Exclusive Interview with Reign’s Jonathan Keltz

Photo credit: Brian Higbee
Photo credit: Brian Higbee

Jonathan Keltz stars as Leith Bayard in The CW’s period drama Reign. After a guest starring throughout the first season, he was promoted as a series regular in season 2. When we first meet him he’s a kitchen servant who falls hopelessly in love with Greer but after being rejected because of his status (despite their secret affair) he makes it his duty to one day be good enough to take Greer’s hand in marriage. It isn’t until the second season we see Leith save Prince Francis’ life and as a reward is made a noble but once again fell short as Greer needed to marry someone with a title to help save her and her family. At the end of Season 2, Leith has been assigned as bodyguard to Princess Claude.

Read our interview with Jonathan below, we discuss King Arthur, horses, the status of Grieth, and Toronto.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter.

Reign is a period piece, obviously, but what other time period would you like to act in?

“That’s a great question. I think probably I would next have to jump forward in time to the future, just to balance it out, before I go back in time again.

Then, I would love, love, love, love, love to do any kind of King Arthur project. That’s a time that I’ve always been fascinated with. The knights of the round  table is something I’ve always loved. That would probably be my first choice in terms of another period. That’s sort of vague period, because there are lots of different talk about when exactly that was, if it was like 1200s, or later, or earlier, or when exactly it was. I think King Arthur’s round table would be my next adventure.”

On Reign, you do a lot of sword fighting, so what is your training like?

“It’s interesting. The way the training works is it’s generally pretty scene specific, so when we’re doing any training it’s this specific choreography of the scene at hand. What we’ll do is we’ll meet with the stunt guys and with the other cast members. Our stunt coordinator, Chris McGuire, he’s awesome. What he does is he shoots these hilarious little video enactments of what it will look like, of him and the stunt guys or gals doing the fights and doing the bits. He puts music to it, and it’s absolutely awesome and hilarious.

He’ll show us that, and then he’ll break the pieces up, break the segments into pieces, and then go through it slowly and work out the rhythms of it. We then practice it with repetition until we feel comfortable with it. When we go to shoot we’ll go do a warm up, just sort of run through the movements of it, run through the motions. We shoot it generally in segments, because there’s different shots and angles to make each moment play on camera.”

Besides the Witcher game, did you do any research for the role of Leith?

“[Laughs]. Oh, yeah. That was just a joke. Yeah, I’ve done a lot of research into this period and into the Middle Ages, I’d say pretty much 1000 AD until now.

There was a show I almost did that was taking place in the 1200s in France. I had all the background on how the Vatican really became an emperor and took control, and established a level of power in Europe and made themselves more important than the monarchy and the royals. That was the foundation that built towards this time period and allowed people like Elizabeth to try and stand outside of that dominance. I definitely did research into Mary Queen of Scots and into France, and Scotland, and England. Everything that was going on at this time, it’s definitely a fascinating time period with some very strong characters.

I think some of the most important things that are important for the show, yes of course we do follow the broad strokes of history with some liberties, but it’s mainly about the behavior and decorum of the court. I think that body language is something that’s very important for me to keep in mind and it’s something that can really help, what the mannerisms and behaviors are of the time period. Obviously, I had an accent that I had to prep. I’d worked it before, but this has been some real good training on the show.”

Has that been really hard, hiding your own accent?

“I don’t know, I feel like I’ve been putting on a British accent since I was a kid, so. I’ve always wanted to do it in a project. I was more just so excited that I got a chance to. Although there’s definitely some pressure at the beginning of the show, and thankfully I’d worked with a dialect coach before the show. We have one on the show as well, and so that really helped me fine tune it. We also have so many people from England on the cast. I make sure to let them know to let me know anytime that I’m saying something that sounds a little wonky or any slight, minor correction that there may be.

Also, something that I find helped me and everybody has a different way, as soon as I’m on my way to set I’m in the accent. I don’t stop it until the end of the day. That just helps me maintain the rhythms of it. If I have to pick it up just for tapes or come in and out of it, that makes me more self-conscious and it makes it like I feel like I’m not as comfortable with it. I try to maintain it throughout the day so it can find its own natural rhythm and cadence, so I’m not really worried about it during the scenes.”

At home do you ever accidentally do your British accent instead of your real one?

“Yeah. It doesn’t just pop out at home. It’s more like after a really long day or a long week, dropping it at the end is definitely tricky. It’ll sort of slip in and out, or words will come out funny. It’s just the comfort level of the mouth. It’s just like a tick. If I’m training myself not to think about it, then it’ll happen without me thinking about it.”

Torrance just posted a photo of you two. Does that mean there are going to be more Bash and Leith scenes in season three?

“There will indeed, the context of which I cannot disclose. We do get to bro out yet again.”

What has been your favorite episode throughout the entire series to shoot?

“I might have to bring up a couple of them. I love working on the show. It’s such a blast. One of my favorite episodes still to this day was episode five of season one. I would say that the battle episode of season one as well, episode 20, when it was Francis and I in the Battle of Calais. That was a great time. Then last season there were a few as well. I really love working with the horses, so whenever I get a chance to ride through the woods on a horse I’m a happy camper.”

Do you have any horror stories about riding on the horses? Have you had any injuries or ripped your pants or anything like that, while being on the horse?

“Thankfully, no injuries as of yet, knocking on wood [laughs]. I had ridden a bunch as a kid, and then I rode briefly on a Canadian show called Heartland that both Torrance and Megan were on as well. I had some experience riding, I had a bit of experience riding on camera, but I hadn’t ridden since I did Heartland, which was probably a good six, or seven years ago.

