The Musketeers, airing on BBC America, is set on the streets of 17th century Paris, before law and order reigned. As a result, King Louis XIII’s personal bodyguards, Athos (Tom Burke), Aramis (Santiago Cabrera) and Porthos (Howard Charles), stand for social justice, honor and valor. Created by Adrian Hodges (Primeval), the show also stars Luke Pasqualino, Peter Capaldi, Maimie McCoy, Tamla Kari and Hugh Speer.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actors Tom Burke, Santiago Cabrera and Howard Charles talked about how they came to this show, how familiar they’d been with the story of The Musketeers, why their characters work so well together, their characters’ weaknesses, how challenging the physical aspect of these roles is, their favorite action sequences, meeting at boot camp, working with Peter Capaldi, and what we’ll lean about these characters’ backstory. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
Collider: How did you guys all come to this show?
TOM BURKE: I had a few auditions, and then my agent told me that the director wanted to talk to me on the phone. He said, “I really think you can do this, but I don’t think we’ve got everything we need. I’m going to get a room and some actors, so we can really do it on its feet.” So, I then went to this rather amazing building at a church and met these two actors, and to my horror, I was shown a piece of bamboo that they wanted me to use in the manner of a sword. That was my last audition.
HOWARD CHARLES: You held that a long time. That’s the first I’ve heard that. You actually used the bamboo?
SANTIAGO CABRERA: I read the script, loved it and thought it was a real page-turner. I also loved the world of The Musketeers. You read something and you hope that it’s done properly. And then, I started to find out all of the people that were getting cast in it and how it was developing, and that it actually was of the quality that you hope for. Then, I did a tape. I was actually in L.A. A lot of people at the BBC knew me because I had done Merlin, but Toby Haynes, the director, didn’t know who I was, as I’d never worked with him. So, I did an audition, but it was a tape. And it all worked out.
CHARLES: One of the biggest attractions for me was that it was Adrian Hodges. He was very excited and hugely committed to paying homage to Dumas Sr., the father of the novelist, and I wanted to do that through Porthos. He was going to be mixed race, and was written as a mixed race character, which was very refreshing. It was a page-turner, and it’s hard to turn down being a hero. That made it a very exciting prospect. It’s nice to play a character who’s written as a mixed race character and is not a drug addict. It was good.
Had you guys all been familiar with the story of The Musketeers?
CABRERA: I hadn’t read the book. I just knew of the general idea of The Musketeers. I knew that D’Artagnan was part of the story, but I didn’t distinctively know who Athos, Porthos and Aramis. That became appealing to me. It just felt that it was in the right hands. There was something about it being the right time and being done by the right people. It was packaged together as a really interesting project, with the added bonus that it was The Musketeers.
BURKE: I was quite familiar with it, and I did want to feel sure that it was the right negotiation between it being reinvented and also being true to the spirit of the original.
CHARLES: I think we have retained a lot of the world, which is cool. I wasn’t really that familiar with it either, but I knew the germ of it. It’s nice to approach it from that angle because you don’t have these preconceived ideas of what it is and you have more ownership of it. I filled things in with a lot of other research, and then you have the script, which is unique unto itself. That becomes the Bible, and then you just have this opportunity to create a world that’s fresh. It can’t really be compared to any of the other movies or anything that’s been made of it. It’s different ‘cause it’s got us in it.
Why do these three guys work so well together?
CABRERA: They’re very close and have a respect for each other. It’s like family, you don’t need to pry into every detail. You just know the person and accept them for who they are. You don’t ask too many questions. You’re just there for each other, as opposed to tugging at each other. They don’t have to prove anything. They just are a unit.
BURKE: They’re called The Inseperables in the source material. I kept thinking about that, and about how they first met.
CHARLES: It’s that notion of like attracts like. I’m sure you’ve had moments where you just get someone and they get you. There’s not a lot that has to be said. It’s just a natural connection. And that’s what they have. They have a darkness in common, too. They’ve all had very different experiences, but they all know the value of life and know that it’s very fragile. They’re able to recognize that in each other.
What are their weaknesses?
