Hillary Atkin

Stephen Moyer on Playing ‘The Bastard Executioner’s’ Chamberlain

Sep 29, 2015

Stephen Moyer is practically unrecognizable in his new role on FX’s “The Bastard Executioner” from his previous turn as vampire Bill Compton on “True Blood.” Except for the bad teeth.

Moyer, a classically trained English actor, plays Milus Corbett, a devious Chamberlain with grand political ambitions in the medieval epic set in northern Wales in the 14th century, a time rife with rebellion and political upheaval.

Premiering on September 15, “The Bastard Executioner” was created by Kurt Sutter and takes the time slot on FX previously occupied by his immensely popular “Sons of Anarchy.” Like that show did with “SOA,” it has also spawned a catchy acronym, “TBX.”

The story begins with the turning point for former warrior knight Wilkin Brattle, played by Lee Jones, who vows to lay down his sword for a simple agrarian life at the urging of a divine messenger. But his idyllic new life with his pregnant wife is shattered by a cruel English Lord, Erik Ventris, whom Moyer’s character serves.

As the sly and ambitious trusted strategist and right-hand man, Milus shrewdly steers the law of the land, where cutting off someone’s head or another body part is the de facto punishment for a myriad of crimes—and serves as entertainment for the public.

Currently shooting Episode 8, Moyer got on the phone from Wales to speak with television reporters about his role on the new series. Here is an edited version of the conversation:

Both Compton and Corbett could be considered Machiavellian, along with other genre elements. Was that one of the things that attracted you to take this new role?

Moyer: When I met Kurt Sutter, he hooked me in with the story, the mythology of the character and he let me in to bigger story arcs. Then he said to go read the script, but he didn’t say a particular part. I’m too old and gray to play the executioner. I went back and said it was amazing, and that I’ve loved medieval history since high school, which was another hook because I knew something about it. I love the idea of the Chamberlain hanging on to his best friend’s bootstraps–and the world and the darkness.

I don’t see him as a villain but as someone trying to push forward and take opportunities when he sees him. I wrote a backstory for myself, in order to have a rich past to draw upon.

Suffice it to say he is from a poor upbringing. He’s the Chamberlain because his best friend becomes lord of the shire. Now that the baron is gone, it’s up to Milus to work out where it goes.

What is the working environment like for you on location in Wales and shooting in medieval castles?

Moyer: My mom was always blown away by the “True Blood” lot. It was her favorite set, with a real working bar with a kitchen. But you can’t believe the detail here. We have four studio spaces and an entire village and castle built for us and we do stuff on the road. We’ve set up a complete world. We’re living our life in Wales. It’s kind of beautiful. I worked here 20 years ago and loved it.

What’s kind of incredible is we shoot in two castles from 1256 and 1156, palaces in which our characters would have been walking the same stone floors 800 years ago. We’re going be crossing over with real things that happened in history. We’re loosely based in 1312, and you’ll see politics that start creeping in to story. There’s a lot of history to latch on to, story-wise, we’re not lacking. As you start to understand the intrigue, it takes on a different life.

What is your character’s relationship with Baroness Lady Love Ventris?

Moyer: She knows that ultimately he has the shire in his best interests, but she’s wary of him and what he can do. He’s not like a graceful swan. The legs kicking under the surface are ugly. On another level he’s impressed by her and has seen her grow and start taking on the power of being a woman and exploring the idea of what female power means in this world. That leaves Milus even more impressed by her brilliance. He also sees the connection between Lady Love and Wilkin as something he can use. Anything he can use or store for later he will, and we’ll see that develop.

What about Corbett’s own sexuality and how that plays out? We’ve already seen him having sex with a man in one of the castle’s corridors.

Moyer: His path will become clear and explain some of his desires. He gets his kicks where he sees them. He is intrigued by people of power. It intrigues him as much as sheer brutality. It’s classic alpha stuff.

The goriness and brutality of TBX—part of Sutter’s stock in trade– has already been much remarked upon. What is your take on it?

Moyer: With the recent incident known as “the nosing,” my character’s take is that it’s not enough. He sees the crowd being slightly upset. That was their theater. They went to see something like people’s arms cut off, literal capital punishment. It was expected. You start realizing that’s what we’re going to be watching, something so bloodthirsty and visceral as that. I’m interested to see how rest plays out.

Final thoughts, especially since you don’t have to use an American accent in this one?

Moyer: It’s nice to go back to playing someone from the street, but he adapts to the situation, in higher echelons of life. He is the street brawler and that’s how he prefers it. That’s the way he speaks.

The episodes from 3 onward are extraordinary and I’m really excited. It just keeps getting richer.

(“The Bastard Executioner” airs on FX Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. ET/PT.)

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