Alexander Vlahos interview on the upcoming season 2 of Versailles

"That's when it becomes funny and dark and light and hilarious and over the top and crazy!"

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

March 25, 2017 by Nicole Oebel @philomina_
Here's a German translation of the interview.

Despite the feeling of being destined to be intertwined with Monsieur Philippe d'Orléans, younger brother of Louis XIV, the early days of the journey that has been Versailles, la série, were a roller coaster as well as an awakening for the then 26 year old actor Alexander Vlahos: "The reason why I'm an actor, we talked about this, is the enjoyment of inhabiting someone that is so far from you, so you get to experience someone else's life. So what surprised me about Philippe was that I thought he was such a big challenge, I thought he was so far from me and then two months into filming season 1 I realized we're very very similar and then the whole process of season 1 became traumatic, turbulent for me. Because I was having to bring a lot more of myself than I thought I had to." We thank our lucky stars he was up for this challenge as it made for the kind of vibrant portrayal that turned the complex, complicated character into the beating heart of the show.

Alexander Vlahos returns as Philippe in the eagerly anticipated Versailles season 2, which premiered in France on Canal+ on March 27. When we met up recently to talk about different aspects of his work on stage and on camera (full interview) these are the thoughts he shared about working on the show and the upcoming season. Find soundclips below.

Alex, in one of the season 2 trailers Philippe seems to be drowning himself in meaningless sex. How does that fit with what you said in our first Versailles talk that we'll see a lighter side to him?

The lighter side comes with the introduction of Palatine. The character and also Jessica [Clark], who plays her, is a breath of fresh air to Versailles. So when Philippe has to marry again the dark side is already there from the first couple of episodes and when Palatine is part of his life, rightly or wrongly, whether he wanted it or not, the lighter side comes out of him because he is seeing Versailles through a foreigner's eyes. He's seeing the ridiculousness of what Louis is creating. In season 1 Philippe hated this place because of this gilded cage and because it was all about control with Louis. And then seeing it through a fresh pair of eyes, he never got to see that with Henriette because they've known each other since they were kids. So Philippe's brighter side comes out with having someone looking around the Palace saying "Is it always like this?" and "Oh my god!" and being able to be very objective and not be so pent up and dark and fighting all the time. There are still dark moments cuz it's me, I'll always try and get that out of a scene but there's a lot of humour. Episode 6 of season 2 is without doubt my favourite episode that I've ever been given as a script. It's just a joy and that's when it becomes funny and dark and light and hilarious and over the top and crazy. Just imagine what would happen if Philippe got to be King for the day.

The following soundclip was added May 28 after episode 6 of season 2 aired in the UK.

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Watching Versailles with some rather conservative people I was happy to find that they were very comfortable watching all the scenes, also the love and sex scenes, and they were especially praising Philippe for his dialogs.

That's great to hear. That's probably one of the many small victories that Versailles has over people breaking down walls or thoughts or preconceived ideas. It's the one thing I've always been proud of, you know this, it's the one thing I always champion about playing that character. The fact that whoever comes in with an idea of what they're going to see, it's the dialog and it's the relationships that Philippe and the Chevalier, and Philippe and Louis have. It's why I say in Versailles the writing is the bible, it's because it's so damn good. And in season 2 it gets even more defined, they're writing for us now and that can only help the world that we're trying to create. It's why MonChevy is loved by people because of the way we treat their love as love. It's powerful, really powerful.

They're really the relationship scenes on the show. Louis has the sex and politics scenes and you guys have the romantic relationship scenes.

In season 2 that changes for the better. It's the rise and fall of Montespan. So George [Blagden] gets to create relationship steps with Anna [Brewster], who's brilliant in it. And me and Evan [Williams] get to add more big brushstrokes to the story, add more back-story, add more layers to that relationship which will make it even more 3D.

Philippe is not the only character you have been playing, who chooses to live his desires. We know you always look for a challenge but even though I think you need to be confident to play these roles it seems the sexuality wasn't the challenging part for you in these projects, was it?