BURKE: Athos is incredibly reliant on alcohol and has an almost fear of women. The name Athos actually comes from a mountain in Greece that is a holy mountain where women aren’t allowed. It’s because of his past. That was very interesting to me. He’s like, “I just don’t know how to deal with the whole thing, so I’m just going to push it over there.” He finds solace in the friendships of the others. There’s a sadness there, but I really think he feels levitated by the others. And the drink levitates him, as well, and keeps him functioning.
CHARLES: That’s also the nature of being a soldier. Whether it’s for Queen and country or King and country, when you’re in the trenches, you’re fighting for each other, but there’s the guy who’s watching your back and is going to protect you, and vice versa. You depend and rely on each other. It crosses over and becomes something deeper than just, “I’m a solider, and you’re a soldier.” You have to be brothers in arms, and it’s a more meaningful connection.
CHARLES: I think Porthos is terrified of every being back in the dark spot that he was born into. He knows the true value of life and how bad it can be. This is like being rich. He’s got these guys that he loves and that protect him and that are a true family. The idea of losing that is death. By any means, they’ll protect that.
CABRERA: Aramis hasn’t found the right person. In the past, there is a backstory of a first love that didn’t work out, so he’s trying to find something that he’s not finding. What I find very appealing is the childish aspect to them. There are certain areas where they haven’t grown up completely. For Aramis, that’s certainly a flaw. He’s someone who’s very evolved in many ways, and they’re all men, but there’s a childish nature, as well.
How challenging is the physical side of this?
CABRERA: We embraced it and threw ourselves into it.
CHARLES: That’s all you can do, as an actor. It’s like that old saying, “How do you eat an elephant? Bit by bit.” There’s no way you can pick up a broad sword and go, “All right, let’s have a fight.” First, you must learn the language and the rules of that language. And then, before long, you’re fluent in it.
CABRERA: And it was constant, all the way through. It wasn’t like we learned it for three weeks before we did it, and then we just did it. We were always learning more and getting better at it.
CHARLES: It’s structured and rehearsed, but when we’re doing it, it’s real. If one of us misses a move, you’re gonna get hurt. When Luke [Pasqualino] was doing his stuff, because of the type of sword he had, there were sparks flying off of the sword. Sometimes when guest stars came on, we’d get told by the stunt team, “Just calm down a bit. They’ve only been doing this for two days.”
What’s it like to add this fourth outsider to these three guys?
BURKE: Normally, in the adaptations, they’re very immediately impressed by D’Artagnan. Because this was a 10-episode thing, you had to see the spark of him, but also give that journey. That was nice because it filled us out a bit more. Sometimes it can be very D’Artagnan centric, but this was very much about four people.
CHARLES: All of us recognize ourselves in him. He’s got that raw talent, and he’s got a bit of all of us in him. There’s a slight protective nature there because of that. When he calls Athos out, in Episode 1, we like the fact that he’s turned up, asking for him. We’re like, “Wow, who is this guy?” We’re guys who live on the edge, and he’s walked into The Musketeers garrison and called out one of the greatest swordsmen in France. You can’t help but like that, if you’re who we are. He’s cute, in a very manly way.
Do you have a favorite action sequence that you got to do?
BURKE: There are so many different stages to it. When they first go, “Here’s the next fight,” you get really excited. But then, that can get anti-climactic because it can get cut down a lot. Sometimes you really enjoy doing it. Sometimes you have a horrible day doing it, but when you see it, it looks really good.
CHARLES: The really big sequences, where we were all involved somehow, were the ones I was most excited about. It was like Disneyland on set. It was like, “Over there is the Aramis ride, where he’s fighting those guys. Over there is the D’Artagnan ride. And there are Porthos and Athos.” Because you’re filming it separately, you do your stuff, and then you’re completely in support of egging someone on to kick ass. It’s great. I love those big sequences.
CABRERA: Sometimes there will be a new move that you haven’t seen before. Just the variety of things that you’re doing is exciting. It can just be one move. Suddenly, there are three guys coming at you, and then in the space of eight moves, they’re all on the floor. That kind of stuff is really fun to do.
When you guys have scenes where you’re all together, and you’re in the costumes, on the sets, fighting people with swords, do you have moments where you realize how crazy it is?
Do you ever get over that feeling?
