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Stuart Bowman Talks Versailles

The Versailles Premiere Photo Credit: BFA

The Versailles Premiere
Photo Credit: BFA

Here in the U.S., the first season of the historical drama, Versailles, winds down in grand fashion with the two-hour finale airing Saturday night on Ovation.

Louis XIV’s quest to make Versailles a center of power, fashion, and culture has had a few struggles. He’s had to deal with a plot to destroy him, his brother’s jealousy, and there’s the women he’s bedded, one being his brother’s wife.

The drama all culminates in the season one finale which, “ends in a cliffhanger, an extraordinary, massive cliffhanger,” teases Stuart Bowman, who plays Louis’ right-hand man, Bontemps.

Thankfully for fans of Versailles, a second season is on its way, so there’s no need to worry…too much. The cliffhanger will be resolved in 2017.

Photo Credit: © Tibo & Anouchka / Capa Drama / Canal+

Photo Credit: © Tibo & Anouchka / Capa Drama / Canal+

In a recent phone call with Bowman, he talks about his relationship with George Blagden, who portrays Louis XIV. He also doles out some insight into the dynamic between their two characters. He previews what Bontemps is up to in the super-sized season ender and find out what the Scottish actor has to say about a project that made him feel like a “rock star.”

TV Goodness: The show has been enjoying international success. What about the show do you think appeals to fans?

Stuart Bowman: I’m staying with an old director friend of mine here in L.A. who hadn’t seen the show and I brought the DVDs with me. We watched the first two episodes last night together. He loved it. We were sort of working out what it was. I think young people being good — what he was really knocked out by was the quality of the acting especially from the young people because it’s actually not the norm with a new season and especially in the first couple of episodes.

I think the relationship between Alex (Vlahos, Philippe D’Orleans) and George is beautifully drawn and beautifully played by these two and that’s the core of this. Then the women are beautiful, absolutely stunning, but they act as well and again that’s really refreshing. I think that’s what makes people hang on to it. The story is amazing. I mean Louis XIV was an psychopathic genius.

TV Goodness: What appealed to you after you read the very first script?

Bowman: It was the story, yeah. I mean I read it and the characters I had to do were just three dimensional and interesting. These people were historically accurate but the narrative derived from [Simon Mirren and David Wolstencroft], the showrunners and the writers, was so efficient and well-drawn and…I believed it and I wanted to know more, which is a great start when you’re reading a script.

TV Goodness: What have you enjoyed about playing Bontemps’ relationship with Louis?

Bowman: George and I met…I think I was over in Paris for hair and costume fittings and George was over at the same time. It’s just two weeks before we started shooting, I think, and we hadn’t met before. They got George and I in the room and we suddenly realized they got eight producers to come in and watch us read the scene.

We sort of thought all right, we’re doing a secondary audition. Within moments, almost straight away, I knew that George was fantastic. He was looking me in the eye. He was feeling what was going on. It was not superficial. It was just the style of acting I enjoy and admire and it feels like…well I know now it’s a similar process to my own.

George and I have talked about it since that we knew we were talking in the same language and we were trying to dig deep with what we were going to do with these characters.

The relationship is such a beautiful relationship. Such an extraordinary relationship. The father / son thing but mixed with service, mixed with loyalty. The themes that that relationship throws up are fascinating themes and universal themes. Loyalty is a massive one and once you start digging into what motivates somebody to be as loyal as that you go into very interesting territory.

So it’s been an absolute joy. I’ve been able to spend two years thinking of these themes and digging deep and now I’ve got another season to go at least. It’s fantastic. Very lucky.

TV Goodness: What was your favorite moment from for your character in Season 1?

Bowman: There’s a scene in episode seven where it was Thomas Vincent’s first day as a director. We had two directors, [who] shot five episodes, but Thomas was shooting six and seven. The first scene that he was shooting was the scene in episode seven where George is mad and he’s run off from his bedroom and I go look for him and he’s creating the dance in this extraordinary ballroom.

We shot it in Vaux-le-Vicomte, which is another glorious chateau that we were filming in. I mean we’d turn up at these places and just go, ‘Oh my God, this is the office today. Okay. We’ll take that.’ This is one of these. I think we shot there before but we arrived there at five in the morning and the mist is just rising. The sun was just coming out. We go [into the chateau] and it’s cold and it was Thomas’ first day. It was excitement all around. A new director is always exciting because it’s a change of energy. We had this quite major scene, emotionally deep scene where George tells me or Louis XIV tells Bontemps that he doesn’t trust him, which is possibly the worst thing that could be said to Bontemps.

We did it I think the first time we went into it and something extraordinary happened. I hadn’t seen George until then as emotionally raw as that and I think what happened was the crossover between my love for George and Bontemps’ love for Louis was absolutely apparent in that moment.

