Versailles' Evan Williams: "I hope season 2 comes off as more daring. That's the only way to go."

Evan Williams on exploring the vanity and vulnerability of the Chevalier de Lorraine in Versailles and on moving moments with the buildOn project Nep-ALL-In in Nepal

Foto: Evan Williams - Copyright: Mary Brown
Evan Williams
© Mary Brown

April 22, 2017 by Nicole Oebel @philomina_
Here's a German translation of the interview.

Four years have past since season 1 and the Chevalier had been exiled for a large part of it. What are your thoughts on what happened between seasons, the King's reasoning for exiling the Chevalier at this point and Chevy's wheelings and dealings?

At first glance it certainly seems like our Chevy has made the best of it. While he was technically in exile, he was still a nobleman after all, and history says that he was the toast of some of the highest circles in Rome. What a surprise. In fact it appears he was brought back to Versailles right around the time when successive scandal had him wearing out his welcome in said circles. Lucky for him then, that the King always found him such a valuable pawn. The Chevalier was always in and out of trouble, and if reason were needed to give him the boot, Louis would have had a list as long as his arm. At the bottom, though, I believe it was always an attempt to leverage his relationship with Phillipe (likely the only reason the Chevalier managed to avoid having his head removed from his shoulders). It was an extremely important and effective way for Louis to manipulate his brother, who really stood as the greatest threat to his sovereignty from within his own family, symbolically and literally. As such, the exact exile-worthy offense is left vague in the series, perhaps in an attempt to highlight the politics. Whatever it was, it suited the King for his purposes at that moment. As they say, there's always a reason for the treason. Actually they don't say that. But I'm thinking they ought to.

In the promotional photos we see the Chevalier mostly in a mirror, so we only see a distorted image of him. In season 2 would you still describe him as a Iago / duplicitous villain type or is he rather a pale reflection after being benched by the King for so long?

If we think of the Chevalier as an onion (fragrant, of course), I think season one took us through the skin and opened up the thickest layers. We see through the braggadocio, the imperious, and the impetuous, to a troubled man desperate for love in an unsafe arena. He's still vain, of course. I mean come on, you don't take a pony to pasture and expect him not to graze. Season two takes us deeper into the finer layers, forcing a vulnerability that's beyond anything he's faced. I really think the question that haunts this guy mercilessly (and many of us, truth be told) is "Who am I?". It begins as a scratch at the door and progresses to burn the place down if not addressed. We see Chevy twisting every which way to avoid it, typically to disastrous results. So I'd say if the literary Iago has all his cards to his chest, then season two's Chevalier is scrambling to pick all his cards up off the floor before anyone sees their value. From the very beginning its always been a gamble, and he's losing. Bad.

From the first episodes of season 2 it seems the show has become more daring. Would you say that this is connected to the writers picking up on how you work together and that they're writing for you now?

Absolutely. It's such a pleasure and a privilege to work with writers who are paying as much attention to their actors as the actors are to their words. Writing and performing are two separate art forms in a symbiotic relationship, and I really felt the marriage of the two this season. By now, they know how we will each travel their phraseology (and I can tell, because the lines get easier to say). They know what I'm gonna find funny, and vice versa. They know when to fill our mouths with words, and also recognize when we'll be able to tell the whole story with a look. Overall they know us as friends, so they know what moves us, and they can embed it in the writing in a way that helps us speak from the heart. It's lovely to feel nested in a production like this, one that you can tell really cares. In the end this results in the bar being moved by many hands. I certainly hope season two comes off as more daring. That's the only way to go.

In your first episode in season 2 it clearly shows the Chevalier is eager to get back in the game, back to Versailles. His sass also seems to have upped a notch. We know Philippe loves him with all his heart but after four years apart the true feelings of the Chevalier are even more of a mystery, aren't they?

Four years is a long time to be away from the center of the universe. Chevy certainly comes in hot (like a meteor), and he has ample reason to be doubling down. Many troubling questions arise within the mind during extended absence from a lover, especially when one is cripplingly insecure. "Does he still want me?", "Have I been replaced?", "Am I the butt of the joke?"; What better way to obliterate doubt than to make oneself undoubtably irreplaceably fabulous. Better to be the answer than to beg the question. Smothering any possible questioning of fidelity on either side, Chevy is thrilled to be back, playing house in a private castle, with his royal boyfriend back safely under wing, nestled just so. And yet the siren song of court life is always echoing in his ears, it's the ultimate VIP experience, and that kind of man can't stand to be anywhere but the very center of the party for long. I've met these types of people in Hollywood. They're terrible. And fascinating. Ultimately their return to Versailles is bittersweet, because everything the Chevalier thought he had (and had traded on, with interest) begins to falter and fall apart. It's clear that Chevy loves being loved by Philippe, but through the challenges of this season I think we see him begin to learn what it really means to love. Imagine that.