BURKE: No, it’s pretty regular. The thing about filming is that it can be the most banal experience because it’s slow and there’s a lot of waiting around. But I had at least one moment, every day, where I thought that.
CHARLES: You definitely smile to yourself, but it’s hard to see the picture when you’re in the frame. The moment it hit me was when we had a screening on Episode 1, in a cinema in Prague. When you saw the shot of all of us on the big screen, that was a moment where it was like, “Oh, my god, we are The Musketeers!” That was after we had finished filming it all. When you’re in it, you’re in it, but you’re not watching yourself from outside. So, when you do see it, it’s a dream come true. Not to get all wanky, but it’s like that.
When did you guys all meet each other?
CABRERA: We met at boot camp. You come in with a disposition to get along because of the nature of the story and of the relationship, but then to see that that’s genuine and that it just happened naturally is fantastic. It’s a testament to the people that cast us. They had an eye to put very distinct people together, but that you believe have been friends for years. That was there, from the get-go.
BURKE: I think we were very aware that this might go again, so we wanted everybody who was coming in for an episode to have the best possible time and for it to be a nice atmosphere. A lot of people left saying that they had a great time, and I think that helped get other people in.
CHARLES: We were certainly a family. We consciously made an effort to welcome people into it and congratulate them on getting the part. The last thing you want is different sections of ego. It’s good to keep people in check. You can learn things from your peers and your ensemble, so there were loads of times when I would look at Santi and Tom and Luke, and just learn. And all of us would look at Peter [Capaldi]. It’s about supporting each other and learning from each other, so that you can become better, as a whole. It was great. It was a true playground on set.
What was it like to work with Peter Capaldi and have the dynamic that he brought?
BURKE: In all of those court scenes with him and Ryan Gage, particularly, they were ticking a whole other box. They were very different, in nature, to the stuff we were doing, and it just felt like a vital part of the big palette. They were very wordy, they were witty, they were layered. A lot of our stuff was quite on the go, running around. That just seemed like such a particular world, to have somebody like Peter Capaldi.
CHARLES: We’ve all got a different function in the story, and there’s no point in going on set thinking, “I want to do what Aramis does.” You can’t because that’s what Aramis does. You’ve got your function, and that serves the story because the story is greater than any individual or character.
Does this show have one big villain, or are there other smaller threats throughout, as well?
BURKE: There’s often a villain of the week, but there’s also Peter running through the first season. The second season will have another villain running through the season, as well as other ones coming along the way.
CABRERA: It opens up a whole new world, which makes for an exciting ride. We’ll go into different territory, which is good for everybody.
When you do a show like this, does it get easier, the more you do it, or is it always a challenge?
CABRERA: I think it’s exciting. You learn so much that you get comfortable with your character, and everybody learns so much for each other. All of the great shows build and get better, as they go along. Having a great second season and being able to play with new things and bring new colors to the world is great. We all want that to happen.
CHARLES: We don’t want to rest upon our laurels for the second season. We want to go bigger, better, stronger, faster, in every way, and make it as great as it can be. That happens by discussing all of the little points and doing all of the little things. You want to keep challenging yourself and deepening the storytelling. I think that’s important. Otherwise, it fails.
How much will this season get into the backstory of these characters?
BURKE: You definitely learn about them, but there is more. It’s not like Lost, but there are flashbacks. They’re quite quick. They’re supposed to look like dreamland memories. We don’t go back and do a whole episode in the past, but there are lots of bits of the characters.
Do you like to know that backstory, for yourselves?
CHARLES: You want to know as much information as possible because it helps you make more informed decisions, but that’s not always possible. There are a lot of different factors surrounding it.
BURKE: You just need to know whatever is most helpful to you. Sometimes you come up with a really big thing that really helps you, but then it ends up being written in a really different way.
CABRERA: We’re all on the same page, which is good, as well. It feels like a real collaborative process. We’re in touch with Adrian [Hodges], constantly. There are always conversations about what is coming and their ideas. You feel heard, which is so important. That’s what makes a difference. There’s not a separation from the network being the ones in charge, and then us turning up and doing a job. It really is a collaborative things. It feels like a close-knit family, in that sense.
The Musketeers airs on Sunday nights on BBC America.