I’m a sucker for a period piece, so when I heard that Kurt Sutter would be going medieval on us, I got excited.
The Bastard Executioner series synopsis, from FX:
When a medieval warrior knight receives a divine message, he lays down his sword to become a journeyman executioner. In a time and place torn apart by rebellion and upheaval, the executioner must protect his true identity and surmount political, emotional, and supernatural perils â€“ while also trying to understand his purpose in serving a mysterious destiny.
TV Goodness attended last month’s Summer TCAs, where the cast and EPs talked about The Bastard Executioner. Here are some highlights:
On pitching this series to FX
Kurt Sutter: “John Landgraf [and I] had preliminary conversations about the idea of this character and some of the complications of coming into this world. And his original response, and rightly so, was he doesn’t want to show where there’s just a head in a basket every week, and I agreed with that. And so for me it was trying to find an interesting way in.
I went in with a lot of details of the world and the mythology. I think that John [Landgraf] sparked to the character, the depth of the mythology, the themes in it. It was unlike anything they had really done before. It’s always about character and relationship, as it was with Sons; the outlaw motorcycle culture became backdrop to a show about a very conflicted hero and the relationships that surrounded him. I think he had a sense of, ‘That is what will happen here.’ So the period and the job functions and all that will ultimately become backdrop for what will be, I hope, an interesting character struggle and complex relationships.”
On doing a period piece
Kurt: “I knew that I didn’t want to do anything else in the crime genre. I loved The Shield and loved Sons but really, creatively wanted to do something else, so it definitely ticked those boxes.
I love history so I got to immerse myself in the history of the Plantagenets and that whole really fuckedâ€‘up lineage. When we set it in Wales, suddenly it presented all these great, lessâ€‘documented external conflicts and external pressures as far as the rebellions that were going on. So, yes, the world itself definitely has its own mythology and history.
I was talking about this earlier and it was one of the things that is really fun for me, is that we have our fictitious characters and our fictitious shire but it’s set in a very real Wales, in real England. We get to intersect our fictional world with real history and have them meet and play out. We’ll hopefully be able to continue to do that, but I wasn’t looking for something that was going to require three weeks to hand sew a costume.”
On the mystical element
Kurt: “There’s definitely a mystical component in the show. Part of the bigger mythology that’s guiding Wilkin has to do with that first scene we saw is part of the mythology that we will lay bread crumbs to throughout the course of the series, that will ultimately be where our hero goes. I’ve said this 100Â times, but it’s just an opportunity to work out all my Catholic shit.
Obviously we’re not far removed from a very paganâ€‘oriented theology in terms of the time and the people. Roman Catholicism is being imposed on all the citizens. So paganism is still very much a part of that culture, especially when you get to outerâ€‘lying villages and things like that. So, yeah, there is that mysticism that people still believe in, so obviously it’s easier to write to that with characters that embrace that or fullâ€‘on believe that or have a whole different set of fears about that stuff that we nowadays might consider silly or ridiculous, that to them was very real and potent.
It’s definitely that period. We were just talking about it in an interview, and I’ll bore you with more statistics because I know that’s really what you guys like. But just the idea that if you look at the iconography that the Roman Catholic church adopted to sell their religion — they pulled all this stuff from pagan tradition so that the crosses and a lot of the iconography for the saints and everything — there areÂ â€‘â€‘ parallels pretty much to some sort of pagan symbol or ideology to give it a familiarity that people could thenÂ â€‘â€‘ it was easier for them to make a leap, so yes.”
On Annora of the Alders
Katey Sagal: “Kurt actually came home and said, ‘I have the next part for you.’ So I thought, ‘Well, that’s interesting.’ Seven years I played a very dark character, a woman that was defensive and always waiting for the next shoe to drop. The difference in this woman is that she knows that, even if the next shoe drops, that’s all right and that there’s divinity to everything and there’s a path to everything. That’s her purpose and her message that she’s trying to guide our hero through. So to play a part like that, which is rooted in faith rather than rooted in fear, is really interesting and exciting for me.
And then all the physicality — I always like to play parts that have a different physicality from myself. It’s just exciting. Then also to be in Wales and not to be on the concrete of North Hollywood, but to be in the gorgeous air in Wales. When we actually get there to do the thing and we’re on the day, it’s really thrilling. So, as an actor, I’m, of course, so grateful to be challenged to do something I’ve never done before.
On Annora’s religion
Kurt: “It will be revealed. But because she’s a healer and although they’ve embraced the fact that she knows what she’s doing and she can help, there’s still a sense that people like that are on the outskirts and perhaps dangerous to associate with.”
On Wilkin’s journey
Lee Jones: “He starts out very conflicted anyway and this just adds another layer to that. But the thing that is driving him forward is that search for a higher purpose and the divinity aspect to it. There’s vengeance driving him as well. So he’s figuring it out as he goes. He’s a driven man and he has to survive as much as look for what that isÂ â€‘â€‘ what that trajectory is going to be. He’s finding it, I think.”
On the brutality and violence of the series
Kurt: “Nothing wrong with colorful brutality.Â My mandate, as it was on Sons, is as absurd as it could be sometimes, it always came from an organic place and that it was never done in a vacuum, meaning that to every violent act, there are ramifications. I feel like I was able to follow through with that and that’s my same mandate here. Yes, it’s a medieval setting, and their laws in terms of punishment were brutal and heinous. So that’s a reality of the world.
There’s ways to portray that violence that don’t make it openly gratuitous. I have the same mandate with this show, which is that anything that happens, be it battle sequences or an execution or a torture scene, that it comes out of story. We see the character’s conflict or, as importantly, their non-conflict in carrying forth that violence, but that it always has some ramification, whether it just be an emotional ramification on the character or somehow it impacts the narrative. As far as I can tell, in the scripts that I’ve generated, the way we’re doing it on this show as well.”
On shooting on location
Stephen Moyer: “The geek in me was super excited to be shooting the scene where we’re walking down the corridor in one castle. Caerphilly Castle was built in 1156. Then we go to St. Donat’s, which is 1250. For the next scene, we open the door, and we go into the courtyard of St. Donat’s. Then we walk through there, and then we come out of the doorway and portcullis of our castle that we’ve built. The extraordinary aspect of that is that our characters, the way that Kurt’s written it, would have been in those castles. They’re the specific castles that our characters would have existed in. So there is a kind of beautiful sort of tying up of historical detail that is kind of amazing to be part of.”
Lee: “It does a lot of the heavy lifting for you because it just feels so real. I think our backlot and the sets are the only thing I’m getting to see of Wales. I’m so busy that I’m kind of getting the real thing anyway. But I’d never been to Wales before, although my family originates from there. So there’s some kind of nice synergy going on there.”
Edited for space and content.
The 2-hour series premiere of The Bastard Executioner premieres Tuesday, September 15th at 10/9c on FX.
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