Recently, actor Stephen Moyer of FX’s new series “The Bastard Executioner” participated in a roundtable discussion about his role of Milus Corbett, working with Executive Producer, Kurt Sutter and more. To find out more about Stephen, follow him on twitter @smoyer and of course follow, The Bastard Executioner at @TheBastardEx
When asked what initially drew him into the project and his character of Milus Corbett, Moyer said he was meeting Kurt Sutter for coffee when Sutter pitched the idea to him. The actor was hooked on both the story and the mythology of the characters that fans will see develops over the course of the season. “Then, he just said, ‘Look. Go away, read it, and get back to me.’ He didn’t tell me any particular part at the time. I went away and read it. There was one that jumped out at me straight away. I knew I was too old and gray to play the Executioner, but obviously Milus was the one that was interesting to me. Then I went back to him and just said, ‘this is amazing. I love the world. I know this world.’ I did a medieval … a two-year project in high school of medieval history. That was my period. So, that was also another hook for me because I already kind of knew quite a lot about that. I just loved the idea of this character who is hanging onto his best friend’s bootstraps and getting himself into a position that by birth he would never have been in. The world and the darkness and also the richness of the scoring, if you like, that was already written into the pilot.”
When asked if he saw his character as a villain, Stephen said “ I don’t see him as a villain. I see him as somebody who’s trying to push himself forward and taking an opportunity where he sees it. We talked about the idea of somebody who … again, this was all sort of back and forth between Kurt and me. We went over the ideas that he’d had and the whole back-story that I worked for myself which truthfully was my own stuff. Whether it ever came to be, whether it was ever reckoned or Kurt consulted with me on it, for me it was to have a sort of rich part to draw on just for myself.”
Moyer says elements of his backstory along with Sutter’s vision will be seen this season adding that “Suffice it to say he’s from a very, very poor upbringing and he’s found himself in a position where he can change at the core because his best friend was a warrior. He was loved by Edward I. His best friend becomes the lord of the shire that gets created for him by Edward I. It’s a gift for what he does in battle. His best friend who was his commander of his troops, my character, becomes the chamberlain. Now that the Baron is gone, it’s up to Milus to sort of work out where it goes from there.”
They are still filming the current season. Moyer added they are currently shooting episode 8 in Wales and that Sutter and the pilot episode blew him away. “I loved the pilot. I loved what he set up in the pilot. You all know how difficult pilots are, to introduce characters and to introduce new worlds and ideas and time and place, obvious story and the sub-story and then the back-story, all in one hit. The episodes that have come in from three onwards are just extraordinary. I’m really excited about it. It just keeps getting richer and richer. I’m really excited for people to see it.”
When asked about the challenges filming in Wales as opposed to Louisiana where “True Blood” was filmed, Moyer told a story about a recent visit from his mom where she was blown away by the detail of “The Bastard Executioner” set. “I never thought it would be bested and it’s not that it has been, but my mum walked on last week and she was just like, ‘I cannot …’ You just cannot believe the detail. Joe Masters, our set designer, his father was the set designer of “Lawrence of Arabia”, so he comes from very good stock. It’s extraordinary. We’ve got four studio spaces and an entire village and castles completely built for us. We do stuff on the road as well. We’ve set up a complete world.” Moyer does however say that he loved the “True Blood” set and that “Merlotte’s Bar” was his favorite. Since it was an actual working bar. Moyer’s entire family is currently with him in Wales and he said, “Wales is really incredible. I worked there 20 years ago and loved it, but I had forgotten just how beautiful it is. So, we’re having a bit of a ball, to be honest.”
Although he doesn’t know how long Kurt envisions “The Bastard Executioner’s” arc to be, Stephen did say we would see some things in history woven into this world. “We are shooting in the castles that our characters would have invested in. That’s kind of a beautiful idea that 800 years on, we’re walking the same stone floors as the main characters and historical characters, which you will get to see, existed. We’re going to be crossing over with real things that happened in history and I think that’s just fantastic! We’re sort of loosely, roughly based in 1312. If you get a little time check on 1312, you’d see hints of politics and things like that, that start creeping into our story. I love that aspect of it.”
On Milus’ relationship with the Baroness (played by Flora Spencer-Longhurt) Moyer said “She is a lady of Wales from a very good family who was married off to Lord Ventris, the Baron Erik, played by (Brian F. O’Bryne). Within the court, there was absolutely no question that there would never need to be an affiliation with our two characters, so I think that’s important to know from the start.
