On BBC America’s The Last Kingdom, the allegiances of its main players—and the audience to them—are ever-changing. Motivations, actions, reactions, and history all combine into one well-visualized portrait of a time that feels like it came out of the mind of a fantasy writer rather than our own world history. So we sat down with three of the main actors—David Dawson (King Alfred), Emily Cox (Brida), and Rune Temte (Ubba)—to discuss exactly that. For a different view on things, check out our interview with star Alexander Dreymon and creator Gareth Neame here.
Nerdist: There are so many period dramas out there, and so often they dissect the same tropes over and over—but with this story, it seems there’s a lot more nuance around what’s happening. Did you feel that way?
David Dawson: What really attracted me to this story was that it is incredibly complex. These are real human beings, and it’s not as simple as all that. Everyone is good, and make good decisions, bad decisions. I’m excited to see how the audiences’ loyalties to the characters change throughout the series because I think it will be challenged.
Emily Cox: Just the way we shot it, the whole concept of the thing. This was a dream for an actor because it was … supposed to be incredibly free, and we could actually, in a sense, do what felt was right in that moment. We could really follow our impulses. At one point, for example, the director said to me, “Look, even if we haven’t rehearsed it that way, if you want to bend down and pick something up … If you have the impulse to do that, I’ll just follow you.” The way the lighting was done, and stuff, we could just turn around.
Nerdist: It must have been way more immersive than other projects you work on.
Rune Temte: Yeah. It’s challenging also. In the theater, coming from the theater—all of us—you block it, you do it, you rehearse it, right? One scene, in the monastery, in Episode 2, when Jason Fleming … It was 12 or 13 pages. That takes a lot to shoot that in a standard way. We rehearsed it on a Sunday, spent lots of time. It was in a room like this. Then, the next day we come on set, and as Dave was saying earlier over there, the set was amazing. It was like being there. Mick Murphy goes and says, “Okay. Let’s do it.” Suddenly, there were dead people. There were … I was shouting in the rehearsals, “Give me some ale!”, and, suddenly, there was ale there, you know? It’s also challenging. You put things on top of what you had rehearsed. As you say with the lighting, I remember seeing you in the corner there, watching the scene. Like all the actors here, you chase the light, but in a way, you just have to play the scene.
DD: Natural light. Exactly.
EC: It’s more about the situation.
RT: Exactly. I was like, “Okay. Where’s the camera now because I’m passing behind a …pillar.
DD: It encourages you to be brave.
EC: And to take risks.
DD: It gives the show a real kind of ugly rawness, I think, that’s different from other historical shows, maybe.
Nerdist: The show feels almost like a fantasy because it’s so, so far back—it’s rare see something this old in period dramas, even.
DD: You felt it, that you had another sense, there’s another dimension. As far as Alfred is concerned, what I really respect him for is that he didn’t want destruction and death. He wanted to unite a kingdom, and he was willing to negotiate with his enemy which no kings had done before him. If he could convert the Danes to his way of thinking, he would. ‘By all means, let them stay,’ which is an incredible vision for a kingdom. No more death and destruction, a united nation.
RT: Which, I think, is revolutionary for that time.
Nerdist: It’s revolutionary now. It’s one of those things that we forget until somebody is like, “No. Wait. We all need to look out for this greater thing and united rather than divide,” and be weirdly very divisive because so much bullshit comes out of that. SO in that way, Alfred is so fascinating to me. What was that like for you, getting that bigger picture of him?
DD: Incredible. As soon as I read the first book, I read the first script, I wanted to play him because I’d never come across a character as complex and so torn. I had this image of him being this big stocky warrior on the back field, but he was the opposite. He was this physically frail, quiet man. Ever watchful, but the most clever, intelligent man—and a dangerous man because of that. I found it incredible that he had this vision, and he followed that vision through.
Nerdist: And his relationship with Uhtred is a very complex one.
DD: Yeah. The producer said to me that it’s kind of love story between these two men who hate each other, but need each other so very much, and how that relationship changes over these eight episodes. He could have killed each of them when Uhtred walked in with Brida, but what he did instead was to use this man to understand how the enemy think, how they fight, what they want.
Nerdist: Shifting gears, I love the character of Brida and how she’s very much his equal. And to play this really ferocious, strong woman who’s not just the “Strong Female Character” trope must’ve been thrilling.
EC: That’s what I found so fantastic when read it. I was so happy when I read it, exactly for that reason because she’s not written as like this head, this warrior. She is a warrior, but she also has a sensitive side to her which I found great. She has a incredible sense of humor. She’s just free, and she just lives her heart. She’s really strong. In a sense, maybe, she’s one of the first feminists there were. I’m sure she saved Uhtred on just as many occasions as he saved her. Of course, he’s stronger physically, but I think she’s more the analyst. He’s more the one who would just walk through and take what he wants. She has the capability of, she can go in, but she can also step back and just watch—just see what’s the best thing to do. … And she always tries not to be a Saxon, because with the Saxons she would not be able to live her free life.
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Image Credit: BBC America