Stephen Moyer Interview: ‘The Bastard Executioner,’ His Character’s Sexuality, and Torture Scenes

Bastard Executioner Stephen Moyer Interview
Stephen Moyer as Milus Corbett in ‘The Bastard Executioner’ (Photo by Ollie Upton / FX)

Stephen Moyer is a huge fan of Kurt Sutter and Sons of Anarchy, and it was his love of that FX show that led him to taking on a role in The Bastard Executioner. Moyer and his True Blood co-star/wife Anna Paquin were at the San Diego Comic Con for the final season of that HBO series when they posed for a selfie with SonsKim Coates and Theo Rossi. Coates and Moyer have been friends for years, and after snapping the photo Coates helped Moyer and Paquin post the picture on Twitter since they had no idea how to do it. Sutter immediately replied to Moyer’s tweet, asking them if they’d like to be on Sons. “Anna and I are like crazy fans, stalker people and we went nuts. We were so excited, but unfortunately we couldn’t make the dates work with other stuff that we were up to. It just didn’t happen,” explained Moyer during a conference call in support of season one of FX’s The Bastard Executioner airing on Tuesday nights at 10pm ET/PT.

Sutter and Moyer continued to tweet back and forth about Sons and the two became friends, even though they’d never met in person. They kept in touch and finally set up a coffee date to meet in person. Within three days of their coffee date, Moyer was offered the part of Milus Corbett in The Bastard Executioner. “How fangirly is that?,” joked Moyer. “It’s one of those things that I’m so amazed and thrilled by that crazy turn of events.”

“Anybody that you really like, tweet them and tell them. You never know what’s going to happen,” said Moyer, laughing.

Stephen Moyer The Bastard Executioner Q&A:

Can you talk about what drew you into the project?

Stephen Moyer: “We met up, had a coffee, and he started talking about the show. He hooked me in with the story, the idea of the characters, and the mythology behind them. He let me into some of the bigger arcs within the story which were exciting – which I’m not going to tell any of you today. He said, ‘Look, go away, read it, and get back to me.’ He didn’t tell me any particular part at the time. I went away and read it and there was one that jumped out at me straightaway. I knew I was too old and grey to play the executioner so Milus would be the one that interested me. I went back to him and just said, ‘This is amazing.’ I love this world. I did a medieval project for two years, and this was my period. That was also kind of a hook for me, because I already knew quite a lot about it. […]I just loved the idea of this character who is hanging onto his best friend’s bootstraps and getting himself into a position that otherwise he would never have been.”

There is more to Milus than just a villain character. Can you discuss the additional layers to the character?

Stephen Moyer: “I don’t see him as a villain. I see him as someone who’s trying to push himself forward and taking an opportunity where he sees it. We talked about the idea of somebody who…and, again, this was all sort of back and forth between me and Kurt, the ideas that he had and truthfully the whole backstory that I wrote for myself which truthfully was my own stuff […]which was for me to have a sort of rich past to draw on just for myself.

It’s funny. Denis O’Hare and I had become dear friends when we were doing True Blood. He wrote a 3,000 word backstory for his 3,000 year old character, some of which was like you will never see any of this. And Alan [Ball] was like, ‘Oh my god, this is like a 10 year series just on Denis’ character.’ But, I was so taken with the idea of how far Denis went that in my head I had to sort of catch him. Again, there are some elements that have crossed over which I’m not going to give away. I think we’ll see some of that. Kurt and I talked about it and he’s going some ideas. You will see and I will see just how much cross over there is in that. But suffice it to say that is from a very, very poor upbringing. He’s found himself in a position where he’s the chamberlain of the court because his best friend was a warrior who was much-loved by Edward I. His best friend becomes the lord of the shire that gets created for him by Edward I as a gift for what he does in battle. And his best friend who was in command of the troops – my character – becomes the chamberlain. Now that the earl is gone, it’s up to Milus to work out where he goes from there.”

Are you still filming?

Stephen Moyer: “We are just in the middle of completing episode eight. Honestly, I’m sort of blown away by Kurt, truthfully I loved what he set up in the pilot. We all know how hard pilots are, to introduce characters and to introduce new worlds, and ideas, time, and place. And then the story and the backstory all in one hit, and then to keep to your audience. But the episodes that have come in from episode three onward are just extraordinary. I’m really excited. It just keeps getting richer and richer. I’m really excited for people to see it.”