So I didn’t need to force anything. Anything that happened emotionally for me was so natural and my thought, be careful, George as a person, came through in that scene. That compounded our friendship, but we have pretty much the same relationship as Bontemps and Louis have apart from the psychosis.

TV Goodness: Louis is sick at that point?

Bowman: He’s sick.

TV Goodness: And then he asks for the gardener.

Bowman: Yes. That hurt. The gardener?

TV Goodness: I mean you brought up shooting in castles. What was it like to shoot at Versailles and did it help you get into character more?

Photo Credit: © Tibo & Anouchka / Capa Drama / Canal+

Photo Credit: © Tibo & Anouchka / Capa Drama / Canal+

Bowman: It was a while before I shot in Versailles and, actually, the first season I didn’t actually shoot inside the building. I shot all of the stuff in the courtyard. Most of what we shot in Versailles in the first season was in the courtyard but, in the second season, we shoot a lot more inside.

Once you get into costume and you’re waiting…we had a lot of stuff, George and I, kind of coming out the front door and walking across the marble courtyard to great people arriving at Versailles. Always, we’d be waiting for action behind the doors and every time you open the doors you see the gates ahead of you. You see a carriage arriving. As we’re walking across the courtyard that Louis and Bontemps would have been walking over 300 years ago, 400 years ago. Goosebumps all over every time.

TV Goodness: Can you kind of feel the ghosts there or see the ghosts?

Bowman: Well, whatever it is it’s something [that] sends the hairs on the back of my neck every time walking down. What it does is you feel the power. You have 100 extras bowing as you pass this courtyard. You’ve got flunkies opening doors for you. We never open a door. Even as the servant I very rarely actually open a door myself. There are people to do that for you. It feels extraordinary and to do that in that setting where they walked does make like a lot easier as an actor and your imagination…you’re put there. Your imagination doesn’t have to do any great work.

TV Goodness: Over Thanksgiving weekend, Ovation is airing a season one three-day marathon. What can you say to fans about how this is a time to catch up and get into the show? How would you sell the show to fans?

Photo Credit: © Tibo & Anouchka / Capa Drama / Canal+

Photo Credit: © Tibo & Anouchka / Capa Drama / Canal+

Bowman: It’s an extraordinary show. It’s a brilliant show. I really genuinely feel if you don’t watch Versailles you’re missing out on a major piece of television, an extraordinary piece of television. I am genuinely…my friends in the business who have to watch a lot of television and do watch a lot of television and are very particular, I’m saying to them really watch it. Not for me but for you because you will love it. It’s a great, great piece of television. I think if you don’t watch it now you’re going to feel sorry for yourself that you weren’t smart enough to get in at the beginning in this extraordinary phenomenon.

TV Goodness: Let’s talk the season finale, what can you tease regarding your character in those two hours?

Bowman: Too much happens in the last two hours. I think what you see, you see Bontemps more agitated and more scared than you’ve ever seen him before.

[And] Bontemps gets to be funny. When I see the comedy scenes I just raise the roof. I get very excited. There’s a beautiful scene between myself and Philippe and Chevalier, [Evan Williams] and Alex. We do get to…some of the Versailles fandom have described this as one of their favorite scenes in the whole show. You just believe. I think it speaks volumes about loyalty and about camaraderie and camaraderie amongst actors as well because the three of us just got it right. That’s to look forward in episode nine.

TV Goodness: Does the season end with a cliffhanger?

Bowman: Yes. It ends in a cliffhanger, an extraordinary, massive cliffhanger which I know people go, ‘Oh my God, I want Season 2 now.’ It might be a bit closer than it was for Europeans. I don’t know when they’re planning on showing season two but I hope for everyone that it’s sooner rather than later.

TV Goodness: Awesome. I mean what else? Do you have time to do anything else or were you all about Versailles?

Bowman: I’ve had time to do other things. I’ve just done the most extraordinary job in Scotland. For years I did a sitcom in the UK, a Scottish sitcom, and it gained kind of cult status in Scotland, enough to warrant the right so they decided that we could do a stadium with this show.

So [creator/star Greg McHugh] wrote a two-hour stage version of [Gary Tank Commander] which we just did in a 10,000 seat stadium in Glasgow for three nights. We played for 10,000 people a night, which was as close as I’ll ever get to being a rock star. It was awesome. I can use that American word. I’m in L.A.

It opened with the boys jumping out of a helicopter and 10,000 people scream as you come on stage. They know our catchphrases. I don’t think I’ll ever experience anything quite like that again. It’s just fantastic. Yes, I’ve got time to do other things like that.

Photo Credit: © Tibo & Anouchka / Capa Drama / Canal+

Photo Credit: © Tibo & Anouchka / Capa Drama / Canal+

The final two episodes of Versailles Season 1 premieres Saturday night, Nov. 19 starting at 10 ET/PT.

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One Comment

  1. Still essentially, Mr Huff & Chuff

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