters around your Hamlet?

Oh god. If I could, I'd cast them all. Evan as Horatio, of course. Noemie would be the best Ophelia. George as Laertes would be interesting, only so we could keep that intense rivalry going. That's what's so great about Hamlet as a play - it's timeless and has such fantastic characters, that I know all of the Versailles cast would be brilliant in any part.

In trying to get through my "Versailles" withdrawal I found your audio series "The Confessions of Dorian Gray", a horror audio series. What strikes me most is how you portray the various sorts of horror (supernatural, emotional...) by the different colours in your voice. How did you get into voice acting and how did you find this project?

I find it weird that you use the term "voice acting" as I just see it as "acting". Nothing else. It's all the same craft, just different mediums. Dorian came to me via the genius that is Scott Handcock. It was his creation, his baby if you will - he had me in mind as we worked together previously on other Big Finish ranges. Series 1 was a risk, a gamble for Big Finish... But we've managed to continuously provide excellent material. It's a joy of a job. I get to flex my acting muscles behind a microphone with scripts that are truly exceptional. The team that is behind Dorian are one of the most talented bunch I've ever had the privilege to work with. They make me look better than I am.

The M*A*S*H theme song has this line "Suicide is painless, It brings on many changes, I can take or leave it if I please" which I was reminded of listening to the episode you wrote for "Dorian". What was your inspiration writing this episode and do you have aspirations to write more?

I love writing. I loved writing Dorian. There wasn't so much of an inspiration behind "Mayfair Monster" per se... It originally came from the idea that wouldn't it be cool to give the Portrait a voice? A life off-the-canvas. That was the starting point. Setting it around the turn of the millennium - New Years Eve - gave it an arching theme of renewal, the one thing Dorian can't do. To renew himself. To start again. I think at the time I just watched the "Doctor Who" TV movie starring Paul McGann, which was set at NYE 1999... My head exploded with ideas so I sent Scott Handcock a very long winded text message with my story pitch. He bravely said yes. Then I had to go away and write the thing. I'd love to write more... It's more a matter of time. Free time, if you will. Which is becoming less & less available.

You played quite some iconic figures from history, mythology and literature. Is that kind of your favourite part of acting, exploring myths and giving them a new face?

I haven't set out purposefully to play these iconic figures from the past - as an actor you just want to work. And keep working. I'm just very lucky that I've had the career I've had so far. My favourite part about being who I am is that no day is the same. I'm constantly on edge, never content with "ordinary" - being an actor allows me to inhabit other facets of my own personality under the guise of other people. It fulfils the criteria that I strive for. Uncertainty. The "what next?"

Related: Exclusive interviews with the "Versailles" stars

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