‘Will': Jamie Campbell Bower on Playing Shakespeare’s Rival, Christopher Marlowe

     July 18, 2017

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Set in Elizabethan England, the TNT drama series Will tells the wild tale of a promising young playwright named William Shakespeare (Laurie Davidson), with a bold, contemporary style that gives it a very punk-rock feel. The theater scene in 16th century London is part of a seductive, violent world surrounded by riotous audiences and religious fanatics, all of which threaten to destroy even the most talented wordsmith, especially when you have enough secrets that could end you before ever achieving your greatest success. From showrunner Craig Pearce (Romeo + Juliet), the series also stars Olivia DeJonge, Colm Meaney, Ewen Bremner, Jamie Campbell Bower, Mattias Inwood, William Houston, Lukas Rolfe, Max Bennett and Jasmin Savoy Brown.

During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Jamie Campbell Bower talked about the appeal of playing poet and chief Shakespeare rival Christopher Marlowe, being attracted to the slightly darker side of life, delving into the dynamic between the two men, why they were the rock stars of their time, how intrigued he is to find out where things could go in possible future seasons, his own past history with performing the work of William Shakespeare, and juggling his acting career with his music and performing live.

Collider:  When the possibility of playing Christopher Marlowe in a show about William Shakespeare, at this point in his life, came your way, did you find the idea exciting and intriguing, or were you hesitant, at all? 

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Image via TNT

JAMIE CAMPBELL BOWER:  I found the idea, on paper, very interesting. I knew of Marlowe, growing up in England, as part of our rich history. I knew a little of Marlowe, but I’ll confess that I didn’t know as much as I do now, that’s for sure. I didn’t know the depths of how far he went, or possibly went, in his life. So, I got sent the script and we got talking about it, and then I went to go meet with Shekhar [Kapur]. The more I found out, the more I thought, “This is perfect!” It was a real opportunity for me to do something really fun, have a great time, and get to do what I love, which is more on the slightly darker side of life.

Did they ever ask you to consider playing William Shakespeare?

BOWER:  No, they didn’t. Shakespeare needed to be Laurie [Davidson]. He is Will, from beginning to end, in terms of who he is and how he plays him. So, Shakespeare was never a role that I was offered. It was always Marlowe, straight up.

Christopher Marlowe is someone that people know the name of, but not the details of his life or who he was. What was it like to get to delve deeper into that, but also to get to know him through his relationship with Will Shakespeare?

BOWER:  At the end of the day, they were contemporaries. The little that we know, you can guess that perhaps they were rivals. And then, with Marlowe’s writing and what he was writing about and the things that he was involved in, one can take from that the sense that perhaps this is a man who’s struggling with his own fate and his idea of mortality. That offered me, as a performer, an opportunity to plunge quite far. And the relationship between the two of them is great. There’s nothing better than a rivalry, particularly in literature. When two brilliant minds meet, sparks will fly.

It’s quite clear that Christopher Marlowe can be a very naughty boy. Was there a point in the process where you really felt that you understood him and got a grasp on who he is and why he does some of the things that he does?

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Image via TNT

BOWER:  Yeah, and he takes his own journey. It was in Episode 2 that I started to come to grips with who this man was. I think the idea of anyone coming to terms with the idea of their own mortality and death, and death in general, sends a man into a bit of a tailspin. I chose to live very separately from everyone else. I actually lived in the words. I isolated myself because I always saw Marlowe as a character who did isolate himself. You can see throughout history that people who are brilliant tend to not really be able to connect with the real world, as it were. So, I wanted to put myself in a scenario whereby I was just totally immersed in the project and there was nothing else to distract me from it. By doing so, I think I was able to try to completely embody the role, both on and off set. That’s not to say that I went method on it, but I definitely made decisions and choices that helped benefit my performance. I think what you’re seeing on screen and what you see Marlowe go through is something that I, not only as a performer but as somebody who does write, as well, have either experienced or was experiencing, at the time.

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Television