Since airing for the first time back in 2015, The Last Kingdom picked up a wealth of critical acclaim, with the series quickly becoming mainstream thanks to BBC and most recently to Netflix.
The Last Kingdom is based on the Bernard Cornwell novel series The Saxon Stories, and its second season is released on Blu-ray and DVD in Australia this week.
In order to find out more about the new season and the series in general, we had the chance to chat to leading actor Alexander Dreymon who plays the role of Uhtred in the series while he was in Sydney promoting the show.
SR. First of all, thanks for you time! Really appreciate it. Uhtred had a very difficult journey so far, what kind of preparation did you undergo before getting to the character in the first season?
AD. Well, I had quite a bit of sword-fighting lessons and – about a week before fighting – riding lessons. In terms of character-building, I took most of my building blocks out of the books and then I always like to try my characters out on people so I usually go out on the streets in character and mess with people. In the case of Uhtred, he’s a prankster so I made the most out of that.
SR. Did you know much about this period before the role?
AD.Not beforehand. The truth is nobody really knows that much about that time in history because people didn’t write down a whole lot. So, as soon as I started auditioning for the part I read all the books obviously and they give you so much info already and then I did my own research on the side as well just because I feel like you can get so much out of that as an actor, you know?
SR. What do you enjoy the most? Fights? Drama? Romance?
AD. I don’t really have a favourite part. We have a really cool cast and I think that the dramatic scenes, especially with David Dawson and Ian Hart, they’re a lot of fun to play because those guys are such solid actors, and they always have your back when you want to try things out. You never know how a scene is going to go just because you can play around with it with them. And then the fight scenes are great. We have a really good stunt team. We shoot all our episodes in Hungary, and we have very good stunt guys down there, so you always learn something new in every fight scene from those guys.
SR. And speaking again of the fights, the sets, they’re amazing locations that you shoot. Do you use real swords for the weight or are they just props? Because some actors like to play with the real thing.
AD. Well, we use metal swords – real swords – most of the time, but fight scenes, especially when it’s with other actors, we use plastic swords just because of insurance reasons and you don’t want to injure people, you know? It’s plastic, but it’s quite heavy and hard plastic so you still get a lot of the weight of the real thing.
“…the dramatic scenes, especially with David Dawson and Ian Hart, they’re a lot of fun to play because those guys are such solid actors, and they always have your back when you want to try things out…”
SR. You’re here promoting the release of season two on Blu-ray. How many seasons have you signed up for so far?
AD. We never know if we’re going to go again. That always depends on ratings. There are ten books written and we do about two books per season, so at the moment we have anough material for five seasons total but Bernard Cornwell – who’s the writer of the books – is still writing so you might get more.
SR. Were you a fan of the books before getting into character? Or did you start getting into the books when you got cast in the role?
AD. I studied the books when I was prepping for the part and I got so much out of them and I’m a big fan of the books.
SR. I read somewhere that your grandmother was reading the books too. Did she say something to you about the bloody scenes?
AD. I wonder where you read that! Yes, she did read the books. (laughs) But not by all the gore, she said “well, people just keep hacking each other’s heads off” but she keeps on and she reads them. (laughs)
SR. Now that you’re in this medieval kind of epic universe what’s your take on similar series like Vikings and Game of Thrones? Do you watch them?
AD. I think they’re both excellent series. I have a couple of buddies who are on Game of Thrones. I’m a big fan of Game of Thrones and I think it’s a big compliment to be compared to a show like that which is so successful worldwide. And Vikings as well. I didn’t watch all of it, but I watched I think about the first season and I think Travis FImmel did a fabulous job with that show as well.
SR. Looking a bit back, how did you get involved in the American Horror Story series?
AD. Through auditioning. They were looking for someone in LA and I got it.
SR. You just finished a film called Heartlock. Can you tell us something about it?
AD. It’s a movie that’s set in a prison. Basically a love story that’s set in prison between a prisoner and a guard.
SR. As a well know actor now within the Last Kingdom saga, do you have any funny stories you can share with us while on set?
AD. Well, during the first season there was the part where at the end of the first episode I ride up to my uncle’s fortress and I pull out the head of one of his spies and scream “I’m Uhtred of Bebbanburg, Bebbanburg’s mine” you know that part. We had just started shooting the series and I wasn’t that familiar with the horse yet and I had to ride up with that bridge and the bridge is wet and it’s quite narrow and there’s a real moat that goes down. And just before we start shooting Levente, our stunt coordinator, comes up to me and says “the horse can’t see down, so you have to make sure it doesn’t trip off the bridge because if it goes too far left or too far right you’re both going to topple down into the moat.”
And the thing about horses is they feel what mood you’re in, what condition you’re in, so they’re very connected to you and for that scene I have to be really worked up and angry so the horse feels that nervous energy, and so I was not supposed to throw that head because the head is worth thousands of dollars because it’s lots of work involved because every hair and beard hair is stuck in manually so it’s worth a lot.
The plan was for somebody to come up and take the head off my hands for the scene and do the throw in a separate shot. And they’re supposed to take me right up on the bridge and the horse is nervous and he’s going from side to side and then I’d pull out the head, and the horse sees the head and it’s scared of the head so it starts turning in a circle toward the moat. I had to do the scene and I’m screaming up there and in the heat of the action I scream “I’m Uhtred of Bebbanburg, Bebbanburg’s mine!” and I throw the head and I just let go of it and it travels through the air and I’m thinking “holy shit I’m going to be in so much trouble!” And I turn back and gallop off, and in the end that’s the shot we end up using.
SR. What’s the most common question fans ask you?
AD. The most common question? Oh my god, that’s a hard one. I don’t know, I guess I get a lot of Game of Thrones stuff but that’s more from reporters, that’s not from fans.
SR. What’s your favourite part from season two?
AD. I haven’t got a favourite moment. It’s so much fun shooting that series, you know, we have such a good group of people down there. Let me tell you a favourite moment… I guess all the horse stuff is up there, because that’s always a good time.
SR. Do you get attached to many actors who are killed in the series and then you won’t work with them again? How hard is to let them go?
AD. Oh yeah, for sure. I miss Gerard Kearns and Ady who played Leofric and Magnus Samuelsson who played Clapa in this season. All those guys, I had such a good time with them it’s sad to see them go.
The Last Kingdom – On Blu-Ray and DVD 10 May 2017