Lee Jones Interview – ‘The Bastard Executioner,’ His Character, and Kurt Sutter

Lee Jones The Bastard Executioner Interview
Lee Jones as Wilkin Brattle in ‘The Bastard Executioner’ (Photo by James Minchin / FX)

FX is set to debut Kurt Sutter’s much-anticipated new series The Bastard Executioner on September 15, 2015, with Sutter leaving behind the world of Sons of Anarchy and outlaw biker gangs (for now) to delve into the 14th century. Lee Jones takes on the title role in the dramatic action series and in support of its upcoming premiere he took part in a conference call to talk about the show, working with Kurt Sutter, his character, and the fascinating time period in which the series is set.

What are you most excited about fans getting to see in The Bastard Executioner? Is it the gore, the drama, or the storytelling?

Lee Jones: “I actually think it’s the relationships between characters. I think they’re really beautifully drawn by Kurt and there’s great subtlety and depth to all that. As well as the epic scale that the show has. I think he, and hopefully we, have done a great job in creating the heart of the show and that’s in the relationships I think.”

Can you tell me a little bit about some of the props that helped you to get into the role, like the bastard sword or something from wardrobe or anything like that? Were there things that helped you get into the mindset that you needed to play this character?

Lee Jones: “Yeah, you know what? When I had my first fitting – that’s a long time ago now – I put the costume on and it really held me in a particular way and that sort of gave me a nice grounding I think. That helped a lot. Also, the weight of the swords we use when we’re not using the safety ones, that’s great getting to the fights. Definitely the physicality of having to do all that stuff informs a character a great deal.”

You have an extensive theater background, how has the adjustment been for you leading a TV show?

Lee Jones: “It’s been one of the best things about this job, is getting to sort of develop a different skillset. I’ve been craving doing more film and TV, and it’s been a great lesson in working on instinct and working really fast. I feel it’s allowing me to flex a different muscle. That’s been really enjoyable.”

What’s been the most eye opening part of the experience?

Lee Jones: “Eye opening? I think the speed of which TV goes is definitely something I’ve had to adjust to. But, that’s been great in itself because it does give you, you know in theater you can sit around and think too much and now we just have to trust our instincts, like I said. Working at a great pace can really help the work. You can’t get in your own way.”

Kurt Sutter is coming off the popular Sons of Anarchy. Are you at all worried about the pressure of following up that series?

Lee Jones: “No. I think if I thought about that I’d be doing myself and the show a big disservice. I think we’re creating such a unique world that I think it would only be detrimental to start worrying about things like that. It’s kind of like we’re in a parallel universe being over here and filming such elaborate sets and fully realized world. We’re away from Hollywood in a way and that’s kind of nice.”

What might you say to viewers who want to compare the show to the highly popular Game of Thrones?

Lee Jones: “I think they’re very different. This is very based in reality. It’s not fantasy in any way. There is a very well thought out mythology behind the show, which Kurt is developing. I think this is a much more grounded in actual history and yeah, I think it’s a very gritty, real, medieval world rather than fantasy.”

The characters on the show are going to reconcile their feelings with the world of violence that surrounds them. How much do you think your character in terms of that struggle informs his choices as he goes along?

Lee Jones: “That’s basically what his journey is is dealing with his internal struggle and trying to get away from violence. Obviously it was a very violent time so that is really what is driving him. It’s informing every decision he makes. He’s perhaps losing the ability to trust himself and he’s a very spiritual man and I think that spirituality, his faith is wavering at times. He’s really trying to find, to come back to the middle, trying to find who he is at its core, I think. That’s really what his journey is.”

Did you go back and look at Kurt Sutter’s past work while you were preparing for this show?

Lee Jones: “That would’ve been good had I had the time. It really happened so fast to me, landing this job. I knew about the success and knew I had seen some of Sons. I know what a writer and talent he is. You know, like we talked about before, my world was really the theater so I hadn’t been watching that much telly. Then I got cast so quickly and digging in to some of Sons when I get time but the schedule is just off the chain right now. I really haven’t stopped since the pilot back in March, I think it was. Kurt created such a…everything was there in script. I just went into it with that.”

Have you already felt your life in some ways has changed, even just in the production of the show?

Lee Jones: “I am, yeah. Definitely. My life changed as soon as I got the job. Just to have the chance to do this and to work on something so creatively satisfying and epic is just so… Things have gone from zero to 100 very quickly. I feel like everyone, the cast and the crew, everyone’s being really supportive and yeah, I know things are going to get perhaps crazy is what people are telling me.”

What’s it like working with a creative team who obviously has such an incredible track record?

Lee Jones: “You know what? It’s really great because everyone is so specific about what they want. That allowed us to get, I felt like we had a short-hand from day one. We just kind of got on the same page, kept things really truthful in the work and unaffected. I felt very, very supported from the beginning as well. It’s been really great. That clarity in terms of their drive and knowing what they want to do is really great to work with.”

