Warning: Spoilers Ahead
What do we really know about Tutankhamun? As a Pharoah who ruled Egypt during the 18th dynasty, we assume he had very powerful advisers because he ascended to the throne at such a young age. We know he restored the god Amun to supremacy and that he sought to repair relationships with the surrounding kingdoms. But there’s so much about his life we’ll never know. The area flourished after he came to power, so we assume he was loved and supported by his people. But is that true? And what was going on behind the scenes? What were his personal relationships like? When King Tut’s tomb was discovered in 1922, it caused a worldwide media sensation and we’ve been fascinated ever since.
Series synopsis, from Spike:
Thrust into power after the murder of his father, Tut is forced to marry his strong-willed, ambitious sister in order to maintain the dynasty. In love with a commoner, he struggles to protect her from the jealous queen. And although Tut rules as Pharoah, he is exploited by a shrewd Grand Vizier, a ruthless military General and a scheming High Priest who look down on him as someone they can control. But through unexpected twists and turns, Tut strives to overcome the odds, rising from a manipulated ruler into an unlikely hero who triumphs over his enemies, both from within and without, leading his kingdom to glory.
I had the chance to speak exclusively to Sibylla Deen, who plays Tut’s half-sister and Queen Ankhe. We discussed her character’s motivations, what viewers can expect the first night of the series, what it was like to work with Avan Jogia and Ben Kingsley and more.
TV GOODNESS: I really enjoyed your performance in this mini-series. How much, if anything, did you know about the history of King Tut or your character before you took the role?
Sibylla Dean: “I knew of ancient Egypt and I loved it when I was a kid at school. I knew about Tutankhamun, I knew about Nefertiti and things like that. I didnâ€™t know so much about [Ankhe] or her relationship with her brother. So, when I read the screenplay, I was like, â€˜Oh, my God. This woman is amazing.â€™”
TV GOODNESS: I agree.
Sibylla: “What we wouldnâ€™t even live in a lifetime, sheâ€™s endured. And sheâ€™s strong and sheâ€™s a survivor, sheâ€™s a warrior. Itâ€™s not spoiling it to tell you [Tut] dies, but she goes on to outlive everybody. Sheâ€™s the primary driving force behind it all. So, for me, I was so thrilled. Iâ€™m sure a lot of women would have loved to have done it. Iâ€™m very privileged and very lucky to get the opportunity.
TV GOODNESS: I liked the ups and downs of Ankhe and everything she had to deal with. Iâ€™ve seen all six hours, but I donâ€™t want to give too much away. Can you tease night 1 and talk about what to expect for your character and for the series?
Sibylla: “When she was twelve years old, she was told that she would have to marry her brother, she would have to have a child with her brother and so thatâ€™s the pressure thatâ€™s been put on her. I donâ€™t think any of us, ever, have to live with pressures like that. So, sheâ€™s never really allowed to fall in love, nor is he. Theyâ€™re never allowed to have a normal life, the way that we know normal life. And they both love other people they both grow and go on to fall in love with other people.
You really see her heart in the first hour, in the first night. You see that sheâ€™s strong and she is visceral and she is still the duty, but you also see a very vulnerable side of her and a very private side of her because she really loves Ka and she wants, more than anything, to be someone and most of us would just give up everything else. We do. You get so besotted with someone, the whole rest of your life falls apart when youâ€™re in love like that.
She has this burden and she has to stay true to her kingdom. She has to have a child with her brother and sheâ€™s living within the same walls as someone she would much prefer to be doing that with. So, itâ€™s an interesting conflict. And, also, when we go into the story sheâ€™s already lost two children. So, she covered in scars. Sheâ€™s fought her lot and sheâ€™s lost a lot, at this point, even before we start this part of the story.”
TV GOODNESS: I like that Anhke has such complex relationships with Tutankhamun and with Ay. Can you talk about those relationships and working with Avan Jogia and Ben Kingsley?
Sibylla: “Avanâ€™s amazing. I think weâ€™re very similar in our approach to acting and the way that we work, so from the get go it was just so much fun. We explored several things on set. We discovered so much. We had such a great time working together and, I think, really brought out a lot in each other. And also, somehow, in nature it became like we were brother and sister.
Ben was amazing. He has an aura when he walks on the set. You know youâ€™re in the midst of someone whoâ€™s been doing this for a long time and is truly, truly talented, so it was a pleasure. And we collaborated a lot. We talked about a lot. We would run lines and words and work out scenes and make choices and decisions before we started rolling.
It was great just to watch him and see his approach to everything and to learn. Yeah, it was a wonderful experience. And to go up against someone like that? Heâ€™s a phenomenal actor, whoâ€™s had an insane career and all of my scenes with him are very confronting scenes, but Iâ€™m driving them. So, I had a huge responsibility to get it right, but it was great. We had a good time.