What is growing relationship-wise between them is new to them and the audience. She has found herself with this chamberlain who she knows comes from an established background and he’s the one who is controlling the machinations of court. She probably has some big feelings about that, but knowing that ultimately he has the shire in his best interests. If push comes to shove, hopefully he will have thought of the shire first and not himself, but I think she’s wary of him. I think she’s wary of what he can do and I think she knows that he’s not some graceful swan on the surface with the legs kicking out. The legs kicking out under the surface are quite ugly, I think, and she’s aware of that.
On another level, she impresses him. Since Erik’s death, he’s seen her grow and start taking on this power of being a woman in this position that she’s thrust into. The next episode deals with an element of this, which I will not spoil! The next episode, touches on this and the idea of what female power means in 1312. Some of the decision-making that she makes leads Milus to be even more impressed by her and taken in by her brilliance. Yet, also from the side, he sees that … He can’t quite put his finger on it, but from that very moment that he saw Lady Love with Wilkin in the church, there’s also sort of a connection between them. Anything that he sees happening within the village and the castle or the back stairs and the servants’ quarters that he can use or store for later, he will. Again, we’ll see that develop between those two characters. I have to say I do love working with Flora. She’s brilliant.”
Moyer also says that he doesn’t think Milus has ever entertained the idea of a union with the Baroness. “Because she’s so far above him,” Moyer said, “Ventris himself became a lord, which is never going to be something that my character would get thrust upon him, so that aspect of it would only ever be a dream as opposed to a reality. However much he might want it or her.”
Moyer also addressed the sexual tension between Milus and Wilkin Brattle saying “Given that you have seen my character with the French servant, I think it would be fair to say that there is something there. I think that is fair to say. This will be slightly blended in a little bit or penciled in a little bit as we go forward and learn about him. His past will become clear and explain some of his desire. I think he gets his kicks where he sees them and I don’t think he’s really discriminating. I don’t think that intrigues him as much as just sheer brutality.”
Moyer also addresses how Milus uses power as an advantage especially in terms of the French servant and the much talked about threesome scene at the end of the second episode. “He’s new in the castle and he’s not hiding it. It’s as simple as that.” So, we talked about the idea of sex being power. Obviously the more you know, we all know, the maxim ‘Knowledge is power’, but I think that Milus comes from this place where if he can have dominion over everything around him, be it physicality or sexuality, he will. It’s classic alpha stuff.
I’ve got two male dogs. Obviously in these days, all dogs that aren’t to be bred have to be neutered, but that does not stop them in the dog park. 15 neutered dogs try to hump each other. It’s just the way the dogs are. It’s interesting watching that because that aggression in the dog park comes from one dog wanting to be the alpha. Milus wants to be the alpha in his own way. He’ll take whatever he can out of the situation and spin it.”
On the subject of working with the actors, Moyer has enjoyed working with all of them including Lee Jones and Tim Murphy. He is very intrigued with Tim’s character (who plays Father Ruskin) story arc and where it will go through the season. “Kurt has written somebody who is obviously not just a simple priest. You can see by looking at Tim’s face and the scar and the way he wields his knife that there was a whole history of battle and fighting behind that. I’m just delighted that Lee and I get on really well. I think he’s doing a great job. He’s very tough to come in to such a massive part. When you’re not known and thrust into doing something like this it’s hard. He’s really holding himself excellently. It’s really exciting to be spending time all together.”
When the question about Milus’ viewpoint on physical torture and punishment would be used throughout the season, Moyer said, “I know. It’s interesting, isn’t it? When I read that episode, I had a number of feelings about it. We’re telling a story of this girl who went over and I hadn’t realized that she’d kind of accidentally broken the nose of Brian’s statue. In the scuffle of attacking the cart the statue had fallen out or something and I hadn’t quite realized that it was as simple as she just landed on it and knocked the nose off, which is kind of great. It sort of shows this innocence in her and this belief of holding onto your land and freedom. Holding onto your piece of territory and how it important it was to the world and still is. That was one thing. When I was reading the script, I remember literally thinking, ‘Oh, they’re going to kill her again’, so as we were getting towards that punishment sequence, I was thinking, ‘Oh, they’re going to kill her.’ We’re leading up to something else like we were for the pilot.
