Tut Preview: “Part Three: Destiny” [+ Exclusive Q&A with EP/Writer Michael Vickerman]
Warning: Spoilers Ahead
Over the first two nights of Spike’s event series, Tut, we’ve seen Tutankhamun come into power, win the grudging respect of his advisors and fall in love. His first duty, of course, is to produce an heir. Ankhe, pregnant with Ka’s child, manages to convince her brother that she’s carrying his child. But she miscarries again. Knowing Suhad is pregnant and may supplant her on the throne, Ankhe decides to get rid of the competition. Ay is completely on board with this plan, but he’s smart about keeping his cards close to his chest and not even showing his hand to the people he’s in league with. As the ill are put into quarantine, will Suhad be burned with them? How will Tut’s struggle for power with the High Priest resolve itself? And how will Tut deal with the Mitanni threat once and for all?
Part 1 in 2 minutes:
Part 2 in 2 minutes:
I had the chance to talk to writer/executive producer Michael Vickerman recently. We discussed the enduring allure of King Tut, making sure the villains were three-dimensional characters and why this story lends itself to being told on TV.
TV GOODNESS: What made you want to tell this story and why do you think people are still so fascinated by King Tut and that time in history?
Michael Vickerman: “As far as wanting to tell the story, I canâ€™t honestly say I set out long ago to tell the King Tut story. One of our executive producers, Greg Gugliotta, and I had worked together in the past. We came up, about 5 years ago, with an idea of doing something on King Tut. We didnâ€™t know what the story was, but just[knew] that it had never been done.
We both thought, â€˜Wow. Thatâ€™s really interesting.â€™ Hereâ€™s perhaps the most famous Pharoah in history and also the most mysterious, when you look at all the conspiracies about how he may or may not have died, and we just thought that this was a story that needed to be told. But I didnâ€™t know at the time what the story was.
I sat on it for a couple years. I had a notebook with â€˜Tutâ€™ written on it with a big question mark because I could look at all the historical records and I could do my research. There was a lot of great plot stuff that would tell a great movie, but I didnâ€™t really know my way into the character, like how he would be relevant to an audience today, how you would connect him to an audience.
When I saw an article I read about the fact that the pyramids were built a thousand years before he was born, that he gazed on those pyramids the same way we did, with wonder and awe, I thought, â€˜God, weâ€™re really not that removed from who these people were.â€™ I think thatâ€™s the great lesson of history in general and even as far back as ancient Egypt that ultimately it was an epiphany that they had the same hopes and dreams and wants and fears that we have. That was my way into the character.
How can I write a story about all these conspiracies around him, the people and handlers and advisors working around and against him, but how to make it personal? We donâ€™t know a great deal about King Tutâ€™s personal life. We donâ€™t know what was going on in his mind, but I chose to make him a bit benevolent and righteous and have a goal to make Egypt a grand empire, not an evil one. And ultimately, thatâ€™s what alienates him from those around him who had different ideas.
Thereâ€™s just something about ancient Egypt that resonates and Tut, in particular. Itâ€™s in the zeitgeist, whether itâ€™s the traveling museum tour that still sells out to this day, the pyramids. When you dig into ancient Egypt you find out that they had medical technology that disappeared. They were very advanced for their time, our first real civilized society. Itâ€™s just a mystery that captivates people because thereâ€™s still so much we donâ€™t know, so much that hasnâ€™t been answered.”
TV GOODNESS: One thing I like about the miniseries is that we see how many people are working against Tut, but all these villains are three-dimensional characters. Can you talk about the importance of making sure all the characters were well-rounded and that we understood their motivations to some degree?
Michael: “I think thatâ€™s always the objective every time you sit down to write a character, make them real, make them three dimensional. Weâ€™ve all seen too many movies where people, especially villains, are cardboard cutouts. That is always the trickiest part of a villain, but thereâ€™s actually an easy solution to it and that is: give them a cause they believe in. It may be a terrible cause from our point of view, but if they believe it then it makes them more human.
No bad guy wakes up in the morning and says, â€˜Today Iâ€™m gonna be evil and Iâ€™m gonna kill those people because I just want to kill people.â€™ Now, there are psychotics that do that, but real historical villains donâ€™t do that. You go down a list. In their mind they [have] a righteous cause. Horemheb leaves Tut for dead [in the first episode], even though he had a grudging respect for him at that point and ultimately gains respect for him. But his goal is not to kill Tut. Thatâ€™s just a means to an end. He wants to conquer the civilized world.