What are the challenges of filming in Wales as opposed to Louisiana where True Blood was filmed? Is it much different?

Stephen Moyer: “My mom came on the set recently; she was on the set last week in fact and she was always blown away when she’d come to the True Blood lot and she saw it. We obviously did location stuff but we shot the interiors in LA in studios. My favorite set of all time I think will always be Merlotte’s because it was a real working bar including the kitchen. I never thought it would be bested, but my mom was out last week and she was like, ‘I can not believe the detail!’ Our set designer’s father was the set designer for Lawrence of Arabia so he comes from very good stock. It’s extraordinary. We’ve got four studios and an entire village and castle were built for us, and we do stuff on the road as well. We’ve set up a complete world.

My family are with me. I flew the dogs over from LA and they’re with me as well. Truthfully, it’s not hard at all. The dogs come to set and we annoy everybody. It’s kind of beautiful. Wales is really incredible. I’d worked there 20 years ago and forgotten how beautiful it was to be honest. But we’re having a ball, to be honest.”

Did Kurt Sutter talk to you about what he has in mind for how many seasons we might see of The Bastard Executioner?

Stephen Moyer: “Honestly I do not know the answer to that question. We have the standard television contract which is six plus one. I don’t know. Knowing what I know, just the little bit about the idea of the world and the scope of it, it has every possibility of becoming that kind of size show [like Sons of Anarchy]. I can definitely envision five. If you look at Sons…I loved Sons and I’ve seen it twice all the way through, it’s interesting when you watch it. I wouldn’t have necessarily thought that that would carry to a seventh year, but he did it seamlessly.

What’s kind of incredible about it is we shoot it in Caerphilly Castle and we shoot in a castle called St. Donat from 1256 and 1156, and so we are shooting in the castles that our characters would have existed in. That’s kind of a beautiful idea that 800 years on later we are walking the same stone floors that our characters and historical character which you will get to see exist. We are going to be crossing over with real things that happened in history. I think that’s just fantastic.

We’re sort of loosely, roughly based in 1312 and if you did a Wikipedia check on 1312 you see hints of politics and things like that that start creeping into our story which I love that aspect of it. What I suppose I mean by that is there’s a lot of history to latch onto and therefore story-wise I don’t think we’re lacking. I have to say it just starts leaping forward because as you get to know the characters and to understand the intrigue and the backstory, it just takes on a different life.”

Can you talk about the relationship between the Baroness and Milus?

Stephen Moyer: “I think that there are a number of things going on. Flora [Spencer-Longhurst] has sort of a remarkable beauty on camera that is mesmerizing, really. Given that she’s done so much theatre, she comes straight in and just knocks it out of the park in terms of the quality of the work she’s doing on camera.

[Kurt and I] talked about this and the idea was that he came in and was given this seat. She is a Lady of Wales from a very good family who was married off to Lord Ventris, the Baron. There was absolutely no question that there would ever need to be an affiliation with myself and her. That’s important to know from the start. So what is growing relationship-wise between them is new to them as well as the audience. She has found herself with this chamberlain who she knows comes from this thuggish background, and he’s the one who is controlling the machinations at court. She probably has some feelings about that and that Milus, ultimately, he has the shire in his best interest. When push comes to shove, hopefully he will look after the shire first and not himself. I think she’s wary of him. I think she’s wary of what he can do and I think she knows he’s not like some sort of graceful swan on the surface with his legs kicking. I think she’s aware of that.

On another level he is impressed with her. Since the Baron’s death he’s seen her grow and start taking on the power of being a woman in this position that she’s been thrust into. The next episode deals with an element of this which I will not spoil because it really will. Anyway, the next episode sort of touches on that and the ideas of what female power means in 1312. That leaves Milus – you know, some of the decision-making that she made – leaves Milus even more impressed by for and taken in by the brilliance of her. And yet also from the side he also sees there is something he can’t quite put his finger on but from that very moment he saw Lady Love with Wilkin in the church, there’s also a connection between them that he’s going to try and utilize as well. It’s just like anything that he views that happens within the village and the castle and the upstairs and the servants quarters that he can use or store for later he will. And, again, we’ll see that develop between those two characters.”