Had Kurt talked to you about his overall vision for the series and what he would like to accomplish with this show?

Lee Jones: “He has, but it’s developing as we go and so breadcrumbs. He certainly hasn’t given me everything. I feel like he’s listening to what we do and shaping things as they come back to him.”

Having worked on this, what have you found to be so fascinating about that particular time period and how do you think it’s going to be accessible to audiences who aren’t familiar with anything back in the 14th century?

Lee Jones: “I think the thing that’s going to draw people in is, I think what we can all relate to is perhaps at times wanting to escape darkness or I think at the core, identifying with the struggle to survive and to improve things for yourself in life. I think that’s what the people are going to be drawn into. For me, I think life sort of was so delicate that a lot of drama comes from that. I think that’s for me the thing that I find interesting about that time period is what was the value of life back then? Just the brutality of it I think is as actors to play in a world that is unlike the world we’re in is very satisfying.”

How has your relationship with Kurt Sutter evolved as you’ve been doing the show?

Lee Jones: “Oh it’s been great. Like I said before, from day one he was very, very supportive, very looking out for me, making sure I had enough to go on. He’s just a really caring guy. He cares about how we’re feeling so we can deliver the work. We speak about where the character’s going from time to time. I’m just always really interested to know what he’s thinking behind things and I’m just trying to serve that back. He also, I feel like, like I said before, he’s feeding off what we’re doing. Stuff might come up in an episode a couple episodes down the track that he might have picked up from a dynamic between us. He’s a great guy. Very, very supportive of me. We have a great friendship.”

Kurt has said this is a historical show and religion plays a very big part in the show, in this part of history. Without giving away any spoilers, how much does that make up your character?

Lee Jones: “Absolutely. There is a bigger story that he is laying down that’s going to bring things in. I can’t really talk about that because there’s going to be a complete story with it. It is certainly, I would say, it’s a backbone to individual characters as well as creating the world. My character is struggling with his faith as a result of everything that’s happening to him but it is also what is, getting back to that is what is driving him forward. He’s trying to find a higher purpose. That all has to do with his spirituality as well as religion.”

What was it about this character that made you want to do it and did you do any research for the role?

Lee Jones: “It is just, as an actor selfishly you go, ‘This guy he really goes through everything.’ I get to explore the full range of human emotion and it’s just a great role. Then I had just heard about it. I hadn’t read the script but I’d heard about it and I just thought, ‘Yep, that’s for me.’ I don’t know why. Dark things fascinate me. I like exploring heavy material as an actor, I really do. That pulled me to it. Then in terms of research I just kind of tried to get my head around things like social structure of the time and the kind of psyche behind an executioner, although Milton is trying to come to terms with that himself. He’s finding it as I’m finding it, you know what I mean? It’s more about his emotional struggle than the daily life of an executioner. Yeah, other than that it’s just been sinking my teeth into the scripts.”

What physical preparation did you do for the role? Did it involve practice fighting and learning how to handle a sword or horseback riding?

Lee Jones: “I got cast and then went straight into a two week boot camp, basically. I hadn’t ridden horses before. I’d done a couple of pony trails and that was it. We have an incredible horse team and also stunt team here. It was just two weeks of nonstop riding and sword fighting. I’ve done a lot of sword fighting on stage before and so getting rid of the stage aspects and being really extra wide and safe on stuff, that was what I focused on. The stunt guys have got me doing, you wouldn’t think it for the sword fighting but sometimes some boxing footwork and that keeps me light on my feet and keeps the swordsmanship looking quite fluid, actually. The horse riding I’m obsessed with. I love it. It’s my new favorite thing. Clearly exhilarating. It helps me. Each day I’m on a horse I’m happy. The scenes kind of take care of themselves. Yeah, it’s something I have to keep up when I get downtime, which I don’t really at the moment but learning the fights, keeping on top of all of that and keeping the riding when I can. It’s an ongoing thing.”

Was your character based on real life warriors or real executioners. What did Kurt and you talk about in terms of designing this character and making him breathe life?

Lee Jones: “I think he wasn’t based on anyone specific but I think the idea for the show basically came out of somebody who is completely stuck between a rock and a hard place. That is, somebody who’s quite pious and good and wanting to get away from violence having to find himself in the most violent situation. I think that conflict and that struggle, the whole world grew out of that I think. It’s really the inner turmoil of the character that is what’s driving everything.”

You’re from Sydney, you’re 32 years old and according to some fan reactions so far you’re totally hot. What else would you like people to know about you?

Lee Jones: [Laughing] “What else would I like people to know about me? That I’m…I don’t know. I’m very hard working and dedicated to the craft, really. That’s why I’m enjoying this so much. I’m getting to really just do some of the best creative work of my career so far. Apart from that, I was an athlete. I was a swimmer before becoming an actor.”

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