Ay, you never quite know what heâ€™s doing and [Ben] Kingsley does that great job of keeping it in the shadows, but itâ€™s not because he doesnâ€™t care for [Tut]. He cares deeply. But guess what else he cares for? He cares for power and becoming Pharoah himself.
You have the High Priest, who is ultimately the antagonist in this film. Heâ€™s doing it because he believes in the righteousness of his Gods. Without them the people are going to suffer. He actually believes that.
So, if you can direct a character to have a motivation that is real in their mind, then it doesnâ€™t become arbitrary and it feels more real. Some of the best villains in cinema history are [villains] you can actually relate to, you can hear their argument and go, â€˜That actually makes sense. I wouldnâ€™t do that and I donâ€™t believe that, but I understand why he or she believes that.â€™ Thatâ€™s always the trick.”
TV GOODNESS: Why tell this story on TV instead of the big screen?
Michael: “For Tut to go from this impotent leader in the beginning to hero requires 6 hours. Of course, we wouldâ€™ve loved even more. We originally thought weâ€™d do 8 to 10 hours when we partnered with Spike. Their comfort zone was 6 hours, so we adjusted and found a tighter movie so it worked out pretty well.
For me, personally, the more time you have the more you would be able to expand on some of the other characters and bring in new characters. Thereâ€™s no question you could continue to make compelling television with the more time you have. For this particular show, 6 felt right. We have a very specific beginning, middle and end.”
TV GOODNESS: When did you know you had the version of Tut you wanted to tell and did you have any actors in mind while you were writing? Ben Kingsley was so great as Ay.
Michael: “That was the great irony. While I was writing, I had Ben in mind for Ay. I didnâ€™t tell him that until a few weeks into production. I wanted him to get a feel for us and the [series], so it didnâ€™t sound like a typical line when a writer or producer comes up and says, â€˜Youâ€™re the guy I wrote this for.â€™ But itâ€™s really true.
I needed somebody who could play that chameleon and I donâ€™t think anybody does it better than him. Every now and then you see that spark and itâ€™s really, really great. I think it ends [well] where he lands emotionally with Tut, because you get the sense that heâ€™s getting what he wanted all along without having had to do it himself. Thatâ€™s the brilliance of this character.
We never really explored [the pyramids] in the movie, by the way. Thereâ€™s a brief scene with Tut and Suhad in front of the pyramids where theyâ€™re traveling back, but there wasnâ€™t a place for them in this film. For me as a writer sometimes itâ€™s a simple, little touchstone like that that I cling to that makes everything else come together. Iâ€™d say a year before we went to Spike we had something really good, something worthy.”
TV GOODNESS: One thing that kind of surprises me, but also doesnâ€™t is all the politicking and back door deals and the intrigue surrounding the Pharoah and his court. How much of that is based on truth or did you make that up to serve the story?
Michael: “Itâ€™s a little bit of both. There are a few things we do know about his reign. A lot of it is conjecture from Egyptologists. There were people that handled him, Ay and General Horemheb. We made the historical leap that there would have been a High Priest involved with some of the politics of the Gods, because [Tutâ€™s] father had diminished the Gods. Part of Tutâ€™s reign was bringing them back. Amun is an amalgam of the priests at the time.
One of the things I felt as I was writing this that David Von Ancken, our director, and other people responded to is that I tried to infuse todayâ€™s politics into the story so that it serves as a bit of an allegory. Thereâ€™s parallels to religious zealots, thereâ€™s parallels to what goes on in Washington in government. Do we know that all that stuff went down? No, we donâ€™t. Tut might have been sitting in a corner and never said a word his entire life. We know physically we looked different that Avan [Jogia]. But that doesnâ€™t make for a very good movie. Weâ€™re not trying to do a history lesson here. Itâ€™s not a documentary. Weâ€™re trying to have fun with it, but keep it within the realm of history.
Iâ€™ve always said that not everything about this movie is historical fact. It canâ€™t be. Itâ€™s impossible. Creating this love story between him and Suhad, the commoner, it could have happened. Thatâ€™s the whole point. We try to keep it within historical accuracy in that world and then have fun with it. My hope is that people will watch it and become more interested in that period and do their own research. They can dig into it a little bit. But for the sake of this film, the idea is to have fun and put a face on this mythical character who was actually a real-life person and thatâ€™s a neat thing.”
Edited for space and content.
Tut “Part Three: Destiny” airs Tuesday at 9/8c on Spike.
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