TV GOODNESS: It seems like itâ€™s so hard for Ankhe to know who to trust. You never completely know whoâ€™s on your side, whoâ€™s scheming against you. You never know what behind-the-scenes politics are happening. But I have to say I really like that about this story. Despite everything, or maybe because of everything, Iâ€™m rooting for you. What was it like to play this character?
Sibylla: “That was the best bit about it, for me. She doesnâ€™t want power. Itâ€™s not blind ambition, what sheâ€™s going for. Itâ€™s coming from her heart. I think it comes from this place of approval and wanting to do what her parents have asked of her.
Deep down, I feel like sheâ€™s a lioness. Thereâ€™s something very austere, very predatory in her approach to things, only because she feels she has to protect these people. But she makes some choices and I think for viewers, it will be, like you said, itâ€™ll be hard to watch but youâ€™ll be rooting for her because at the end all sheâ€™s trying to do is protect her brother and protect her kingdom and protect whatâ€™s right. She doesnâ€™t want to be on a throne being powerful. Itâ€™s not what drives her. It comes more from love and from her heart and her gut, really.
And unfortunately, I think, at timesâ€¦I canâ€™t spoil the story, but she makes a couple of choices in night 3, which are unpalatable almost to watch, but when she does it, itâ€™s because she knows someoneâ€™s to be harmed in a certain way letâ€™s just say, but she wants to be the one who does it because thereâ€™s this sincerity within her. She doesnâ€™t want it to come from elsewhere. Sheâ€™ll take on that burden to be good, in a way.
So, sheâ€™s very conflicted, incredibly conflicted. And at the end f the whole story, itâ€™s heartbreaking, because she somehow convinced herself that all the things sheâ€™s done was the right thing and it was gonna be ok and that everything was gonna be fine. And she really forgives Tut for everything and in her forgiveness, expects the same back and thenâ€¦you know what happens.
The beauty of her is although sheâ€™s tough and she does do bad things, you do see a lot of vulnerability in her character. You get to know her in private moments or in broken moments or in thought. I think the screenplay and the story allow us a lot of air and a lot of moments in between the words. So, you can feel the mixed emotions, the nuance of it, the whole time. Sheâ€™s not one-dimensional. She has every facet, like we all do.”
TV GOODNESS: I do feel the conflict and I do feel like sheâ€™s deeply flawed, but the audience understands every single decision she makes. I thought that was great. Switching gears, I donâ€™t know where you filmed, but those sets looked pretty great.
Sibylla: “We filmed in Ourrzazate, in Morocco, which is like the Hollywood of Morocco. They were gonna shoot part of it in Montreal, like the set stuff, the stage stuff, but they could build such crazy structures there, that they decided to do it in [Morocco.] They built gates and Thebes and whole cities and palaces. It was incredible. You could see anything from the modern world for miles. It was like you were in ancient Egypt.”
TV GOODNESS: I would imagine that just helped you get into character and into the story more.
Sibylla: “Yes, it did. We had tactile things to play with. We had costumes and shoes and jewelry that were made by hand. We even had kittens and birds and flies on our faces constantly, it felt like. I donâ€™t know if youâ€™ve spent any time [there], but itâ€™s the most incredible landscape to shoot in. When I imagine what pyramids in ancient Egypt and those places wouldâ€™ve looked like, itâ€™s so true to life.
TV GOODNESS: I hope this role gains you a lot of new admirers. If they want to see you in something else, they should watch Tyrant on FX. Do you have anything else coming up?
Sibylla: “Weâ€™ve still got Tyrant shooting. Thereâ€™s a couple things that Iâ€™m circling, so I need to see what happens. As an actor, you can see how many different things one person can do. So hopefully it will be a good testament to my skills.”
TV GOODNESS: For people who donâ€™t know much about Tyrant, tell me a little about that.
Sibylla: “Tyrant is the fictional story of two brothers from a Middle Eastern country, who basically are vying for power. One has exiled himself to America and has a completely American life and then heâ€™s returned back to the country and the other one has stayed. One is evil, in a sense, and the other one is good and theyâ€™re fighting out to see who will become the president, because their father dies.
Weâ€™re in our second season now. I play the daughter of the president and I have been raped and kidnapped and a myriad of horrible things of happen to me, but at this point in the story Iâ€™m pregnant and Iâ€™ve decided to stay and to get my revenge. Thatâ€™s where weâ€™re at. I donâ€™t quite know what Iâ€™m gonna do.”
TV GOODNESS: Iâ€™ve been meaning to watch. I think Iâ€™m going to have to now, because it sounds like a good show.
Sybilla: “It is. Itâ€™s really finding its feet, I think,Â in the second season. Itâ€™s a really interesting story and people are responding to it. And we have an opportunity to tell a story thatâ€™s currently happening in the world, which a lot of people donâ€™t have. As all of the politics in the Middle East unfold. Itâ€™s on the front of newspapers everyday and weâ€™re living it through TV right now. Weâ€™re able to do that, which I think is incredible. Itâ€™s like a piece of history, almost.”
Edited for space and content.
Tut airs over 3 nights starting Sunday, July 19th at 9/8c on Spike.
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