Versailles’ gay, cross dressing prince reveals the truth about life in France’s most scandalous court
The star of upcoming historical drama, Alexander Vlahos, talks to PinkNews about playing the colourful, gay character of one of France’s most famous kings.
Let’s talk about Versailles and your role in it.
Versailles is about the start of Louis XIV’s reign in France as a king. His mum’s just passed away and he now has full control of the French nobility and the French court and he decides at the start of episode one to move the centre of France, which is Paris and build Versailles, the palace that we now know.
I play Phillipe, Duke D’Orleans, his brother, his younger brother who is, a kind of… complicated character. He is a dandy, he wears women’s clothes, he’s also a fearsome warrior, he is gay, but also he has a wife.
His wife is his brother’s mistress, so it’s sort of the first ever dysfunctional family in Europe I think. It’s a joy of a part to play and also it’s an amazing series.
It has been commissioned for second season – depending on which country you’re in – and it’s done quite well in the countries it’s already been shown in, such as France and Canada.
It just seems bizarre that I’m talking to you about it now, season one, because I’m half way through filming season two and I finished filming season one last February, so it’s been a year and five months and I’m still waiting for it come out.
It seems to already have created a bit of a a buzz here in the UK and looks set to grab headlines when it airs – are you looking forward to getting spotted more here at home?
This show is the proudest thing I’ve ever done so I’m definitely waiting for people to see it, you know, it’s, especially for people to see the character and just to see the show, the magnificent work that we’ve all put in.
It’s weird because we don’t really have an association with that period of time in France. We don’t have a really strong connection in the UK with Louis, with Louis XIV, with Versailles with that sort of era.
We’re taught through the British educational system, what kind of happened in the UK at that time. We kind of knew that there was this guy called the Sun King who had lots of women, basically, that’s what our basis of history is.
So I’m eagerly awaiting for what people’s reaction to be. I’m looking forward to seeing how much the audience are going to buy into it.
Shows like this often have an impact on, if it proves really popular, which I’m sure it will, it does have an impact then sometimes on what is, you know people gauge interest and if BBC2 show some other shows that are surrounding the era then it does have
If I get spotted that means the show’s a success first and foremost that’s the thing that’s most important, although I’d rather not be spotted and the show be a success than be spotted for the wrong reasons.
I’d rather not be on the tube with someone shouting at me because I’m in a terrible show!
What’s the fan reaction been to your character in particular?
Very positive, I mean, there’s not a lot written about Phillipe in history and if there is stuff that is written about him, it’s probably through the tainted eyes of Louis.
Because at that time Louis hired a historian and when your king hires a historian means that everything that comes out in history books, means that it’s all been tainted through the king’s eyes.
So everything that you read, that comes out, all these books that have been written about him, he probably had a say in most of them. So whatever’s come out about his brother, he’s probably put in there. Phillipe is kind of like an open book, in some respects. Not a lot of people have done a version of him.
There’s never been a TV series about Versailles, or there’s never been a TV series about Louis. So at the time I had a lot of creative licence to do what I could with the part.
I used the script as a launch pad, really, and just went from there and gave it my all. Hopefully.
Have you seen an increased amount of LGBT fans?
The countries that have seen it there has been a lot of positive reactions from LGBT fans which is great. I mean, the show is not a gay movement.
Because these characters were who they were, we’re not trying to make a point, this character is not trying to make a point, he just happens to be gay. And at that time in Court, you have to remember that we have a very different view point towards homosexuality to the French.
The French are very ‘Liberty’, very open and they always have been and I think it started with Louis and Phillipe. I think my character maybe gets away with a lot more because he is the younger brother of the king.
But we never mention in the show, we never use the word gay. No other characters actually say that they’re homosexuals.
We treat it as a normal, beautiful, given relationship. I think it’s important to clarify is that.
Louis has sex with seven beautiful women through out the show; he has seven beautiful mistresses. Not one of their relationships is a true relationship. It’s either through lust, passion, duty, religion. He has to sleep with these women for a cause.
The truest, most romantic, beautiful relationship, the one that has arch an of heart break and you know, like a proper 3D view point is these two gay guys.
And that’s a testament to the show I think.
So you think it is about time more television shows featured more realistic portrayals of LGBT characters?
We’re too bloody late, to be honest with you, with coming to that resolution – with coming to that idea that we shouldn’t have to label people.
It’s kind of the thing I’ve been most proud of really. My show runners Simon Mirren and David Wolstencroft when I first met them, they described my character as a 17th century David Bowie. That it is was like a gift on a page.
