Character Analysis: Versailles’ Evan Williams on Chevalier de Lorraine
Ever since George Blagden’s character (Athelstan) was killed off HISTORY’s Vikings back in 2015, his fans have been anticipating his new project, the historical drama known as Versailles.
Well, the show finally premieres on Ovation tomorrow. In the new series, Blagden portrays the Sun King a.k.a. Louis XIV. Versailles tells the story of Louis’Â quest to turn the beautiful palace into a center for art, fashion and decadence.
One of the show’s supercouples in the making involves Louis’ married brother, Monsieur Philippe d’Orleans, and his male lover, the supremely sexy schemer, Chevalier de Lorraine. The chevalier’sÂ main weapons are his looks, charm and his ability to take advantage of situations that will ultimately benefit him.
“The character that I play, the Chevalier de Lorraine, is actually a real guy and was basically flaunting his freedom under the nose of the King because he was protected by the fact that he was the lover of the king’s brother,” said Evan Williams during our recent phone interview.
It’s clear Williams, whose TV credits include the Canadian series DeGrassi, MTV’s Awkward and the Starz comedy, Baxter, relishes playingÂ thisÂ complex character. The actorÂ told us what we need to know about the Chevalier de Lorraine at the beginning of the season.
Chevalier’sÂ raison d’ÃªtreÂ is to be where the power is
“His goal is to stick around and to get as close to the center of power as possible. It’s sort of like King Louis really is the sun, and everybody else orbits around and the further out you are the colder it is and so people are always trying to get to the center.”
Chevalier relies on some much neededÂ defense mechanisms
“There’s this huge facade of knowing everything and the witty retorts and the backhand comments and the imperiousness which is true to the real guy,” said Williams. “The historians talk about him in very glowing fashion. They say he’s greedy as a vulture and entirely without scruples. So it’s totally fun to play that guy but also to defend this behavior because he really believes that he has to do that.”
Despite the character’s ambitions, he willÂ need to be careful. The position he’s in is a bit precarious.Â
“Chevalier’s the only one who doesn’t really belong there. He’s not a royal. He doesn’t have a job. He wasn’t directly expressly appointed to be there by the king so he’s very exposed. So he has to do whatever he can to get his claws in there and do whatever backstabbing or backdoor dealings he can to make himself necessary and stay one step ahead of this ominous demise which he feels is chasing him around the corner.”
Another reason he needs to be cautious is Chevalier’s relationship with Philippe
“The question at the beginning is what is the nature of the relationship,” Williams said. “And that’s one of the themes that is ongoing between Monsieur (Philippe d’Orleans) and Chevalier. And the fans have come up with a charming nickname for us, which is MonChevy.”
“This was a time when homosexuality was punishable by death,” he continued. “It was sort of this known secret but I also knew that this guy had to stay on the right side of his lover, Philippe, the brother’s king. If not, it could be a very swift departure for my character. It lead to a lot of desperation, I think.”
MonChevy’s relationship can be described as beautifully toxic
“I think they realize it’s a true love situation. And just because it’s true love doesn’t mean that it’s functional,” explained Williams. “It’s an entirely true and entirely dysfunctional relationship because it’s built on uneven ground.”
“At the end of the day one of these people is going to be there no matter what and the other one is entirely dispensable with the snap of the fingers and that’s something that’s always tearing at the roots of the relationship,” he analyzed. “But you can’t keep a good love down and I think through and through these two characters, they can’t live without each other. And so with all the codependence and with all the tearing apart that happens, there’s also a ton of sweetness under there because they both need each other.”
Chevalier’s going to have to watch himself around Louis
“It’s definitely a bit of a cat and mouse game, it’s almost like Chevalier convinces himself he’s safe so he can go ahead and do what he feels he has to do. But probably underneath everything, if he’s honest, he probably knows that he’s not safe. And there’s a certain amount of insecurity there which I think he’s desperate to hide and results in him going to even greater lengths to keep the facade up.”
HisÂ facade isn’t going to fool everyone
“Probably the only one who really sees through every inch of the facade is Louis. Since Louis sees right through Chevalier, he is incredibly dangerous. The person who sees right through you happens to be the one who holds a hundred percent of the power. It’s definitely a dynamic place to be, it requires a certain kind of dance from Chevalier, which is very taxing and I’m sure is very tiring.”
One thing that helped Williams get into character was the wardrobe. “I really didn’t find my character until I put the wig on for the first time. And then it sort of jumped out and never went away. It’s worth the 2 Â½ hours it takes to get the costuming and the wig and the makeup on and get suited up.”
It didn’t hurt that the cast was able to shoot in various castles around Paris including Versailles itself. Some of them aren’t even accessible to the public. “There’s some crystal moments when I would be alone in costume in some of these historical settings and there’d be no one else around. I know that I’m sort of playing a guide and I’d walk down the hallway at Versailles and see the painting of the guy I’m playing.”
Versailles premieres on Ovation tomorrow night at 10/9c.
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