Alexander Vlahos discusses 10 thoughts on Versailles' second season - Part 1

"In season 2 Versailles felt lived in. It was kind of gritty, a bit more grungy. Season 2 felt a little bit more like Nirvana."

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

June 23, 2017 by Nicole Oebel @philomina_
Here's a German translation of the interview.

Paris. A mild summer's day. A lively French patio restaurant. Trees providing shadow. The perfect backdrop for passionate and fun discussions with Alexander Vlahos on all things Alexander Vlahos, the man and the actor, Philippe d'Orléans, our favourite Prince of France, and Versailles season 2, the show that allows people around the world to be inspired, to get together and make dreams happen.

What I bring to the party are Haribos and 10 talking points. Alex brings his exceptional enthusiasm, laughs that are instantly contagious and this disarming kind of honesty. So please sit back with a cooling drink, enjoy the read and the sound clips or click here for the second half of this chat.

Note: The interview contains spoilers on Versailles season 2 but there are no spoilers on the season finale #2.10.


Expectations

With this being your first time filming a second (and third) season, what was it like to deal with the expectations of an audience who fell in love with the show the way it was in season 1. Is it difficult to realize viewers often want aspects they love to stay the same?

100 per cent! Season 2 is what I call the difficult second album. When The Killers' second album came out people were like "You've changed your style of music?" If they had done a carbon copy of their first album people wouldn't have been happy. I feel like you're never ever going to please everyone. And you're very right actually that people want things to stay the same but as actors we want new challenges. When I first got the scripts for the first four episodes of season 2 I was really sad actually that I didn't get more scenes with George. But then logically, of course I'm not going to have any scenes with George because you can't have Philippe leaving at the end of season 1 saying "I'm never coming back to Versailles." And at the start of season 2 he's back and having the same confrontational, beautiful written scenes. There's a difference between what an actor wants, what the character needs and what the story needs. What you want as an actor is new challenges, you want to work with different people you haven't worked with before, you want to work in different locations. What the show needs is progression, development, new characters that breathe fresh life into it, new ideas. What the audience want is the same as before. So how do you juggle that, this is an impossible task for any show runner. So expectations compared to reality or compared to wants as an actor are all very different.

Season 2 is a great season, not necessarily for the reason season 1 was a great season. In season 2 we owned everything we were doing. I look at some of the early stuff, pre-war stuff in season 1 - I don't know who Philippe is at that point, that's why I always described him as quadrophenic. I was making him quadrophenic by taking wild punts. By the time it got to the last blocks, at the end of season 1 just when you get a handle of who you're dealing with, you finish the show. When I started season 2 there was a sense of comfortability and ownership and that was the same with everyone. George knew his character back to front whereas I think both of us were struggling in season 1 to understand who we were as characters. I saw a different actor in George [makes a 'head exploding from enthusiasm' noise and gesture].

Season 2 became less pretty and I think that's a really good thing. In season 2 Versailles felt lived in, it wasn't "Versailles the commercial" where everything was gold and sparkly and we were actors in a costume on a set. Season 2 felt like it was our living room and it wasn't grand. Imagine back then this wasn't an amazing place, for them as characters they were living in the swamp land. That's the balance that we got right, I think, the way it was shot it wasn't sparkly, it was kind of gritty. They built dark corridors, they made it a little bit more grungy. Season 2 felt a little bit more like Nirvana.

And finding out among the core fandom maybe not everyone is...

...as in love with it? It's tough to take. It's very hard to deal with it sometimes. By opening yourself up to the core fandom you then are accepting the criticism, you read it on Twitter and it's a shame to see a few people so unhappy. The show is part of our lives so any criticism, if it's towards the writing - it's still us. We shot those scenes and we were very comfortable shooting them. You can't please everyone, I think that's what we're all learning.

Experiencing someone else's life

Over the last three years you've spent half your time in Philippe's shoes, which brings you very close to experiencing someone else's life, doesn't it?

Really experiencing someone else's life, it would be proper role play. Living in Versailles, not being able to go to the toilet or shower, you'd be pissing in a chamber pot in a corridor… if you wanted to do proper method you would have to do that. What I mean by it is that it's so far from my own existence that's why it feels like experiencing someone else's life. Never in a million years when I was leaving drama school did I think that I'd be spending three years, possibly more, six months of those years inhabiting a character from the 17th century, trying to bring him to life. There's a sense of responsibility that I've never felt before about playing a part. It weighs heavy on your shoulders sometimes.

