Icons / September 2016

Royal Ascent: George Blagden

The British actor George Blagden, fresh from his breakthrough role as King Louis XIV in the raunchy television show Versailles, tells us about his inspirational father and why, if not…
Beige wool double-breasted suit, Richard James; grey cashmere crew-neck jumper, Giorgio Armani, black Dandelion Tassel in Tresse Royal/Calf loafers, Christian Louboutin; cream silk pocket-handkerchief, Budd Shirtmakers; grey wool and nylon socks, Pantherella.

George Blagden, dressed in contemporary clothing, as he is in this shoot, is breaking away from his recent norm. Whether in Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables, Vikings, or as the protagonist in one of the new behemoths of box-set culture, Versailles, he tends to be in clothing representative of older times — or indeed wearing nothing at all. In case you haven’t heard, Versailles is the depiction of the 18th century’s Sodom and Gomorrah, all under one roof. In other words, there’s a whole bunch of sex and scandal, and it is fantastic. It is also the most watched television show in France, a big hit on the B.B.C., and is soon to be released on Netflix. Blagden’s leading role, as King Louis, gives him the latest of many reasons to feel more smug and over-confident than he actually is. Without being self-aggrandising, he is proud of where he is at and places more value on his Triumph Bonneville than the size of his social media following. In front of a camera, his timid nature begins to unravel into something magnetic, charismatic and playful. And because he is only 26, we can be sure this prodigy’s best years are still ahead.

How did acting come on the radar?

I suppose it all started with a production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at Sadler’s Wells in 2000, when I was 10. I remember going to see it and sitting in the audience with my mum and turning to her and asking, “How do I do that? I want to be one of those people one day.” That led to me being in school plays, and it went from there. I became unhealthily obsessed with it at school. It was the only thing I was passionate about. By the time I was 14 or 15, someone said, “You know you can do this as a job?” And that was that, really, the death of my A-level results and university. In some ways it was formulaic: I did school plays, applied for drama school at 18, and very luckily got into Guildhall.

Did you find yourself plugging into a specific genre?

I am only analysing it now that you have asked the question. I love things that allow me to escape. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the ultimate escape, isn’t it? Actually, my taste in this industry has been very much about that theme: escaping into a different world. It is maybe why I have been doing historical fiction, because it is a totally different world to the one we inhabit now. I like to be transported: I go to the cinema to be transported, taken away from my own life for two hours. Same with theatre, so I suppose that is a recurring theme.

How comfortable are you in your skin?

I’m almost always described as an introvert. A lot of my life experiences have made me what I am now. I think I have problems with living in my own skin, which is why I like to put on the coat and jacket of other people. I think a lot of actors are designed that way.

At the same time, you haven’t got where you are without talent. Have you ever believed your own hype?

I will try to accept that compliment. It depends what hype you are talking about. If you are talking about the hype my drama teacher tried to instil in me, I suppose I would never have got up on stage without him encouraging me. If you are talking about the hype of being Aidan Turner in Poldark and every newspaper is about you being a heart-throb and every social media platform writing about you in a certain way… The danger of believing that hype is that none of it is real or tangible. It is often designed in a way for marketing reasons. The problem is when you start truly believing everything that people tweet you or message you.

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Contributor

Tom Chamberlin

Editor of The Rake Magazine