"Versailles" interview with Tygh Runyan

Tygh Runyan on portraying Fabien Marchal, leader of the police force at the court of King Louis XIV in "Versailles". A complex character with a strong moral code, somewhere between the king's samurai and the angel of death.

Foto: Tygh Runyan
Tygh Runyan

September 27, 2016 by Nicole Oebel @philomina_
Here's a German translation of the interview.

Being part of the opulent series "Versailles", working in Paris and on location in Versailles, what has it been like for you so far diving in and experiencing everything right from the beginning?

It's been an incredible experience! What a tremendous source of material to work with. The writing is rich and layered, and the main cast are all so thoughtful and talented. Such great actors to work with! We've all become very close. A project like this is rare, and I think it starts from the top. In the years leading up to filming, the creators and producers all put so much love and hard work into it, and it's clear they took great care to bring on a cast and crew that would follow suit. To shoot in Paris for six months ain't too shabby either!

As Fabien Marchal you play one of the fictional characters on "Versailles". Leader of the police force, trusted by the King, Fabien is a calm, smart man, not evil, but capable of ruthlessness. What has drawn you to play this character and what do you admire about him?

I admire Fabien's self-sacrifice and devotion. He is like the king's samurai. Everyday he wakes up knowing that it may be his last. And he is at peace with it, because he's serving his purpose in life. In his mind, he's serving a divine higher power, and a king who will unite all of France, and he has been born to do what he does. Despite the violent nature of his work, Fabien has a deep sense of honor, duty, and a strong moral code. When viewed through a modern lens, he seems so brutal and far removed from what we would consider normal. But at that time, he would have essentially been a man doing his job. A very very stressful and high-pressure job.

The following two questions contain major spoilers on later episodes of Season 1.

In his scenes with Beatrice we see Fabien letting his guard down, especially considering the general paranoia of all things poison among people of power in the 17th century. Do you think there is an air of innocence and naivete to him here?

He was truly in love with Beatrice, and it caused him to doubt his instincts and better judgement. But afterher betrayal, nearly losing his life, and the discovery that she was also a threat to the king's life, there was certainly no love left. Fabien could see clearly again. But possibly never to love again.

When before her beheading Beatrice, tears in her eyes, says she sees loneliness and despair she may be talking about herself. Fabien though seems accepting about this being her characterization of him answering "and duty". What did you make of the many emotional layers in this scene?

Leading up to that moment, she had tried to poison him, and she'd been discovered to be plotting against the king. So with the love lost, I think Fabien was very lucid about what needed to be done for the sake of the King and France. However in the act of the execution, there were of course feelings of grief and sorrow. One of those moments of wishing that life didn't have to be the way it is, maybe a moment of wanting another station in life, wishing it were all different. But again, at peace with the way things are. This is dharma, this is his duty. And there is no doubt. But still he chose the fastest and least painful method he could think of, while being able to hold her gaze and essentially lead her to the other side. The angel of death has been a big inspiration for me in this role. And this scene was the epitome of that aspect of Fabien. When the Angel comes, there is no malice or anger, there is peace. It is just your time to cross over.

Foto: Tygh Runyan, Versailles - Copyright: Tibo & Anouchka / Sky
Tygh Runyan, Versailles
© Tibo & Anouchka / Sky

As the King is losing faith in Fabien, Bontemps speaks up on his behalf. Both Fabien and Bontemps are in top positions at court. Do you think they are close to being friends? Or does duty in their cases bring loneliness like it does to the King, too?

I think they are friends. But, their jobs and roles often have them at odds. I think Fabien has a great deal of respect for Bontemps and sees that they share a common sense of duty and self sacrifice. This is rare in the world of Versailles, with all the back-stabbing, and blackmail. Where almost everyone has at least one status related agenda, and are often just out for themselves. He trusts Bontemps.

Bontemps and Fabien also have some of the best bickering scenes in series 1. Do you have a favorite or a fond memory of one of these scenes that was especially fun to shoot?

I always have fun working with Stuart! He's a great actor. And we laugh a lot. My acting teachers studied with Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg, so my training is method based. Stuart is a consummate Shakespearean actor and classically trained, so I always love watching his process and take inspiration from it. It's a real bromance!

Alexander Vlahos mentioned the big moment filming the battlefield scenes on horseback. Do you get to do a lot of your stunt work, too? I'm especially thinking of the fight scene in episode 10.

I do all my own stunts, and I love it. As a martial artist, I love to help with the fight choreography and the stunt team and I have developed a great relationship. In that knife fight, I use some aikido evasion and blending techniques. We often train open hands against an attacker wielding a knife or sword, so that's come in very useful. There's a lot of horse work for me, and I'm stoked! Cavalcade are amazing, and I love my horse Minos. He's a scene stealer though! Haha. Always knows when they're rolling. Loves to strike a pose.

Foto: Tygh Runyan
Tygh Runyan

From what I gather you love The Velvet Underground, don't you? Are there any of their songs you like to listen to on the "Versailles" set to get in character?

I do love The Velvets!!! There was an incredible exhibit on them in Paris while we were filming this year. The most comprehensive exhibit ever on the band. I went almost every weekend! I do listen to a lot of music in my dressing room and on set. But yeah, for the role there are a few pieces that get a frequent listen. Joy Division- New Dawn Fades, Black Sabbath- War Pigs, and Michael Stearns- Marriage Chords.

As a filmmaker what do you look for in a project?

Material, material, material. Anything that inspires work. Something I can imagine breathing life into, and being done well. The rest, involves a fair bit of luck I'd say.

Related: Exclusive Interviews with the "Versailles" stars

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