Maybe we’re going to end every single episode with a death. Maybe that’s the thing. Maybe that’s what our little trick is going to be for the audience. I literally got to the page where they cut her nose off and I was like, ‘Oh, my God! That’s hideous.’ It kind of hit me that it was almost worse in a way in medieval times where they don’t have the benefit of good surgeons. To keep somebody alive but with something heinous like that, which the villagers have to see every day and remind her of what this is. Lady Love makes that decision. In the eyes of the villagers and in the eyes of the town, Lady Love has to be seen as strong and cannot allow rebels to mount up against the castle. She has to take a stand.
My character’s take on it is that it’s not enough. It was interesting because I only watched it yesterday and I was looking at it thinking, ‘that’s interesting.’ I wonder if that’s come across that my character looks out at the people who are watching the de-nosing, I’m going to call it that, and he sees … I don’t think we even see it in that episode, but he sees the crowd being slightly upset that they only got to see a nose cut off. For the villagers and the townspeople, that was their theater. There was a thing called the Tyburn Tree, which was at a gate in London during medieval times, where all the hangings used to happen. The Tyburn Tree was this famous hanging post or execution post. It was people’s theater. That’s where they went to see something literally as visceral as people being hung or drawn and quartered or arms cut off or fingers cut off for stealing, or whatever it was. Literal capital punishment of a brutal kind and it was expected.
It’s not until you start watching something based in medieval times, that you start realizing that is what we’re going to be watching, the way we watch something as blood-thirsty and visceral as that. I’m not saying that we are going to see something every episode or that we’re not. I’m very interested to see how the rest of it plays out on the audience because I’m sure that’s kind of what they’re going to be expecting.”
On the question if he added anything to Milus that wasn’t written, Moyer said, “just to be fair to Kurt, he’s written a really complete character. Going back to that sequence in the pilot, I wanted to be seen to be taking that character, taking that French servant. This is a man who takes what he wants and I didn’t want it to be some kind of heavy petting happening behind the pillar. I wanted it to be straight fucking. Which is a kind of oxymoron, that straight fuckin. I’ve just realized it, but I kind of think it should be like that. I think that he would not have … Now, I’m going back to the sexual element. I don’t want to go into too much detail with it, really, because I’d much rather it play out. As a man from a place called Essex, I grew up in a place where I didn’t particularly belong. I went to drama school and sort of came out with a posh accent because I kind of felt like that was what I was supposed to sound like. It’s very nice for me to go back to playing somebody who’s from the streets, but the change is what he needs to be for the situation. I think we all have a need like that, you know? It makes us be a little bit nicer in front of our family or our parents or people who we wanted to impress or people who are sort of higher up the food chain or in bigger, higher echelons of life. Milus is somebody who’s going to be doing that, but he also is the straight, blood or nothing guy. That’s who he kind of prefers to be. One of the things I have been experimenting with is the way he speaks around the people that he’s with.”
And what is up with that doll we saw Milus looking at the beginning of episode two? “Oh, the doll. Yeah, that’s something from his childhood. He goes to look for some stuff. He’s packing some of Erik’s stuff away. One of the things that … I think it’s quite important to say this, actually. The detail in these scripts is extraordinary. It’s all there in the script. Whether they choose to edit it that way is absolutely up to them, but we are playing many, many different ideas, which I think, will play out as the story gets told. Even though we knew it was never going to be on the screen because it was all in brackets, ultimately I’m packing away Erik’s stuff because Erik is gone. We are in sort of a storage room packing away stuff. While packing Erik’s clothes away and his warrior armor and things… the idea is that Milus comes across a little straw soldier that he had when he was a child.”
Does Stephen Moyer judge Milus’ actions or try to justify his character’s actions? “I know his ambition. I know that he’s also trying to save the shire. I also know that the king is not going to allow a woman to hold this position of the shire, as she’s not royalty. She’s not a princess. She is from a very good family. I knew that Milus was going to have to do some stuff for himself, for her, for the shire, in order to keep his position and everybody else’s position. From there, from that place, I obviously was well aware that I had stuff to do and there was death there. If they were killed, then it just came out to an advantage. I’ve just got to move on. Let’s do it. In answer to your question, he is not just looking out for himself. He’s looking out for everybody, but he also does have conscience and deep, deep, deep within that hard shell, he has come up with a reason for doing everything that he thinks is for the good of everybody. (Laughs).”
