David Alpay of the Tudors, on vacation somewhere
The Toronto-born actor who made his acting debut in Atom Egoyan's Ararat stars alongside Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Peter O'Toole, Natalie Dormer and Sam Neill in the second season of the historical epic The Tudors (airing Tuesdays at 8 pm on CBC).
Alpay plays Mark Smeaton, a friend and confidante to Dormer's Anne Boleyn. NOW spoke with Alpay from his home in Los Angeles while he was in the middle of making sourdough bread (rather unsuccessfully, if the sound of the bread knocking against the cupboard is any indication).
What have you been up to?
I just got back from a trip to Europe. I'm trying to take it easy, decompress. The more I do this the mored my self-imposed sabbaticals get longer. I think I need that. I'm not in a rush to do anything right now. I remember coming back from Dublin (after filming The Tudors) and having this deep need to shut down, to power off. I was playing music again, violin and trumpet. A script is so word heavy, after trying to communicate so much verbally I think you need a different outlet to give the verbal centre of your brain a chance to cool off. I've always found cooking to be like that, you can convey so much through flavour and taste. It's not rational or thought out. You either like something or you don't, you won't change your opinion because somebody explains why you should like it.
I understand you've been doing some writing?
I just wrote a screenplay. My manager has it and they're going to blow it to bits. I've just written this six-part sketch comedy series, which I've never done before. And I don't know how to pitch it. Am I supposed to just pick up a camera and put stuff on youtube? Is that how it works?
The Tudors is pretty emotional heady material. How do you maintain the emotionality of a script through multiple takes?
It's happed a couple times in the last couple of years where I've read a script and been crying and then I go to act it and the emotion of it is washed away because you've worked on it for weeks and it's like performing a mechanical verision of it. That's my fear - how do you keep it real and emeotionally poignant and resonant? You don't want to just feel it yourself, you want the audience to feel it as well. On The Tudors, for instance, Natalie Dormer was amazing because you can do the scene any number of times with her and it never feels corny; you're doing these painful emotions and it feels real.
What trepidations did you have playing a real historical figure?
Without giving too much away, he was partly responsible for what happene to Anne Boleyn. He was used as a scapegoat, at least. So when I first got to Dublin I sat down with the script for the first four or five episodes and none of my questions were answered. So I sat down with Michael Hirst, who single-handedly writes the show, and I kept asking questons about Mark Smeaton, because I'd read everything I could already and still didn‘t have a clear idea and Michael just put me at ease. I knew where he was going to end up and I knew that I needed the audience to sympathize with him, to love him and care for him.
But Smeaton is not treated exactly as we may have read about in history class. (SPOILER ALERT: if you haven't seen season two - or boned up on your English history - you might want to skip this question)
Michael has taken the history lessons and emphasized the little overlooked aspects, and articuluated them. There's this version of history that has been repeated for 300, 400, 500 years and that's what's become accepted. But if you really study it and balance all the characters and their motivations, there's so much more to it than just names and dates. (LAST CHANCE TO AVOID SPOIILERS - YOU'VE BEEN WARNED!) When Smeaton was dragged up to be executed he's got this bravado about him, he's like, "of all the people about to have their heads chopped off I'm the only one who deserves it," and I thought wow, his bravado and cheekiness, he's celebrating the fact he slept with Anne Boleyn. And what does Michael do? He creates a guy who is possibly Anne Boleyn's only real friend, who was emotionally available to her when even her husband wasn't. And in the end when they torture this false confession out of him, when he turns around and says he's the only one who deserves this death he's not saying I'm the only one here who slept with her, he's saying I betrayed my best friend and I deserve this death. It completely changes things. It's stunning.
The Tudors has a cinematic quality to it.
It feels like every epiosode is a movie. All the elements are in place, from the directing to the sets and costumes and of course the acting. Up until now my favourite TV show has been Deadwood. I just wish there was more TV like this. If there was I might actually buy a TV.