"Versailles" interview with Anatole Taubman

Swiss actor Anatole Taubman on portraying Moncourt in "Versailles", an ambivalent character pushed to extremes, and on how filming in original locations informs the choices of an actor

Foto: Pip Torrens, Anatole Taubman, Versailles - Copyright: © Tibo & Anouchka / Capa Drama / Canal+
Pip Torrens, Anatole Taubman, Versailles
© © Tibo & Anouchka / Capa Drama / Canal+

January 10, 2017 by Nicole Oebel @philomina_
Here's a German translation of the interview.

Thank you so much for making time for us, Anatole, the Versailles Family is looking forward to hearing from you!

I'm more than happy to answer your questions, big privilege and honor since my Versailles times are in my heart treasured for ever.

Looking back, what comes to mind when you remember working on "Versailles", the ambitious historical series filmed in English in Paris and Versailles?

What comes to mind are two things: First thing, I never worked under an essentially American showrunner production system where we had four directors working in blocks directing these ten episodes and on a daily operative level the director is in charge. The showrunners were the ones to turn to though for all things regarding the storyline and the inner struggles of my Moncourt. The showrunners are in charge of the overall artistic direction. They were for me pivotal, crucial and instrumental to build my Moncourt house. They were always open for any questions to answer and even when they were not in town, which rarely but sometimes happened, you could speak to them on the phone or via Skype, so that was new to me. And also the pace on such a showrunner system.

The second thing was, I'm a big team player. I love my cast and crew on any job and I worked quite a few times on ensemble pieces. What was new to me is that my character Moncourt is being kicked out of the court at the end of episode 2 and does not return to Versailles until episode 8, meaning I also was kind of alienated. I only played with Pip Torrens – my lovely, gorgeous Pip – and this translated also to my private time in Paris. I rarely spent so much time alone, which I loved, so I was somehow geographically but also mentally and emotionally a bit disconnected from the rest since I didn't film with them most of the time. More so my coming back, that scene when Louis XIV hears of the secret Moncourt knows. When I was doing that scene I was literally covered with goose bumps all day long and close to tears. It felt like I didn't have to act or pretend, it just felt so natural because I was coming back, after four months of filming, to the court of Versailles and the rest of the cast – that was very emotional to me. Thank god, I had the same crew all these six months.

When you signed on to the project, did you know a lot about the royal brothers of Versailles and what did you do to prepare for the role?

History fascinates me. Back in school it was always one of my favorite subjects so when signing on to the project I jumped right into a free history lesson, many free history lessons. I read lots of material, I watched documentary films, feature length films, all surrounding Louis XIV's reign. Like a sponge I absorbed everything that I could get a hold of and that accompanied me also throughout the entire filming period. I loved it, god, I loved it! Not that I'm an expert, I'm grateful because sometimes in my line of work as an actor I get to dive into different times and periods, and being a history lover it is a dream come true.

Moncourt is one of these ambivalent characters, that you can't help but feel for. He's cunning but doesn't seem evil. Is it only when he's pushed into a desperate position that he turns ultimately bad?

Well, my dear precious Versailles Family, I wouldn't know whether it is bad to save your life. When it is a question of life and death, what would you decide? How do we react under extreme circumstances? Darwinism, survival of the fittest? Yes, Moncourt has that "survival of the fittest" gene inside of him, very much so. He doesn't have anybody, his wife died, they didn't have any children, his wife's family alienated him after his wife's passing. He's a fighter, he's a warrior, but above all he's a true, fine gentleman with Musketeer values.

The "What is a nothing doing at my court" scene has a captivating dynamic because the King uses a huge festivity to make an example of Moncourt to initiate "La Grande enquête". What was it like shooting a big scene like that?

It was a very powerful scene, a big set, many extras, everyone was there, it was outside… We were in that time, in the late 17th century. I had to focus so hard not to get distracted by everything that was going on. During set-ups I just walked away, staying in the zone and space of my Moncourt. It was challenging that day, the moments when Moncourt got kicked out they felt painful. You see, I come from method acting so it was painful, it felt so real. I hope that translated onto the screen.

