Being an ancient Egyptian pharaoh must have been a pretty good gig. You sat around all day drinking beer while half-nude ladies fed you figs and slaves erected monuments in your honor. What they don’t tell you in the job interview is the part about foreign invaders, plagues, famines, civil unrest, and all your aides, generals and priests conspiring against you.
Spike gets back into scripted projects with the ambitious three-night, six-hour event Tut, dramatizing boy king Tutankhamun’s brief but famous reign and struggle to return Egypt to greatness. Avan Jogia (Twisted) plays Tut, with screen legend Sir Ben Kingsley playing Tut’s scheming top adviser.
What’s it like to have a knighted Oscar winner bow to you? “It was kind of a cool experience. Sir Ben is just the most generous actor, thoughtful and helpful, very giving,” Jogia says. “He doesn’t take a role that he doesn’t show passion about.”
Kingsley had high praise for his costar, who took on the biggest role of his young career. “He’s glorious,” Kingsley says of Jogia. “And I think that as time evolves, he could step into my shoes. I played Hamlet for the Royal Shakespeare Company. He’d make a wonderful Hamlet. He plays a wonderful troubled prince who becomes a king in our Tutankhamun.”
With lavish sets, large-scale battles, political backstabbing and steamy romance, Tut succeeds at emulating Egypt’s grandeur without becoming overwhelmed by it. “It’s a civilization that didn’t change much for the better part of 3,000 years, and it didn’t do that by being small about it,” Jogia says. “With respect to your purchases, the tablets in your pocket might be obsolete in three months,” Kingsley says. “The tablets that they created in stone lasted 2,000 years, and nothing changed. Nothing changed. Their quest for immortality also included, ‘Nothing around me must change, because change is mortality.’ It’s an extraordinary mindset.”
At its heart Tut is a relatable human story. “The story we tell is of a boy turning into a man who is trying to take back his kingdom and do right by his people,” Jogia says. “What you’ll find in our series is that it is all about you. All about your life struggle,” Kingsley says of connecting Egypt’s ancient past to our present. “Although you’re watching something so different in time and so seemingly exotic, after a few minutes you realize, ‘My goodness, nothing’s changed. The same driving forces of ambition, of blood ties, of jealousies, of buried revenges and grudges, genuinely altruistic motives, love of one’s country as opposed to love of one’s power — all of these things we wrestle with, with the same pair of hands and brains that they wrestled with them in Egypt thousands of years ago.”
What Tut doesn’t attempt to do is be a history textbook. It won’t, for example, explore the hypothesis that Tut was killed by a hippo. “That’s not how we go out,” Jogia laughs. “Being eaten by a hippopotamus is maybe not as interesting a story.” “[Tutankhamun] had a spectacular reign. And they tried to get rid of him,” Kingsley says. “They tried to bury him in a secondary grave, not a great pyramid monument, but a lesser one which wasn’t vandalized. So ironically, they conspired to preserve his memory forever.”
Photo: © Spike TV