Epic Stunts, Broken Toes and 'Badass' Mark Hamill: How 'Knightfall' Is Raising the Bar in Season 2 (Exclusive)
By Jennifer Drysdale
Knightfall is upping the ante. The History series returns for season two on Monday, but this time, it's coming back with a vengeance -- and Mark Hamill.
The Star Wars icon joined the historical drama as the series underwent significant changes in front of and behind the camera, tapping a new showrunner (Black Sails and The Flash's Aaron Helbing) and a recast of Princess Isabella (Genevieve Gaunt takes over for Sabrina Bartlett). It was all in the name of making things darker and grittier, required aspects to bring the story towards the end of the Knights Templar.
"The story dictates a darker tone," Helbing told ET in February. "We wanted to embrace the fact that the Templars slept in their clothes... We wanted to bring that element to it, that authenticity."
Season one centered on fictional Templar leader Landry (Tom Cullen), a brave and capable warrior, but not the most godly. Landry's vow of celibacy went to the wayside when he engaged in an affair with his friend King Philip's (Ed Stoppard) wife, Queen Joan (Olivia Ross), who became pregnant with his child. What ensued was a brutal war by the crown against the Templars, whose mission to find the Holy Grail became eclipsed by Landry's personal drama.
That's where Hamill comes in, portraying new character Talus, a battle-hardened knight tasked with transforming initiates -- and an outcasted Landry -- into Templar Knights. Helbing admitted that the role drew parallels to Hamill's most recognizable character, Star Wars' Luke Skywalker, who trained Padawans into Jedis. Helbing explained that the coincidence is merely that: "We weren't trying to duplicate Star Wars."
"I've worked with Mark on The Flash. He's a pro. I thought he brought a lot of value to the show, just because he's such a great actor," Helbing said, revealing that his casting was a "collaborative effort" among Knightfall’s creative team.
Cullen couldn't have been more pleased with Hamill’s addition. "I think everybody on the globe has some kind of attachment to Mark though Star Wars," he shared, recalling how he bonded with his younger brother (who plays one of the initiates in season two) over the intergalactic space saga. "I'm such a huge fan... It was fun to work with him."
"Mark doesn't need showing the ropes," Cullen added. "He turned up on set and knew exactly what he was doing."
That's not to say the 67-year-old actor didn't have questions when he joined the show. As Hamill previously admitted, he was unfamiliar with Knightfall before being approached to join the series. And after working primarily as a voice-over actor in recent years, it took several tries to get Talus' character right. "He really humbled himself. He'd constantly be asking questions about things he wasn't quite sure about, and he created a really great working environment," Cullen said. "But Mark just turns up and raises everybody's game, because he's a badass."
Like his character Landry, Cullen had to go through a bit of boot camp for the new season. The Welsh actor, who told ET ahead of the series’ premiere in 2017 that his body looked "like Christmas," confessed that the most recent hiatus left his body in a somewhat similar state.
"I had just finished directing a film and editing for six months, which requires a lot of sitting down and eating," he said with a laugh. "I had to do a lot of physical work to get myself back into shape again. But in terms of the fighting, it was all there."
The 33-year-old jumped right back into the show's battle sequences, perhaps a little too eagerly; he broke both of his big toes on the first day of shooting while filming an epic battle in the rain.
"We were actually able to do a lot more stuff, bigger stunts and more dangerous stunts, and it was all on camera. There's some pretty epic stuff," Cullen said, more jazzed about the badge of honor his injury provided than upset by it. "I learned to run alongside a galloping horse, hold onto the side, jump on it whilst kicking a guy off. And they let me do it! I mean, the idiots!"
Helbing conceded that the battle sequences were a big priority for him. "I always wanted it to be something I've never seen before, so I had long conversations with our stunt coordinator, Cedric [Proust], saying, 'Bring in weapons that we haven't seen before. I want to see Tom on a horse kicking a**, things like that,'" he shared. "It's just trying to tell the best story, even in the fighting. There's an emotional component to all of our fights. We wanted to make sure everything is charged."
It's not just the Templars or battle sequences that will look different in season two. The series is playing into the "psychological" aspects of the royal family. After King Philip killed his wife, Queen Joan, in his battle with Landry last season, he starts to look a little more like the former Temple Master.
"He just wants to look like me," Cullen quipped of Philip's new bearded look, as Helbing confirmed there was more going on underneath the surface.
"All of it was a concerted effort to really tie in the storytelling to the characters and make them as grounded as possible. And the way we shot [the show], our DPs really brought a different element to the show too, our directors, everybody was on board for a darker tone," Helbing said. "Everybody involved really stepped up and wanted to make the show the best it could possibly be."
Helbing's assertively clear concept mixed with his laid-back personality seemed to be a recipe for success. "Aaron's vision was very, very, very strong. And one that every single one of us fully, fully bought into," Cullen said. "We were completely on the same page, 100 percent. It was perfect from the beginning."
"I have a policy that the best idea wins, so it doesn't matter where it comes from," Helbing chimed in, praising Cullen's input for the sophomore premiere. "I'm always open to what other's thoughts are."
In season two, Knightfall heads toward the ultimate demise of the Templar Order, which occurred on Friday the 13th in 1307. Even though it may appear that one chapter of the Knightfall tale is closing, Helbing promises he still has big plans for the series past that point. "The Templars were outlawed or banned in France, but there were other parts of Europe where they weren't banned. You just have to tune in to find out who lives and who dies," he teased.
"We all love the show and we all want to make as much of it as possible, because we have such a good time making it," Cullen expressed. "And there are so many stories to tell about the Templars. They're a fascinating sect that don't actually end at the end. They carry on going. There's a lot of stuff to mine there."
"We just have to keep raising the bar," Helbing said.
Knightfall returns Monday, March 25 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on History.