Bastard Executioner Lee Jones, Stephen Moyer Photo
Lee Jones as Wilkin Brattle and Stephen Moyer as Milus Corbett in ‘The Bastard Executioner’ (Photo by Ollie Upton / FX)

Do you think there is sexual tension between Milus and Wilkin?

Stephen Moyer: “I think that given that you have seen my character with the French servant, I think it would be fair to say that there is something there. I think that would be fair to say. Again, this will be slightly blended in a little or penciled in a little bit as we go through and learn about him. His past will become clear and will explain some of his choices and desires. I think he gets his kicks where he sees them. I don’t think he’s very discriminating. But I think he’s intrigued by people of power and people of weighted thought. I think that intrigues him as much as sheer brutality.”

Is there any sort of correlation between his sexual activity (we’ve already seen a lot of it, including with twins) and the possibility of losing his position to Wilkin?

Stephen Moyer: “That’s a good question I hadn’t thought of. I think if you go back to the pilot episode… The moment with the servant in the pilot was one of those things where it was not stipulated that they were necessarily f**king behind the pillar. There was definitely something meant to be going on behind that pillar. I asked Kurt about it because [Milus] sees him in the toilet with the Baron and he’s literally the shit wiper and I said to Kurt, ‘What is that there?’ He’s obviously taken with this boy and Kurt said, ‘He’s new to the castle and he hasn’t had him yet.’ We talked about the idea that sex being power and obviously the more you know… We all know the maxim, ‘Knowledge is power.’ Milus comes from a place where if he can have dominion over everything around him […], he will. Any way that he can glean an advantage or something to hold over them in the future, he will.”

What is Milus’ view on torture and how will that play out for the rest of the season?

Stephen Moyer: “When I read the [third] episode, I had a number of feelings. We’re telling a story of this girl and I hadn’t realized that she’d accidentally broken the nose off the statue. I thought it was in the tussle of attacking the cart and that maybe the statute had fallen out. I hadn’t realized that it was as simple as she’d just landed and knocked the nose off. It shows the innocence of her and yet centered on this belief of holding on to your land and freedom, and how important it was to the Welsh. So, that was one thing. Then when I was reading the script I remember thinking, ‘Oh, they are going to kill her.’ So as we were getting towards that punishment I remember thinking they were going to kill her and maybe we’re going to end every single episode with a death. Maybe that’s the thing. Maybe that’s what our little trigger is going to be for the audience. And then I got to the page where they cut her nose off and thought, ‘Oh my god. That’s hideous!’

It kind of hit me that it was almost worse in a way in medieval times where we don’t have the benefit of good surgeons to keep somebody alive but with something heinous done to them like that that you would see every day and is a reminder of what we did. And the fact that Lady Love makes that decision, she’s the one who brings down that because she knows that she has to keep in the eyes of the villagers and the eyes of the town, she has to be seen to be strong and to not allow rebels to go up against the castle. She has to take a stand.

My character’s take on it is that it’s not enough. It’s interesting because I only watched it [on September 24th] and I was looking at it thinking that my character looks out on the people who are watching the be-nosing, as we’re going to call it, and he sees the crowd being slightly upset that they only got to see a nose cut off. For the townspeople, that was their theatre.”

Do you judge your character’s actions?

Stephen Moyer: “I know he’s ambitious. I know that he’s trying to save the shire. I also know that the King is not going to allow a woman to hold this position of the shire as she’s not worldly. She’s not a princess. She is from a very good family. I knew that Milus was going to have to do some stuff for himself, for her, for the shire, in order to keep his position and everybody else’s position. From that place I obviously was well aware that I had stuff to do. There were deaths, and he would have to be the one to do it. There were conversations with Kurt where he said, ‘Everything single thing he does is thought through.’ I don’t want to spoil too much, but he is not just looking out for himself, he’s looking out for everybody but he does have a conscience deep, deep, deep within that hard shell. He has come up with a reason for doing everything that he thinks is for the good of everybody. When Kurt told me this little bit of information I can’t divulge, it all made sense. I went back and I’m re-reading. I went deeper into every line. You read stuff and actually it’s all in there. It’s all there from the beginning; it’s just not explained yet.”

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