It was a challenge with Philippe initially. I took the role because of the role then you understand how much is asked of you, especially with Philippe and the relationship with the Chevalier. Me and Evan making a pact, I know he said that in an interview to you before, on like day 2 of meeting him we were going like "Listen, these characters are so good that if we treat them with any amount of disrespect we're cheating the audience out of something truthful" and then it was both of us, separately and together, having to sort of really gear ourselves up through how much we were willing to be confident with our own bodies and the sexual nature of Versailles. Since then I haven't looked back. So for me it was about breaking a barrier, a sort of emotional barrier like a see-through barrier of being confident on screen naked, being able to kiss a man and a woman, have sex scenes, lie in bed naked, all these tiny insecure little hurdles that you have to get through as an actor. Once you do it things get easier, so since then sexual challenges within acting have become a sort of no-brainer really. I don't think you should doubt or question getting a role because of the sexual content in it. Since getting Philippe, that was the jump and when I made the jump and landed I never looked back.

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

Versailles is the first show in which you portray a character in a physical relationship, isn't it?

Yeah, I guess especially in a sexually and emotionally charged aspect of it. In the Indian Doctor I was having a romantic relationship but nothing to the extent of Philippe and the Chevalier / Henriette and now in season 2 Princess Palatine as well.

When season 1 came out in the UK there were all these reviews blasting it was basically porn - and in the same year you chose to play in the stage play La Ronde that challenges people's preconceptions about sex. Is there a connection?

Definitely! I'd be lying if I didn't say it is a big F you to people sometimes, we're so prudish and then we're so not?! There's no fifty percent. We're either prudes and criticize "This is the raunchiest thing on television", which it clearly isn't, but we're the generation that avidly seeks out more fetishes, more desires... And you got that end of the spectrum where we're the most emotionally and sexually active as a generation to something like a Tory MP coming out saying it was like "porn in cravats" on a TV show. So this was definitely a subconscious thing, or not even subconscious thing but a very conscious thing of reading the script and going "Well, why not?"

For Versailles both you and Evan have talked about your dynamic, in Evan lingo you were "going for the jugular and refusing to be polite about it"

He's got such a way with words, doesn't he?

Yes, doesn't he, especially in writing... How does building that dynamic between two actors on a TV show compare to working on a stage play like La Ronde?

You have longer with television to build up a relationship and also there's a lot of time jumping in television where you have to tell a story very quickly, there may be a year past between episodes where you have to show a little bit more of a progression but in La Ronde, there are a snippets, almost like sketches, characters at their most heightened or at their worst point. You have to take a lot more risks quicker. There is a lot more trust in having to work with actors and get there quicker because you haven't got that time. On television you get to talk about it, you get a lot of takes, you get to add details and layers and it's not rushed really.

It sometimes sounded like it was.

No, me and Evan talked in length, we'd go out in the evening after a day and know that we've had maybe a sex scene coming up the next day and we would work out verbally what we think the scene was about, how much we wanted to show so we would come in to the scene the next day very prepared and the director would add their take. And you'd add layers and maybe get four, five takes to get a moment down. Like for example in episode 1x05 where I come back from war. We talked in length about being on top, Philippe is never on top, he's always bottom, the idea that it should be him putting the Chevalier down on the bed, that was months of planning and detail and adding layers and what the reaction should be from the Chevalier, would he be disgusted or would he be turned on.

Going back to an earlier talk of ours, you said you're a "proud pessimist", which surprised me because I thought "He is not a pessimist, look at what he does!" But this is your job, and you're good at it, but at the same time does it combat the person in you?

Yeah, it does, completely. I'm a pessimist because... We were always going for season 2 of Versailles I just didn't believe it until I signed the contract. I got the producers phoning me up saying we're going for season 2, I didn't believe it until we were filming that first scene. I'll tell you a very funny story. So George, as an actor and as a person, lives on this earth, he walks on the ground, he's a consistent optimist and a pessimist. He lives in the realm of humans. He lives among us. Evan is an optimist. He lives amongst the stars, he floats above the earth, he sort of hovers, ethereal, mercurial, it's about astronomy and fate with Evan. Everything is so magical and fantastical. Me, I live six feet under the earth. I can't see the light and the bright, I see the problems and the hurdles and they are challenging and I get to walk among the earth but it's a struggle, with myself, with my confidence I guess, not as an actor but as a person. So you have these three people that are leading a television show. When we do a scene together or we're rehearsing a scene and you have that happening, that's why there's magic. Because of that combination of ideas or idealistic views of who we are as people.

I think maybe I started off as an optimist but I don't know what's happened or why I've become this person. What it does do, it brings out my best work, weirdly. Being that person that finds it a struggle and a challenge, and it's painful and arduous, makes me incredibly focused and driven and ambitious because I find it not easy. I'm proud to say I'm a pessimist because it's not a negative thing, it's something that defines me as a person that helps me with my career.

"Versailles" season 2 starts in the USA on Ovation on September 30th.

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