Foto: Alex and Nicki, Versailles interview, Paris June 2017 - Copyright: Nicole Oebel
Alex and Nicki, Versailles interview, Paris June 2017
© Nicole Oebel

Wearing a corset for two weeks is very much living someone else's life, too, isn't it? What did that teach you?

That it hurts! But Philippe was not trying to be a woman. When people ask "Why does he do it?" All for attention, all to be an icon, all to be remembered in the history books. We're taking liberties in season 2 like I'm sure he didn't turn up on his wedding day in a wedding dress but he might have done. Louis writes the history books! I genuinely believe that Philippe created poetry and opera, dance, art and theatre but when you have an older brother who completely dictates the history books then of course it's going to go down to Louis. We've always believed that, talking about it in season 1: That's that younger brother – older brother thing. That's why you're angry with him, you're the guy that comes up with the cool ideas and you never get your reward, you never get your just.

I was in Versailles yesterday and there was a huge lack of things Monsieur in there.

[small laugh] Yeah, I think it's really sad. Louis wins though, right, that's the whole point.

Challenge & Struggle

In season 1 you realised you had to bring more of yourself to the character than you thought you had to. How do you feel about that in season 2, are you still so similar?

Oh god, yeah, he's 100% me!

Even though he is quite different now after these four years?

Yeah, it means I'm really different, I've changed between season 1 and season 2, life changes, life experiences that require empathy, that require loneliness. So season 2's Philippe is still very much me. Maurice in "Genius" – that's me getting all the tricks that I have in my little acting box and see what works. Nothing of me in him, except for my humour, my mannerisms… but I left Maurice on a plane back from Prague and it was done! With Philippe it's never that. He's all of me. Season 2 it became a bit more job but by that point you're already so far in on a character. So it's less struggle, still more challenge. In season 1 I had to really try and go into myself to find what I wanted to get out for Philippe and it took a long time to get there. Season 2, it felt like I had a quicker route, a shortcut, and in season 3 even more so, now it's more like a direct line to feeling what I need to feel to play Philippe. And that's maturity as an actor. The 20s are a huge part of anyone's life and so much has happened in those four years since I got the part in 2014.

My favourite thing on set is to watch older actors. I specifically ask for the transport people to take me in a car with Geoffrey Bateman, Joe Sheridan or Steve Cumyn because they're fascinating, amazing people. Watching them on set, being able to have a little gut laugh and a giggle with them and "Action!" and watch them go there [gestures wiping a smile of his face]! I couldn't have done that in season 1, couldn't have chatted before a take and then give it everything. I needed to be in my own little space, headphones in… You're not being taught it, it just kind of happens over time, over maturity.

About the challenges: You talked before about Evan being an optimist, you being a pessimist and from what I've gathered he seems to have an outward approach to acting, while yours seems rather introspective. Is that at the heart of your working together, when Evan says you don't let each other get off easy?

Yeah, we don't, that's 100% right. I'll give you an example: Evan knows the script back to front. I can't learn my lines so much, I need to be able to be surprised in a scene. I need to be able to try and find the lines. Like I'm talking to you now I'm finding the words, that's how I try to make my acting seem more realistic. I learn my lines as I'm rehearsing. Evan is ready to show everything, he's got the lines 100% inside him whereas me, I'm living on the edge of not knowing what I'm about to say next. So we frustrate each other but it provides our best work. You got two actors, two very different processes, and that's why we don't let each other get off easy. And that's what I mean about the pessimism and optimism, the inward and the outward, you got two actors who are very different, outlook on life, on acting, on everything but the thing that unifies us is making the work the best it can be. It's like building a bridge.

Friendship

Everyone wanted something from Philippe this season!

Yeah, that was so weird, right? Season 1 he came in and offered up his thoughts which was rejected. A lot of scenes with Philippe storming in, booting down doors, shouting and not really being victorious and then having to retract and retreat. In season 2 he didn't do any of that and people came to him, which was amazing! He was the one that people looked for, Bontemps, Montespan… it was interesting actually being the one that he needed to be.

I wasn't sure where the friendship with Montespan came from.

