Perhaps best known for his role in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Craig Parker has now also made a name for himself on The CW show, Reign, as well.
Craig, originally from Fiji and then New Zealand, now lives in Toronto where the show films. He plays Stephane Narcisse, one of the characters that viewers love to hate and whose actions can often be completely unpredictable.
As the third season premiere of this period drama draws near, Craig took time from his busy schedule to answer a few questions for us. Keep reading to find out what he had to say.
You said you film in Toronto. How do you like living in Canada?
“I love it. I’ve spent some time out in Calgary a few times. It was fantastic. I ate so much meat. Buffalo and steak and moose. But I’ve never been to Vancouver, which Torontoans love. There’s that Toronto/Vancouver rivalry going on. Toronto has been home now for almost a year and a half. It feels very familiar and lovely. Being here is so strange because the very first week I was here, I was like, ‘Why is it so familiar?’ and…I think the Canadian people are very similar to the New Zealand people, which makes it very comfortable being here. And the crew are very much like New Zealand crew in that it’s the same level of everyone in it together, working as a family, trying to make the best show possible. It’s always lovely when you have that.”
After a year and a half, what is it that you like most about playing Narcisse?
“He’s the best character in the show, obviously! (chuckles) There is a wonderful freedom that comes with, one – particularly on a CW show where you know it’s going to be on with some kids – there’s the responsibility of integrity and honesty and love and truth and all those things, which the heroes have to play. And then I think mostly Megan Follows and I, we just get to be…despicable. And we can flip and change. We can do terrible things one week and almost be forgiven for them the next. It’s great fun. And we’re – each script comes out only two days before we start shooting, so we have little hints of what’s coming up but it’s always a surprise – and I do love that with every episode we’re always going, ‘What’s happening this week?’ “
To kind of piggyback on that, Narcisse is kind of presented as a “bad guy” but then he has his human moments that shine through which make him so much more grey than black and white. With that in mind, what do you think his motivations are as a character? And what do you do to get into character to play him?
“Grey is so much more interesting, I think. No one is black and white. He comes first, obviously. There is a great self-serving narcissism there – giveaway of the name (chuckle). But he believes that what he does is absolutely right for France, so even when he’s blackmailing the king or doing terrible things, he’s trying to look after France, I suppose. Trying to protect the world which he believes is the right way it should be. So, right at the beginning it’s, ‘Oh, he’s like one of those crazy, extreme right wing Republicans who actually genuinely believe what they’re doing.’ They believe that what they’re doing is right and is right for their country, but where it’s not necessarily right for the great majority of its subjects.”
So would you compare him to Trump?
“No…Narcisse has much better hair and clothes than Trump. (laughs) Which isn’t hard, I’m sure. I think where Trump is – well, Trump is quite crazy – uh…Narcisse comes from, well, he’s nobility. He’s the aristocracy. He’s grown up in a world where this is the way things must be. Otherwise, chaos will reign. So that’s his absolute worldview. He’s never been poor – well, he has been poor but he’s never actually suffered the sufferings of the everyday people. And I don’t think he – you know, baddies in shows, and I don’t think this is a spoiler – they always think they’re the good guy.”
How do you get into character to play Narcisse?
“It helps when you have spectacular wardrobes and such. We really do have the most amazing costuming department. It sounds a bit far-fetched, but you put on these outfits and they really do alter you. They give you a different stance, a different sense of physicality. And I don’t want to say ‘That’s you’ but there’s a joy in playing someone with such absolute confidence and who really does believe in what they think or what they do. It’s a nice holiday from the human doubts that we all have. Just slide into someone who’s just absolutely sure that what he’s doing is correct and everyone else is stupid.”
Are there any aspects of your own personality that you bring to Narcisse?
“Absolutely. There always are. I always think of a character as a graphic equalizer. A whole bunch of switches or sliders where you take aspects of yourself like his vanity, weigh that in comparison to yours, and you slide your own personal vanity up or you slide down your doubts or your self-questioning. So you look at yourself and you tweak yourself. It’s a lot easier playing aspects of yourself because you know yourself. It becomes very comfortable. After a year or so, hopefully even earlier than that, you sort of know who this person is and you just effortlessly slide into them. They become an aspect of yourself, I suppose. But not in a crazy way. I don’t go around kidnapping and murdering and whatnot.”
There is a lot of plotting and strategizing that goes on between so many different characters. How do you keep it all straight? Do you?
“You just trust that the writers have got it all under control and say the words. Usually there are some very convoluted schemes and twists but sometimes I’ll only discover it when we’re three episodes in so you’ll be playing one thing and then you discover it was all a lie and you were actually doing something else. If you’re a heroic character who has integrity and truth it can be difficult but if you’re a Catherine or a Narcisse it’s fantastic because we’re great liars. We’re very good liars, we’re very good schemers, we’re very good plotters so even if we have played something as if it were total truth and then we suddenly discover we were lying the whole time, it’s just…(chuckle)…we’re great liars. It works for us. And it’s quite fun discovering that, like, ‘What? I did what?!’ There were a few things from last season that I had no idea about and then you discover, ‘I was doing that the whole time!’ And we’ve got a few of those that are coming up in third season as well, but I’m not telling you anything about third season [said in dramatic, villainous voice].”