There’s a really great stable and ranch that we ride with, Aim High Stables here in Ontario. They bring us out there, they get us comfortable with the horse. I have a horse named JR that I’m always shooting with and working with. I built a relationship with him and we got used to each other. There was one day when we were in the woods that he was getting a bit testy and throwing a bit of a tantrum, but other than that he’s been just wonderful to work with.

I love having animals and stuff like that, that are so unpredictable so you really have to be hyper conscious and connected with them. It can really help ground you in a scene. The thing that becomes tricky is when you have very technical and specific marks in shots to hit. That makes it a bit more challenging at times, but I like those challenges. I think it’s fun. It adds a different element. When we have the time to really find it and play around with the horse and do our thing, I think it really adds a lot to the scene.”

As Jonathan, are you Team Greer or Claude?

“I’m not team anybody at the moment, but… Sadly, it does appear like the Greer and Leith days are done. I think that when somebody turns you down for marriage for a second time, it’s really time to regroup, find yourself and get back on the saddle and ride off [laughs]. It’s tricky. We fell in love very early on in our lives and when we were completely different people, and so much has happened.

 I think that we were trying to force ourselves back and force the dream that we had then upon who we are now. There really are differences that we neglected before that we can’t overlook now. There are fundamental differences about the lives and goals that we have. I think as of now those are irreconcilable. We’ll see what happens. I hope that a friendship can bloom, versus just the tension that’s there, but yeah, sadly, our days of Greith might have come to an end.”

Can you tease a bit about what happens with Leith and Claude in season three?

“We know so little, as the cast, going into this. We find out only just before everyone else does what’s going on. It’s been great so far. I am her bodyguard, and I think now what’s building and what’s brewing is a completely unlikely friendship and relationship. You have two people who have come from completely different upbringings, with absolutely different moral standings, and goals, and compasses. The way that we’ve had to bridge those gaps because of when our lives have been in danger or in moments of vulnerability that we’ve witnessed each other in. I think there’s definitely a connection there. We’ll have to see what ends up happening with that connection.”

How many episodes from season three have you guys already shot?

“We’re only on episode two right now, so we’re very much at the beginning of it. I’ve only seen the first two scripts, so that’s all I know.”

Do you know how many episodes season three will have?

“We don’t know exactly as of yet. The way the structure of these things go is the network is making the calculation based upon a whole host of things. I think the CW is really in the process of broadening and reimagining all of its formats and everything that they’re able to achieve. I think they’ve grown so much as a network.

Obviously, look at what they’ve got with the DC Comics franchises, with Arrow and Flash, and now Legends of Tomorrow. Then you look at having a period drama like us, which is great, and then with Jane the Virgin and all the great success, the critical success of that. I think they’re trying to figure out how they want to continue their shows and move their brand forward.

There’s talk of us maybe doing something like Beauty and the Beast and doing 13-episode seasons, and maybe making it be more like a cable feel. However, then there’s always talk of just keeping the same format that we’ve had and doing the 22-episode more prime time type structure as well. I think at this point it’s really anybody’s guess, and I think they’ll make the decision based upon how they want to shape the story and move everything forward. As we saw at the end of last season with the introduction of Elizabeth and England, this is going to be a very different show this season. We’re going to be splitting time between two courts, and there’s a lot going on. I think with all of the new dynamics, it’ll be interesting to see how that structures the show moving forward.”

Would you like Leith to go to England?

“That depends under what context. I am very loyal to my king and to my queen, not just the crown but the friendships that are there as well. As long as I’m defending them and protecting them, I wouldn’t mind going to England. I would love to get to work with Rachel Skarsten, who’s a fantastic actress and friend, but only if I’m still a Frenchman and a good guy.”

Is there anybody from the Reign set that you would like to have more scenes with that you haven’t?

At the beginning my character was like this secret, so I was always in the shadows of hallways and kitchens and stuff. Since then I’ve gotten to work with a bunch of different characters. I absolutely loved working with Megan Follows. It was such a great experience and such an educational experience. It keeps you on your toes.

I just would love to continue working with everybody. I’d love to have more scenes with Adelaide, with Mary. I would love to have a couple more scenes with Narcisse, with Craig Parker. He took my land last season, very early on, and I have not yet gotten to see him since. I would love to have a bit of a showdown there. Anna Popplewell, I would love to have a scene with her. She’s so fantastic. It’s great now having some more scenes with Bash, and we’ll see what builds there.

I would love to have us build the male friendships and relationships on the show. It’s hard, because all the politics, and all of the relationships, and all of the intrigue and things that are going on. There is that connection, but I would love to have the scene where it’s Francis, Bash and I just hanging out, whether it’s having a beer or going…or an ale, rather, and then going for a ride or something. Something where lives aren’t on the line and it’s just a couple of bros being bros.”

Besides Reign, what else are you working on or what else have you been working on?

“Obviously with the past couple of seasons being a 22-episode structure and with the show being as big as it is, those are 10-month shoots. It’s been pretty all-encompassing. I’ve got a couple of features that I’m in development on, that I’m going to be producing, that I’m trying to get off the ground. I can’t say too much, but one is a very simple, beautiful and honest sort of Toronto independent movie. It’s about being in your mid-twenties in 2015, and the struggles and obstacles and changes that are happening for our generation. The other’s a much more fun action thriller.

Those are really my only focuses outside of the show, and trying to get some more stuff off the ground, and evolve and grow the industry here in Toronto. Toronto is such a beautiful city with such an unbelievable wealth of talent both acting wise and in the crews, in the production, in everything. There’s so much stuff that goes on here, and I don’t think it’s quite celebrated to the degree that it could be. I don’t think it’s showcased to the degree that it could be. Being here and getting to reconnect with it during the show, I’d really love to do as much as I can to contribute and to help promote it myself.”

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