The Tudors: Playing Dirty, Renaissance Style
The Tudors has returned to Showtime (Sundays, 9 pm/ET) for a third season of lust, intrigue, murder and more. As the royals arrive, Henry VIII (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) makes Jane Seymour (Annabelle Wallis) his new queen, and a surprise rebellion undermines the King's efforts to sever ties to Catholicism. Thomas Cromwell (played by U.K. native James Frain), meanwhile — Henry's closest adviser and the architect of the Reformation — is on the hot seat, and things only get worse when he brokers a new marriage for the King that goes terribly wrong. In a chat that was part history lesson and part Season 3 preview, TVGuide.com got the scoop from Frain on what it was like playing a man who incurs Henry's wrath, working with Tudors newbie Joss Stone and how it feels to wear all that heavy royal garb... in the middle of summer.
TVGuide.com: Cromwell has a lot on his shoulders in Season 3. Where are we picking up?
James Frain: From Cromwell's point of view, the season begins with him at the height of his power. And it ends with him right at the bottom. It's kind of similar to the trajectory of Anne Boleyn's story in the last season, where she starts out as queen, and then ends up being beheaded. It's about as dramatic a fall from grace as you can imagine, to be at the apex of power, and then to be totally excluded. It all revolves around the events to do with this burning rebellion, and then the unfortunate death of Jane Seymour.
TVGuide.com: As the season unfolds, how will Cromwell's dynamic change with Henry and the others in the royal court?
Frain: Well, Henry is really mad at him, that this rebellion had happened. And when they started seizing the wealth of the monasteries — which, to Cromwell, was taking back land that he believed was owned by a colonial power ... it was devastating. I don't think even Cromwell knew how unpopular these reforms were, and how dangerous the situation was going to become.
TVGuide.com: Cromwell was the architect of the Reformation, but what's your view of him as a man? Do you have empathy for him?
Frain: Well, after three years, you start to become really attached to someone. [W]hat I can see in Cromwell is someone who deeply believed in what he was doing. So I became sympathetic to his story, and I didn't really want him to be just the bad guy. And whether that's been successful or not, I don't think we're really going to know until the end of Season 3, because [creator] Michael [Hirst] brings in other elements of the character quite late in the story.
TVGuide.com: So we'll see another side to him?
Frain: We see his son; we see more of his human side. We discover more about what motivated him. And then we watch him fall from power. So it'll be interesting to see if the audience's perspective on that character changes.
TVGuide.com: The tautness of your scenes with Henry in his inner sanctum is striking. Will we get beneath the surface of Cromwell's stoic exterior? Is he going to unravel, just a little bit?
Frain: Absolutely. It really impacted me when we were shooting the earlier seasons, just how dangerous Cromwell's position was. And how much of the time he was effectively an enemy of the state, yet working within the state, and how carefully he had to play his hand. But basically, does he lose his grip? Yeah, he does. He'll lose his s--t.
TVGuide.com: But in the meantime, he brings in Anne of Cleves, a new wife for Henry.
Frain: Yeah, [played by] Joss Stone. You might not like her, but her music's great! [Laughs] She's fantastic in this actually. She surprised everyone.
TVGuide.com: What was it like working with her?
Frain: She was a real joy. She's a very, very sweet, decent person. And she came in with enthusiasm. And excitement. And she was nervous, obviously, because it was a new challenge. But she's a very good soul. I didn't have that much to do with her, but our stories kind of intertwine, because I'm trying to hook up this marriage.
TVGuide.com: Along with The Tudors, you have a movie coming out...
Frain: Everybody's Fine, with Robert De Niro, Kate Beckinsale and Drew Barrymore. [Mine] is a small role, Kate Beckinsale's boyfriend. It's a story with a lot of characters, because it follows De Niro's trip across America as he tries to reconcile with his family.
TVGuide.com: And you also have a guest role coming up on In Plain Sight. What will that entail?
Frain: It's one of these stories where you think the character's one guy, and then you realize he pretends to be someone else. There's lots of deception and lies. You don't know if he's a good guy, or a bad guy. You have to watch the show to find out. I don't want to ruin the story. I've already ruined The Tudors. I've got to keep one in the bag!