I didn’t think you would…[said on a heavy, mournful sigh]
“The one thing I’ll tell you is this. It really cranks along. It has a slightly different feel to last season. It’s full, action-packed (laughs gleefully). We’re only up to episode six and we’re going, ‘ Oh lord!’ so, um…I’m looking forward to watching it as a viewer.”
I was going to ask if you do watch it as a viewer.
“I have watched last season. I don’t have television, per se. I use iTunes and Netflix and those kind of things so I think I’ve seen most of it from last year, but it’s always fun to watch because you’ve got everyone else doing their stuff and we hear it at read-through but then you don’t see it again, so it’s always fun watching other people work, see how they sort of twist into the story.”
Did Narcisse’s time in the dungeon have any impact on him whatsoever?
“(laughs) So we always have these jokes going about ‘a fate worse than death,’ because, you know, the queen mother always says, ‘You will have a fate worse than death’ [said in a whispered hiss]. I don’t know. I think…probably at the time it did really worry him, but he is, he’s an absolute survivor and his power doesn’t come from wealth. Wealth comes from his power, so even stripped of everything, he’s got a brain that knows how to work it – and he also has a network of people who, you know, I’m sure that if they had Polaroids in those days, he has the Polaroids of a lot of people doing a lot of things – maybe he has watercolors of them instead. But also, I think it did…there was a moment that he did realize after the attack on the castle…I think he did realize that what he’d been doing, that basically part of it was his fault and…I think Lola is an amazing influence. Gorgeous. Just, gives him a softness and teaches him that there’s a humanity that’s starting to pull through.”
And, of course, everyone wants me to ask about Lola and if that’s going to continue, but…
“I cannot comment either way, but I certainly hope so. There’s definitely…where we left them, there is some possibility.”
There definitely seemed to be more story to tell.
“I certainly believe there is and I can’t comment either way but personally, I do hope that there is. And also, there’s a great deal of recompense to be had because Narcisse has betrayed Catherine for Lola and a Medici doesn’t go down easy. (laughs)”
How fun was it to play all of that with Megan [Follows]?
“We laugh a little too much. We’re both exceptionally professional, but we do find ourselves hysterical at times. And, it’s actually just very different because I do most of my work with Anna (Lola) and Megan (Catherine) now and they’re both so very different. Two very different people and also they’re two very different tones when they’re in the scenes. Where there’s gentle humanity with Lola, with Megan there is just an awful, sadistic, masochistic tango that they do together where they’re constantly – and they do fancy each other, there’s definitely a sexual undertone there – but they also hate each other. It’s kind of fun.”
The horse steak. Was it a regular steak or was there something else to it?
“We have the most amazing props department. They took care of that. And they brought in chefs. It was a true Hollywood moment. They brought in this amazing chef from an amazing restaurant who cooked beautiful, organic, hand-reared, lovely steaks for us. It was the most delicious steak I’ve ever eaten. I kept wanting to ask, ‘Can we just eat more of the steak before she tells us about his horse dying for it…?’ I loved it, because it was so mad. Suddenly it’s a crazy dark moment with the Queen Mother (laughs) screaming, ‘I love you!’ and she just rips your face off. When I first saw the scene, I’d thought when they cut it together that maybe they were going for irony, and I said, ‘Oh, can you play it for me’ and they played the whole scene and I just, I was hysterical. It was so funny.”
Has there been any particular scene that has been your favorite to shoot?
“There are a few of them for different reasons. Some that, um, very early on – in ep 2 or 3 – and it was with Adelaide Kane (Mary) and it may have even been one of our first scenes and it was just – when you arrive on a show, you don’t quite know what the tone of it is so I had cram-watched season one but I still didn’t quite know how far you could go with it. It’s a discovery of what the genre is and this other world that you have to make. And we were in this scene and I just suddenly went, ‘Oh, damn! This show you can take it anywhere. You can really go for it.’ So there are scenes like that. I always love working with Toby (Francis). He’s just delicious to play with. We had a lot of stuff between us last season. And some are just ridiculously funny and silly. Some you walk away from going, ‘Oh, that was…’ I’m very critical of my own work, but there are scenes where it’s just like, ‘We did a good thing there. We made something interesting.’ And then one that I love just for its pure stupidity like Megan (Catherine) and the syphillus part. Just the joy of walking onto a set and seeing Megan Follows strapped into a box (laughs) with her arms out of the way so there’s nothing she could do…it was, yup, it was happy times.”
