Ruairi O’Connor on showing Henry VIII’s story through the women who shaped it

Ruairi O'Connor and Charlotte Hope in 'The Spanish Princess'
Starz

We’ve all heard the historic details surrounding Henry VIII, who may be most infamously known for his six marriages and intense efforts to have his first marriage annulled. However, in Starz’s  “The Spanish Princess” audiences actually get more of a look at the women in Henry’s life and other somewhat overshadowed historical characters to get a better look at what that tumultuous time held for the monarchy.

The second season of the popular show will thrust fans right back into the thick of Henry’s relationship with Catherine of Aragon (Charlotte Hope) after the impending stress of miscarriages and bearing an heir hits the couple along with a slew of other great obstacles. By showcasing this famous romance from the eyes of Catherine, the story of Henry VIII becomes valid again after being heard time and time over according to the actor who plays the monarch, Ruairi O’ Connor.

O’Connor sat down with Metro to discuss more on what went into making “The Spanish Princess” Part Two.

O’Connor plays Henry VIIIStarz

What did you do to prepare for this role? When I think of Henry VIII, there is just so much in history that is on his character. Although this examines him more as a teenager, did you take any inspiration from anywhere?

I listened to about 100 hours of this really amazing podcast on the history of England and really deep Tudor history leading up to it from Henry the V to Henry the VIII —just getting to know the mechanics of the royal court because of course that affects you emotionally and your journey as a character. So, I immersed myself in all of that just so I could have an understanding of it, but then for all of the spicier things on top I was thinking what are the similarities between me and this character and what are the differences? It seemed that Henry had a real ease with the world, especially as a teenager and compared to his older brother he was a bit more uptight and certainly knew he was going to shoulder being the king. Henry was relaxed and easy and quite charismatic, so I looked to kind of real-world examples of people that were kind of very much liked in the public eye. One person I cam across was Harry Styles, he just had this warm ease that a much older person might be able to get eventually, but it’s shocking for a young person. Obviously, everyone is familiar with Harry Styles, so I don’t need to describe what it is but through references like that I turned it into something I could understand a bit more and not be so obtuse about the stuff with the Royal Court and all the history lessons.

That’s an interesting point, I guess when I think of historical figures I don’t think that they can be as popular as some celebrities are these days. 

Yeah, of course. Henry VII was so popular even as a child. As a 1-year-old baby he was put on a giant black steed and marched through the streets of London and people were crying apparently. But, the power that the monarchy had over people—they were really celebrities, they were loved and hated in all the same manner. 

What would you tell fans to expect for your character’s journey in the second part of the show? 

The first season, I’m playing this lovesick teenager and Catherine is a very young woman thrust into a very different life. We fall in love and it’s a “will they, won’t they” familiar period romance for a lot of it with some darker elements of course based in truth and in history. Then, the second season, we’re tearing all of that apart and it’s not through apathy—they don’t fall out of love with each other, certainly not with the way we’re playing it and the way we saw the scripts. Its circumstance is the death of children and multiple miscarriages and the threat of being usurped. There’s just a whole load of very unfortunate circumstances that come between them and that is a modern thing as well: Is whatever love might be, is that enough to trump really, really terrible circumstances? 

Starz

How was it working with Charlotte Hope for the second season? 

In the first season we were really working together both onscreen and off. It was our biggest job that we had ever gotten and we were having this adventure in Bristol, which is a beautiful, beautiful city. It was really dreamy and like a fairytale for us and also our onscreen characters were caught up in the heaviness and the idealism of it, so we really worked together on that. We built the chemistry and we built the relationship and it was exciting and light, and this season we’re being pulled apart and it actually became more valuable to have secrets from each other and to feel a very potent separation even as actors. 

What do you think of the show showing the views of these historical women who maybe in history get overshadowed? 

The way I think about this is that the story of Henry VIII has been told many times over, so it’s kind of been done to death. Personally, in a very selfish way I’d be very nervous about a straight portrayal of Henry VIII, but I think it being through the lens of people that haven’t been given the focus before, it just makes it valid. Regardless if that’s with women or people of color, or even just a different social caste. Telling it through the eyes of different people I think makes it valid again.  

‘The Spanish Prince Part Two’ premieres on Starz Oct. 11 at 8 pm

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