When asked how he prepared for the role, Moyer said that he read a lot. “Once upon a time, one had to go to the library to do this kind of thing. You’d go and sit in the library and pull out old books and look at the stuff. We’re in this kind of position where most of the British libraries are available online. Your historians publish pamphlets online. I can go and look at what was going on in 1312 with a few clicks of the mouse. It’s unbelievable. I’m likely to believe that you have to do all of that to inform your character. I think the more you understand, the more you can define of the period and the idea of the period. It just behooves what goes on on today’s sets, they’re bad, but then obviously also they sent us all to night camp. There were days and days of horse riding. I actually only shot about eight or nine days of that two-hour pilot, but I was in for almost two months. I was really sort of channeling my thought, if you will, as well as doing horse stuff. I’d done all that stuff before and I did a lot of sword playing at drama school. For me, just to be able to do all of those things was just jelly on the top of it all, really, because that’s just stuff I love doing.”
When asked if filming the show in Wales puts him in a certain frame of mind and if it prepared him for the character, he says that “It’s interesting because I was walking through the village one day, just in my own head and taking in the color. One of the things that they’ve been able to do in the town, in our little town, is the back lot is about 100 acres. It’s set in a valley. 270 degrees around from where the castle is, it’s all down within a sort of dell, if you like, that’s surrounded by hills or mountains. So, when you look from the castle, all you can see is green. It’s all green and trees and hills and mountains and stuff. There’s nothing in the way.
Firstly, in terms of what you feel like, you feel like this little village, which is a real working village. As I was walking through the front gates and walking up towards the castle, there’s like hundreds of extras and stuff, all of them milling around. I went past this guy who was cutting up meat and there were four pigs hanging behind it and a fox hanging upside down. There were a couple of rabbits, pheasants, and grouse, all that kind of thing and he was doing. Some stuff with a pig. I just thought it was split enough, I thought it was an extra, so I went up and I said, ‘Wow, you’re very good at this’, and he said, ‘I’m a butcher.’ I’m like, ‘What do you mean, you’re a butcher?’ He’s like, ‘I’m a butcher. They came and found me. I’m a butcher and they asked me if I’d come and do a day.’ I went, ‘So, you actually are doing that? That thing that you’re doing with the pig right now, you’re doing it right?’ He was like, ‘Yeah.’
There was this guy kind of scraping away on this piece of wood. I talked to him. He was a carpenter. He was an original … He makes boats. That’s what he does. He makes boats in the original way. They found him. They brought him to the village. Go on a little bit further. There was a lady making candles, herbal remedies and stuff like that. They found her. That’s what she does.
I was kind of blown away by the idea of this. What else was there? There was an ironmonger. There was a black friar making shoes for horses. They were all guys and women who do that. This village, Paris’ idea being that if the camera were to alight on them as it goes past and you see somebody cutting, doing this, there’s no craft extra work going on in the background. Honestly, it freaked me out. I was so impressed that they’d gone to that much detail. None of the higher-ups had told them that that’s what they’d done. They had just done it without even making us aware of it. They just wanted to make it feel real.
All the A.D’s had gone around and every single extra had something to do. Every single extra had been given a life, a family life, a place that they were going to do, what they were doing in the village, their place within the society. I don’t really need to go on. You can tell from what I’m saying it’s deeply impressive. It gets you there. If everybody from there up was even thinking about what they’re doing in that way, then it’s very helpful.”
When talking about the political people within the show, Stephen mentions that we will see a lot of it. Adding that Lady Love mentioned that she’ll be going to King Edward II’s court and having a meeting. There is also something in a future episode that Moyer couldn’t discuss but a current event will inadvertently crossover onto the show. Moyer says that there are antiques on set as well. “We were doing a fight sequence and Matt’s like, ‘Let’s fall over the back of this thing’ and Charles is in the background going, ‘No. Way. That’s real. That’s 500 years old. We’re not going to fall over that.’ There is a really cool thing the other day, actually, where we needed a … A document’s being signed in the map room. We call it the map room. It’s sort of a stateroom where everything happens in the pilot. We’re bringing in the floor, and we needed a piece of parchment. We needed something written down that pertained to what we were talking about in the scene and the prop department came back with seven different written things about this particular subject. I was like, ‘How did you get this?’ They have real documents made up from our world so that with fictional characters with real characters and it’s all been written. It’s done with calligraphy, and they all have to be hand-done on parchment. Some are done on pigskin in the old pigment that would have been done.”
Watch The Bastard Executioner Tuesdays at 10pm PST/EST on FX.