Is there anyone in particular on cast or crew who is a prankster or likes to try to make everyone break character?
“(laughs) I think everyone is equally naughty. We shoot reasonably fast so I think everyone just kind of gets the fact that you have to get in there and do the work first. Generally there is a – unless there’s like five minutes to wrap on a Friday night – very playful air to the show. And the crew work very hard but they also, they’re interesting, fun people. So we’re kind of constantly laughing, and you need to because we all work some incredibly long hours and the crew work harder than the actors ever will. You need that levity just to keep everyone sane. Especially in winter. We shoot a lot of exterior scenes and when you’re out in negative forty, you need all the jokes you can to keep it happening.”
How has it been with Rachel [Skarsten]coming in? How has she fit in with everything? How are things going with her on set?
“It’s strange but the English world is just…we see each other socially and she’s fantastic. And there are a few other English ‘new kids’ but it’s odd because our worlds don’t collide at the moment. So…when they shoot England, we’re not called that day. So we sort of cross each other. There are those sort of strange moments where a group of us will have a day off and we’ll all say, ‘Let’s go out somewhere!’ and we’ll message Rachel and she’ll be like, ‘No, I’m working, because you guys have the day off’ and then we’re like, ‘Oh yeah…’ I’ve seen a few little glimpses of footage from their world and it’s wonderful and it’s very different. It has quite a different feel from France and I know the sets have a very different light to them and color and quality. It’ll be interesting seeing that world.”
One question that a fan had…is Narcisse a better man now than when he first appeared and does he feel any remorse or regret for any of his actions?
“Which actions? What actions? [said with feigned defensiveness] I definitely think he’s more self-aware. He has a little more empathy toward other people. There are certain things that I guess he does feel remorse for, but I don’t think…I sort of have to keep reminding people that Mary did murder his son. That’s kind of a major thing. She seemed to sort of just get away with that. As for the blackmail of Francis…he was trying to educate what he saw as a boy on how to be a king. By the way, Adelaide (Mary) is a terrible, terrible person [said jokingly]. Not really, I just wanted to say that. She’s fantastic, really. Mary just gets away with everything. But yeah, he sees himself as doing the right stuff.”
He stands by his actions.
“Mostly. Yeah. I think he felt bad about stirring up the trouble at the castle, but other than that…you know.”
What are your thoughts about the show moving to Friday nights?
“Um, I have very few thoughts on it. I think this is a show – you know, I’m old so I’m not the demographic, but – so many people I talk to – I know in Canada it plays on a proper channel, not a proper channel, a TV channel, not cable channel – but I think a lot of our audience don’t do appointment television. They watch online. They watch…however young people watch television now. So the, be it Thursday night or Friday night, doesn’t…I don’t think it really matters that much. I don’t know. I don’t understand the whole world of ratings and I know we didn’t rate particularly well on Thursday nights with live viewing but I really think that those ways of rating have become obsolete. And considering the fact that we got season three…if no one was watching it…I mean, they spend a lot of money to make a TV show. We’re obviously thrilled, but, um they obviously have different ways of measuring their shows which I think takes into account the internet and streaming and all those other ways of watching. I know, for me, I don’t have a cable coming into my house. I hate watching ads and I hate random reality shows so I get to choose exactly what I watch through iTunes and Netflix and Hulu and those things. I think that’s how people more and more will watch television, especially the younger audience, which our show is particularly suited toward. That’s not saying that older people don’t watch our show, because I meet very random people and they think it’s great, so…”
Do you often get recognized on the street?
“Um, yes, in sort of random moments. I think a lot of people watch it in Toronto on…I should know the network’s name, but I don’t…Quite often when I’m out and about here, people go, “Oh, I watch that show. I love it!” And generally these are people who are fully grown ups. So I think we’re kind of watched in a sort of broad demographic. That’s a terrible word, but…”
It’s about the only one that fits.
Well, I think that’s all the questions I have since I know you’re not going to tell me anything about season three. (laughs)
“Um, well, what can I tell you? Other than that it does have quite a different feel, I think as a part of season two we got a little weighed down with politics outside of the characters, where this season it’s definitely…it’s the politics of the people we know and love and hate. And it’s a lot more…well, when I binge-watched season one, there were great episodes like the one where Henry throws the girl out the window and he and Megan (Catherine) are running around the castle trying to hide the body. Just good, sort of, adventure television. And I feel this season is, not a return to that, but there’s that kind of quality running through it. There’s a rich sort of…well, you get your money’s worth. Like I said, we’re about to read for episode seven and it just…cracks along. It’s fantastic. It’s gonna be good watchable television.”
And it premieres…three weeks from Friday? Two? On October 9th?
“Oh really? Is it that soon? I guess we’d better shoot faster! I didn’t realize we were on air so soon. I’ll have to set the TV recorder.”