Foto: Anatole Taubman, Versailles - Copyright: © Tibo & Anouchka / Capa Drama / Canal+
Anatole Taubman, Versailles
© © Tibo & Anouchka / Capa Drama / Canal+

You had scenes at the Palace of Versailles, Cassel's castle and the fairytale castle ruins in which the nobles meet to plot against the king. What was it like shooting in these places?

As an actor you try to be that person in the given circumstances as authentic and as truthful as you can. When part of the circumstances are so authentic and real like these castles we were filming in, and it was bitter cold, it really helped to stay in the zone. The location became a principal actor really, someone you could rely on, who invites you and supports you. I felt very fortunate that we could film at these original locations . Loved it!

The final fight between Moncourt, the King and Fabien is filmed very close up and personal. How did you, George and Tygh go about working on that scene together?

That was another memorable day, Nicole! We had one day to shoot this entire scene, in the script it was 12 to 16 pages so it was a huge endeavor. And this whole thing only worked because of our amazing, stellar stunt team. They were my "Schatzelis", German for darlings, without them that scene would have never worked. We rehearsed the fight scene weeks and weeks in advance. Single lessons and in the end together, and Tygh also was of big importance because he comes from a martial arts background and was very helpful to me, who does not come from a martial arts background (laughs). I find the sharpness of the movements and the discipline of mind very fascinating, so Tygh helped a lot with that. Very intense day, I'll never forget that day! And there were even bits cut, one sequence from me and George.

You were also part of the lavish "Grand Levée" scene in which Alex as Philippe is the master of ceremonies and George as Louis gives a performance within the performance. Could you walk us through filming this scene, was it as fun for you guys as it was for us watching it?

Oh the Grand Levée, oh mon dieu! I don't know if it was fun, it was impressive! I remember standing there as Moncourt just feeling humble. It was fascinating, captivating, all these movements, the structure. Big scene! Amazing, when you think back that it really was like that. Crazy, hedonistic.

Moncourt had most interaction with Cassel but in the finale he got to out-sass the King of Sass, the Chevalier, a delicious moment! Looking back were there any characters you wished Moncourt has had (more) scenes with?

Not really, I think it was good the way it was. Personally, I would have loved maybe one or two more scenes together with Louis XIV in the end to establish the friendship and then the big revelation. Although Louis is wrong in the end, they accused him for the wrong things. But all in all… Of course, yeah, le Chevalier (laughs), he's brilliant! But I'm very happy where Moncourt went and I loved working with Pip.

It just comes to my mind, I remember staying in Paris in the fifth arrondissement on the Rive Gauche and most of the others were staying on the Rive Droite. I remember talking to George, my King, and he came over a couple of times and we had dinner. The King came to visit me in my area with his motorcycle (laughs). Loved it!

I remember at RingCon 2014 a big "whoa" rippling through the audience when you started speaking with that charming low husky voice of yours. So I was happy to hear your voice both in the English and the German version of "Versailles". What is it like recreating your own performance for the dubbed version?

ADR and dubbing? Nightmare, it's always a huge challenge. By the time I go into the sound studio the project is at least six to eight months wrapped and coming from method acting the costumes, the setting, the other actors, it's all here and now and then to reimagine that in a little dark square room, divided by a window from the director waiting for the feedback, it really feels like judgment day. It's not my strongest field. It's an art in itself. But I had a brilliant team and ADR director.

What can the international fans see you in next?

Believe it or not, 2016 was my comedy breakout year. It's still hard for me wrap my head and heart around. I did four comedies, even a romantic comedy for German TV, "Einen Moment fürs Leben". "Goodbye Germany", a tragic comedy based on a true story, is coming to cinemas in German speaking territories on April 6th premiering worldwide at the Berlinale. "Baumschlager" is another film coming out, the first ever Austrian-Israeli coproduction, a satire. I play a fierce but troubled UN agent. Then for the BBC I did a TV three-parter of England's masterpieces of satire literature of the 20th century. It is a book called "Decline and fall" written by renowned Evelyn Waugh, who also wrote "Brideshead revisited". I play a role opposite Eva Longoria, who plays my love-interest. Jack Whitehall is the lead in all three parts. That was a lot of fun and it's coming out soon on BBC1 and in the US.

Happy, healthy, golden, glorious, peaceful New Year!

Thank you, Anatole, and a happy and sucessful New Year to you!

Related: Exclusive Interviews with the "Versailles" stars

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