“I finished filming Season 3 of Vikings on [a Friday],” Versailles star George Blagden tells us. “On the Saturday and Sunday I flew out to do costume tests and hair tests, and I turned over on Versailles on the Monday. I had a weekend [going] between 800 A.D. and [the 1600s]. … That was amazing for me, an amazing challenge as an actor.”
Blagden (right in the photo above, with Alexander Vlahos as Philippe I) plays France’s King Louis XIV in the gorgeous, lushly produced series, which is already a hit overseas and now makes its U.S. debut on Ovation starting Saturday.
As Blagden alludes to above, this is his second straight historical drama, after Vikings. But, aside from being set in the past, Blagden says the two shows have few similarities.
“Vikings takes place over 1,200 years ago,” he says, “and Versailles, weirdly, [is] a much more modern world, really, and very much ahead of its time.”
That modernity is due to Louis himself being ahead of his time. The series kicks off in 1667, when the 28-year-old visionary monarch seeks to put his stamp of authority on the court and country, as he faces resistance and betrayal, even from those closest to him. He begins his plan by shifting the seat of power to a luxurious, rural hunting lodge that he plans to enlarge. And enlarge it he does; that lodge at Versailles eventually becomes, and has remained, one of the most extraordinary palaces in Europe.
“It takes you three or four minutes to walk the length of [the Hall of Mirrors],” Blagden says, referring to one of Versailles’ most famous areas. “It’s totally lined with Venetian glass. To give you an idea, at the time when it was created foot-by-foot with square pieces of Venetian glass, that cost the same as a battleship [today].”
As fate would have it, Blagden himself happened to visit Versailles for the first time just ahead of getting this role.
“Three months before we started filming Season 1, I just went on holiday with my girlfriend to Paris. I’ve got photos of us standing in the Hall of Mirrors as tourists looking over the grounds and being like, ‘My God, what an amazing place this is.’ That was three months before I was back in that same room as Louis XIV. I had no clue. I hadn’t auditioned. I didn’t even know the show existed. It was kind of a nice time hop.”
Filming at Versailles may be part of what has led this show to become the most expensive series ever produced in France. But that investment has paid off; the Anglo-French production is already an obsession among many viewers in those two countries even as it makes its U.S. debut this month.
“When we started the show,” Blagden says, “you didn’t know if anyone outside of France was going to see this. The fact that now its been sold [to over 100 countries] and it’s now come to the U.S. with incredible Ovation — to have that kind of classy channel decide to show it — it’s great. It’s affirmation that you’re doing something that is respected and people want to watch.”
Part of why people are watching is Blagden’s riveting performance as Louis. Given the filming in France, Blagden found that being fluent in the local language himself was a huge asset during the production and helped him in his starring role.
“I took for granted, actually, how much of a help that was, being on a foreign set where the crew were speaking an entirely different language,” he says. “I’d not experienced that yet in my work. I think for the rest of the cast, that was probably quite alienating for them in that they’re on set but they can’t really tell what any of the technicians were doing, and having that ability to know what was happening on set at every moment and talking to them and being able to work with them to create a shot was really valuable for me.”
Versailles has already wrapped Season 2, so American fans can likely look forward to seeing that after this initial run. Regarding a third season, Blagden is hopeful.
“There is talk of [Season 3],” he says. “It’s not been confirmed yet, but I’m very much looking forward to going back and doing the role if they want to. I’m sure that they will, but its not been confirmed yet.”
Versailles airs Saturdays at 10pm ET on Ovation beginning Oct. 1. The series premiere will feature two back-to-back episodes.