Knightfall season 2: Tom Cullen interview
We met Tom Cullen at a central London hotel at a press event for the series. For fans of Knightfall, it is strange to see Cullen in a modern setting wearing modern clothes. Instead of his medieval outfit of Templar robes and armour (which Cullen reveals weighed 23kg) he is in a cap and smart black jacket.
That 23kg armour and having to wear it for 15 hours day is just a small part of what is a very physically demanding role. Before filming even starts, the cast does a 3-week boot camp that includes circuit training, boxing, horse riding with gym sessions in the evening and fight-training. Cullen broke his toes on the second day of filming. He explains ' the thing about TV is that it doesn't stop, it's a machine. It's crazy' But he's not complaining, 'I get to ride a horse and swing a sword. Dream come true'.
Cullen's arduous routine is nothing compared to what, Landry du Lauzon must face in series two. The former Templar Master is really put through the wringer. Cullen describes Landry's emotional state at the start of series 2: 'He's lost everything, he's at his lowest ebb. He's suicidal and his daughter is the only reason he's staying alive. He certainly feels that everything he touches turns to dust'.
Though it is not just Landry that faces challenges in this series. Series 2, sees a new showrunner who has really shaken things up: 'What's really fantastic about Aaron Helbing, is that he's come in and taken all the great base characters that we had for season one and really put a handbrake on it and taken a right-hand turn.' The series is much darker and grittier than the previous one and it is a fitting tone for series two as Cullen explains, 'As we start to move towards the end of the Templars, that feels like the right place to go. Not only is the script a lot darker it's a lot more violent with more action and fight scenes.'
Landry's right-hand turn is arguably greater than other characters. At the end of Knightfall series 1, Landry's affair with Queen Joan is revealed and he is kicked out of the order he has dedicated his life to. Cullen sums up Landry's outlook at the start of series 2: 'He's surrounded by so many people that really believe in him but he doesn't really believe in himself. So, he goes to the Temple to search for some kind of redemption but he's rejected and made an initiate.'
An initiate is the lowest rung on the ladder of the Knights Templar. He must go back to square one, and start again. For such a proud character, this reversal of fortune must have been incredibly difficult for Landry. Cullen: 'He's got a very big ego and so season 2 is very much about stripping away that ego. Landry is in a much more vulnerable place.'
Talus is seemingly there to be this immovable force to challenge Landry's ego' But he is more of a complex character.
This initiate training offers a path for Landry's redemption in the series. Cullen explains the process, 'It was really tough to strip out all of those constructs that keep Landry supported. I get beaten up every single day. I've always got my face in some mud or in someone's knee or someone's fist or elbow or a big plank of wood smacking round my face. It's tough to go through that every day. I was feeling it, just me, Tom. God knows what it would have been like for him. It's a very satisfying arc for the audience ultimately I think. I love a good redemption story.'
This intense experience affected Cullen offset as well as on. He explains that his own feelings as an actor began to mirror those of Landry's: 'It was interesting filming it actually because I started to have this really intense crisis of confidence where I really started to doubt myself.' It was Jim High who plays Ulric that helped Cullen understand these feelings. Cullen: 'I was having a beer with Jim High who plays Ulric and I was sharing that I was feeling really vulnerable and he said isn't that just what Landry is going through.'
In the series, the biggest cause of Landry's vulnerability is the initiate master, Talus played by Mark Hamill. Described variously as a drill sergeant and medieval SOB, 'Talus is seemingly there to be this immovable force to challenge Landry's ego', as Cullen surmises But he is more of a complex character than mere aggressor, in Cullen's eyes, 'Through the episodes you start to strip back Talus because at first you think he's a one-dimensional character but then you begin to realise there's a lot more complexity to him. Through this tough love that Talus inflicts on Landry, there evolves this beautiful mutual respect. It becomes almost a father-son relationship.'
It is absolutely thrilling.
Feelings of admiration for Hamill came to naturally to Cullen who could safely be described as a Star Wars superfan. Cullen admits, 'I was a huge Star Wars fan when I was a kid and I used to watch a new hope every day before school and before my parents woke up. I's watch 25 minutes of it, pause it, then watch the next 25 minutes, on-loop, to the point I wore out the VHS.'
Acting alongside Hamill was 'was a really weird, childhood dream come true'. They say you should never meet your idols but in Cullen's case this rule couldn't be more wrong: 'The great thing about Mark is that he's genuinely one of the most humble, nice men I've ever met and immediately assimilated himself into the cast and just became one of the lads and is a very very nice man. It's almost more surreal the idea that he's now a friend than it was working with him.'
What you take from talking to Cullen about his Knightfall experience is despite the darker atmosphere of this series and the challenges the character must face, is that it is really really fun. When we asked about the battle-scenes he is buzzing with excitement: 'It is absolutely thrilling. Me and my brother when we were kids were obsessed with Brave Hart and to be in a battle, doing that kind of stuff, it's insane. It's so so so much fun. The great thing about TV, is that I'm going to have this forever. So when I'm an old dude and I can't get out of a chair. I can look back to that.'