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

The Chevalier has his first scene with Claudine! Did you get to work with more people you hadn't have scenes with before?

Ah! Yes! One of the most memorable days of the whole shoot. We were giggling about it ever since the first table read. I can't say enough glowing things about Lizzie Brochéré, she is such a strong woman on screen and off, and has grown to be a dear friend. The lovely fringe benefits of this job, I couldn't be more grateful for these people I get to have in my life now. It's so much fun to work with people you've been spending time with but never screen time. It's like you have all this ammunition built up because you've gotten to know them and then you can just let fly on action. I think the casting of all the new roles this season have been top notch. I especially adored working with Jessica Clark, who plays Palatine so beautifully I had to wean myself off complimenting her after every take. So fresh and clever and vulnerable, I would vote for her for president. I don't care if that makes zero sense.

Even though we haven't seen all the episodes yet, playing the Chevalier has been your longest continuing role already. What is it like going back to Paris soon to start working on season 3?

As a matter of fact I've just landed this morning (Friday) and am typing this as I look out from the window from my new apartment in Paris. I'm thrilled, beyond thrilled to be back. I've seen the whole of season two and I love it. Definitely covers new terrain from season one, and rightly so. I hadn't really thought of it but yeah, I suppose ol' Chev has been the longest episodic arc I'll have played so far. I'm just grateful, because I love him and his crooked little heart. It's so cool to grow with a character, and I'm sure the writers had no idea that things were gonna turn out this way for the character. I certainly didn't. The creative process has a mind of its own, and we're just here to answer the call and put in the sweat. It's an honor. And I'm not giving you any hints other than to say that season three is gonna be a trip!

You shared the short film "Visitors Parking" a little while back, a film that focuses on you playing a character in an isolated, claustrophobic situation. How does working on something like that compare to being part of an ensemble TV show like Versailles?

Ah thanks for mentioning that, yeah I had a great time doing Visitors Parking. Shorts can be very rewarding. It's sort of like doing a sketch in a notebook, versus doing a big oil painting in a studio. It's still your hand, it's still marks on a surface, but the scope and the context are changed. A short film can be very thematic, and textural. At their best they hit you somewhere deep inside you like a punch and then it's over, leaving you to ruminate on your own. Like a haiku. A big show like Versailles can be sweeping and dense and epic, and can cover as many themes as there are storylines. Each format has its strengths and its weaknesses. Shorts can be very specific, and in that way powerful. Big epic shows have the luxury of expanding with time, enjoying and elucidating the exploration, to eventually grow into something nobody could have foreseen it becoming.

The video of the kids in Nepal saying "Hello Versailles Family" and the stone with Versailles Family written on it as a part of the foundation of the new school will forever be among the most treasured memories of this fandom. Can you talk a little bit about the experience on-site, maybe an anecdote that comes to mind?

Oh I wish you could all have been there! It was just magic. Driving up to the village for the first time in our bus, we saw them in the distance, sporting bright traditional robes and shining smiles under an arch made of palm leaves, a red sign hung that read 'welcome to you'. They cheered and we cheered, they danced out to meet us, someone had a drum, and they were singing. Some of the girls in our group were already crying. The littlest kids were going crazy, they'd never had anything like this happen before and the excitement was overwhelming. I felt the same way. How easily they fell to fits of laughter, the best audience a clown could ask for, waiting with baited breath for the next excuse to fall sideways over the simplest gag. Kids are the same anywhere. They just want to be in on the adventure. Over the time spent in the village I would get to spend time with each of them, get to know each spirited personality, their hearts plainly and brazenly on their sleeves. These kids. They knew we were there because we cared about them, knew they were getting help to build a better school facility, and they were ready to pitch in with every ounce of enthusiasm they could contain in their little frames. I'm not sure if they knew how great an impact an improvement in their education could have in the grand scope of their lives, but the mothers knew. And they swayed there on that first day, in their ceremonial dress, gentle smiles and eyes that had seen so much. An almost imperceptible head nod as one elder woman held my gaze said 'I see you'. I nodded back and felt my eyes fill up. I see you too Mama. The energy was contagious, and even in the heat we danced all afternoon with them (and sweat, by the bucketful) as they welcomed us with wave after wave of dance from each age group. They handed out handwoven fans we could spin to cool ourselves, but it was a farce. The one time a day to cool off, was bathing with a plastic cup and bucket under the pump beside the hut of each of our host families. One cupful at a time. That's what heaven feels like.

Thank you so much for making time for us, Evan!

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

Note: © myFanbase 2017 - The interview is exclusive to myFanbase and may not be published on other websites or the like. You may share the first two questions (up to 180 words) if you link back to this site. Translations other than English and German may be posted with full credit including the link to this site.