They kept saying to me “if we do this right, if we do how I think we’re gonna portray Phillipe and Chevalier, his boyfriend, in the show, then you’re going to be headlining gay pride festivals for years to come.”
Because we’re not making a point of it. They just exist at a time, like everyone else exists. It’s just another character and it’s just a feather in a bow, you know. It’s just something else, it’s just another flavour that they add.
The show has already received colourful previews here in the UK – some people have been a little unkind…
Please reiterate, I would love to hear it again.
“Sex fuelled”, “The BBC are at an arms race to scrape the bottom of the barrel.”
The fact he [Conservative MP Andrew Brigden] used those words completely seriously is very funny.
Do you think it’s possibly a positive thing to have people such as these criticising the show?
It’s that whole stigma of bad press is good press in some respects. But also, in this given age with what the way the Tory government is right now, if a Tory person comes out and says “don’t watch the show”, it’s like a free “go watch the show” ad.
And if the Daily Mail agrees with them, then it’s like you’re stacking reasons for people to think “hold on, the Daily Mail don’t want you to watch it, and a Tory MP doesn’t want you to watch it and someone from a ‘family’ group says there’s a queen who has a thing for black dwarves,” you’re like, yeah – AND?
It’s almost like someone giving you a ticket and saying, please go and watch it, you’re probably going to enjoy this.
And also there’s that comparison with people saying it’s the new Game of Thrones. It’s like well hang on, Game of Thrones did break boundaries with how much sex they could show.
I think the reason why we’re causing so much press is because it’s on the BBC.
If this show had gone out on ITV2 or any Sky channel; Living, Sky Atlantic, Sky one or any of that sort of stuff, we would have got nothing. It’s just because the BBC took a punt on something thats a little bit risqué and we happen to be benefitting from that.
And what I have to reiterate as well is that it’s actually very tame. The sex and the raunchiness is a flavour, of a hundred flavours that our show offers.
I think it’s disrespectful that a newspaper or something would blast that as the main thing in the show and then show pictures with black bars over boobs and stuff. You’ve kind of missed the point of the show.
The show has got very good writing, amazing, modern directing, fantastic music, brilliant costumes and above all, brilliant acting.
So I think if you start highlighting something like the sex, then it means that people tune into the show for all the wrong reasons. Rather than just highlighting the fact that it’s a brand new show that possibly is one of the best shows that has come out in 2016.
Rather doing that version of advertising you go and criticise the sex in it.
But like I said, bad press is good press.
I’m sure once the show comes out it will speak for itself.
I think so, and I hope it will, I’m not saying I hope, I’m pretty sure it will. When the first episode goes out people will be tuning in saying that “I can’t wait to see the most raunchiest sex scenes”, will realise that they’re actually quite tame, they’ve probably seen a lot worse and then they learn to appreciate the show for what it is and then watch the show for that.
You seem to be carving out a career in fantasy and historically based shows – you’ve starred in Merlin, Doctor Who.
Yeah I did the River Song radio play for Doctor Who and I did the Dorian Gray. This is a fact for you; I have never, ever worked on a modern day drama, ever. Theatre or TV.
Is that your preference?
You know what, when I first left drama school I was going for a lot of stuff for the RAC, you know classic Shakespeare stuff, a lot of theatre.
I was doing Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet and then on TV I was doing this thing called The Indian Doctor on BBC which was set in 1962 and I thought okay.
And being a young actor just out of drama school, I’d complain: ‘Why am I not getting put up for that Hackney tower slasher film’ or’“I wanna be with Noel Clarke in Kidulthood’.
But I realised that you don’t bite the hand that feeds you. My agent calls it a ‘period face’ – the idea that I fit a classical look and I’m not gonna complain about it because it’s given me so much work.
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Hopefully when my exposure gets bigger, I could be in the next Hackney tower slasher film – but at the moment playing dress up and going back in time, going to Camelot, Arthurian legends or 17th Century France, or Indian Doctor.
It is so much fun because you get to transform as an actor and become someone very different, rather than turning up to work, getting out of a jeans and t-shirt and putting another pair of jeans and t-shirt on.
The outfits are pretty amazing.
Yeah they’re amazing! I’m in a wig that costs 5000 euros. Every costume is handmade for me, it’s a bigger departure for me. Maybe I find that easier as an actor, maybe I think that departure from being in modern day clothes means you get a little help to create a character.
But for now I’m not complaining at all. I’m enjoying the niche that I’ve found myself in and I welcome more period clothes and period dramas because it’s fun – it’s really fun.
Versailles begins June 1 on BBC2.
Watch a trailer for the show below: