The Hour star Ben Whishaw tells What’s on TV how it felt to play an all-powerful medieval king in BBC2’s lavish new Shakespeare drama…
You’re playing Richard II. What was it like donning the full regalia and crown of the monarch?
“I loved it. It was interesting because it made me think how absolute authority must be a really powerful drug, and sexy. To convey gravitas I tried to remain very still which is hard for someone like me. I got quite good at dealing with the heavy clothing and there is always someone close at hand to carry it all! The first day of filming we were on White Sands beach in Pembrokeshire and I had to emerge out of the sea with a sceptre, a huge long cape and a crown. That was quite tricky.”
It’s a top cast. How did you find working with so many big names like Patrick Stewart, David Suchet and Rory Kinnear?
“It was such a privilege to work with all those people and really amazing that so many of them were doing relatively small roles. Every part had an incredible actor. It was a lot of fun filming, as we were all staying in this holiday resort called Bluestone near Narbreth in Wales, so it was a bizarre experience bumping into Poirot at a fish restaurant.”
How did you perceive Richard II?
“Well, many see him as vain and weak, but I tried to stay inside his head and I don’t think he saw himself as a vain person. He believed he was given a job and it was his duty to carry it out. I think also he is quite an absurd character in some ways as he’s full of limitations and he gets things wrong, so there is a strange comedy in him. Apparently, the real Richard was very spiritual, very holy and very pious. He liked miracles and would travel around England visiting sites where miracles had taken place.”
Can you tell us a little about the play and how it follows Richard’s life?
“Richard II is partly an exploration of power, the loneliness of being in a position of power and how you can misuse it. It’s a really beautiful journey he goes on because you are watching someone have his image of himself and his ideas about the world pulled away from him, so he is made very vulnerable.”
How closely does it follow the original Shakespeare play?
“It’s completely true to the play, though there have been some cuts because if you played it uncut it would be about four hours long.”
You’re playing the youngest ever Q in the new James Bond film, Skyfall. Is there anything you can tell us about the most famous gadget geek in film history?
“Oooh, I’m sworn to secrecy about Q. In real life I’m not really a ‘gadgets man’, but I just bought a new film camera which I’m enjoying using. That’s about as technical as I get.”
We once read that you were thinking up of giving up acting. Is that true?
“I think I was probably having a bad day. The thing is, you say something you don’t mean when you’re in a bad mood. I’m ambitious to keep working and to try to get good parts. I don’t have a particular desire to go to Hollywood although I wouldn’t turn down offers if they came about!”