I think that's born from a real life friendship that I have with Anna. We are pretty much the same person. Sometimes writers see how you are with people outside of work, that's what happened, me and Anna we riff off each other, and also you kind of want characters to meet. Versailles is huge but [gets excited] why didn't Philippe have a scene with Jacques the gardener? You want scenes that offer up a different dynamic like how funny would it have been to see Philippe and Cassel have a scene over a chess-game, that's interesting even if nothing comes of it. But that's what's great about working with Anna, I think she's an amazing actress and she did fantastically in season 2.

Enjoy this part also in the following soundclip where Alex elaborates a bit more:

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Liselotte was actually the first one who just supported Philippe without...

...without criticizing him or trying to change him. That's what it was I think, she didn't change him. She allowed him to be who he was. She would change him by trying to get him to fall in love her and she knew she couldn't do that. But she knew she'd get what she wanted, which was a child, to stay at court, by lulling him into a fantasy. Henriette never did that! In episode #2.06, where he gets to be King, she encourages him so they both get a rise on their salary, the whole thing with the Canal du Midi is for the pair of them. That's what's so good about Philippe's relationship with her compared to Philippe's relationship with Henriette, we never really got to see Philippe and Henriette being husband and wife apart from maybe that scene where he goes "We finally get what we want, you get my brother and get to go to war." And Jess is amazing to work with, funny and brilliant, hilarious and sparky... they're a good double act.

They are backing each other up and I mean who did that with Philippe before?

No one, that's the thing. The Chevalier did it but in the wrong way, for his own agenda which was he wants Philippe to be king so that he could be king really. With Palatine it's more a sense of seeing really who he was as a person and that comes from being not from Versailles, being an outsider. Being able to go "You don't know your potential. Let me unlock your potential."

This topic was a little bit more of a passionate debate than can be reflected in writing so here's the soundclip.

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The friendship between the brothers is a one-sided one, isn't it. Philippe is very honest but is Louis ever really honest?

We always have to take what Louis says with a pinch of salt. How I have to go into certain scenes like that is "Does he actually mean this?" And I think Louis never actually means anything he says. So as an actor you take that with a pinch of salt. It's very hard for George to play. Sometimes George says "I think I am being genuine here." And then the next scene completely contradicts that. It's very tricky. But also, nothing should be black and white, ever! And if a facial expression or a scene is confusing because people have different feelings towards it then that's when we're doing a good job. A scene that is not remembered on Versailles is boring because people know what we're doing. What's so great about season 3 is that the relationship between Louis and Philippe develops so much. It's incredible! Season 3 has some of the best storylines and ideas and writing I've ever read on this show. Historians may disagree but I think it's phenomenal.

Uncomfortable / Bold Themes

Episode #2.02 has lots of peeing scenes, the most personal task in the most public way, and Chevy's STD (Syphilis?). Why do you think the show goes that way?

It's about making Versailles feel lived in. We never had any scenes of chamber pots in season 1... These people shouldn't have any teeth, they should not be a pretty cast. How do you make a show that should be more ugly than it is more real? You bring up venereal diseases, you bring up pissing in corridors and pregnancies that aren't glamorous and miscarriages and all these things, that's what you have to do to try and lower the beauty of it because people get caught up in the beautiful sets and the costumes and the wigs. It's trying to make it a bit more real. And the fact that we're talking about it, it means that it worked, right? It means it's a topic of conversation in an interview, not sliding over the fact that we talked about it, it's addressed very well actually, these people are real, they do piss, they do shit. And we didn't call it Syphilis but something happened, didn't it. I'm pretty sure they all riddled with something.

Episode #2.07 takes a closer look at Philippe's erection issues. It's an important point the show makes, that a man isn't always ready to go like maybe the two previous sex scenes with his wives suggested - with Henriette in the pilot and Liselotte and the sword.

In history, so I was told, the only two ways he could fuck Liselotte were: one – he would look at his war medals and have sex with her. He could only maintain his erection by looking at his victories in battle on a shelf. The second one, he would only be able to keep it up as well if he draped prayer-beads with Mary Magdalene hanging from them over the vagina so he would fuck God. So the erection thing has to be addressed I think.

And we have Philippe's questioning of the blood-letting and fumigating.

He's the voice of reason [laughs]. You have to remember that Philippe in the show, rightly or wrongly, is always ahead of his time.

Alex talks about the topics
Happiness, Intimacy, Rage, Brothers and Maturity
plus future projects in Part 2
...


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.

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