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The Last Kingdom: Season 2 - David Dawson (King Alfred) interview and clip

The Last Kingdom

Compiled by Jack Foley

DAVID Dawson, aka King Alfred, talks about returning to the role for a second season and what he likes about his character and how he has developed this time around.

He also discusses getting to indulge his inner history geek, why he thinks the show owes a debt to Game of Thrones, reveals his link to Kit Harington and why he was relieved to have the same horse on-set this time too. The Last Kingdom: Season 2 is available on Blu-ray and DVD from May 8, 2017 courtesy of Universal Pictures (UK).

Q: Is it good coming back to something like this where you have had such a long run at the character?
David Dawson: I love it. What makes it special is that all the crew who could come back have come back so there is a real family feel to it. We have the same DoP, the same director, the same producer and also as an actor it is a real treat because the audience already has a relationship and history with these people so you are not starting again, trying to establish a character. You are fully into the plot.

Q: What sort of response did you have from the public after the first series?
David Dawson: People would always say how much they loved the show and that I should stop being so nasty to Uhtred! I think while Uhtred is the hero, Alfred in many ways is the anti-hero although he is trying to do his best to create England and look after his people. But the decisions he makes might not be the best for Uhtred. I love how they are polar opposites and they need each other so much to achieve both their goals even though they don’t really get on most of the time. There is admiration there and that is what I love about this show, these two men are constantly conflicted.

Q: How does their relationship shift over this season?
David Dawson: The relationship does shift and change. The first half of the season Alfred has lost Uhtred to the north, so part of Alfred’s thinking is trying to find a way of pulling him back to Wessex so he can use him in the best way possible. I love this season because you really start to see why in history he goes down as Alfred the Great. You see his real skill as a political leader come to the forefront. And there’s stuff I didn’t know; it’s not just about him trying to take land. It is more about him trying to create an identity for his people and what we will get to know as what is English – morally, spiritually and culturally. He translated books himself into English to promote learning. He signed a peace treaty with the Danes which I love because it meant his people could thrive with farming and trade. I think an enemy would be used to a ruthless, violent king being on the throne and they didn’t know how to deal with this incredibly clever man.

Q: It must make Alfred a very interesting character to play?
David Dawson: Yes. And the cool thing I love about this series as well is that you see a lot more of the family man and we see the character development of Aethelflaed his daughter. I just watched three gorgeous documentaries on BBC 4 about Alfred and she is this forgotten fierce leader who will go on to be a big part of why England was created. We see Aethelflaed with Alfred training her politically and militarily to be as strong a leader as he was. She will go down in history as one of the strongest female leaders we ever had.

Q. Q: Is learning this stuff one of the cool things about this role?
David Dawson: Yes. I am a history geek so I really love piecing together the jigsaw of who we are today. A big part of what made Alfred really unpopular with the lords of the time is that he taxed them to hell so that he could build forts all around Wessex, 20 miles apart from each other. That meant the Danes just couldn’t get back into Wessex. I think that was a real canny move.

Q. It sounds like you really admire the real Alfred…
David Dawson: I really admire him for that. He wanted to achieve his goals through peace and he valued the lives of his people. We think about kings and all that debauchery and the luxury of kingship and being able to do whatever you want, but he saw a duty to his people and lived his life for them. And that peace treaty with the Danes was a really canny move.

Q: In this season is he still riddled with angst over the lustful side of his character?
David Dawson: No. He has let that go now. Since the big battle at the end of the last series, he understands what he has to give up in order to do best by his people. What I find really inspiring is that he had something similar to Crohns disease his whole life and so every day he is in constant pain. He is dealing with fatigue and his diet is monitored and it’s dull and yet despite his own struggle he managed to achieve these things. It is a good message. With dramas of this time you tend to think of burly, axe-wielding men on horseback and yet here is this incredibly intellectual and frail man who achieved so much. And for someone who is a bit of a skinny guy, I kind of like that!

Q: In terms of scale and scope does it feel even bigger and more epic this year?
David Dawson: Yes, it does. I don’t know whether it is because Netflix came on board and we have a lot more to play with but the sets are all bigger. We did a battle a few weeks ago and the scale of that felt bigger.

Q: What have been some of your favourite scenes from this season?
David Dawson: My favourite scenes are always the ones between Alfred and Uhtred because I think that’s the heart of the whole show for me. That is where the chemistry of the show lies.

Q: Did you do a lot of reading about Anglo-Saxon England?
David Dawson: Yes. I downloaded The Anglo Saxon Chronicle. And I am from a town called Widnes which is on the boundary of Mercia so I really enjoyed learning about that. Alfred’s daughter, Aethelflaed, built a strong fortress at Runcorn overlooking Widnes so she could keep an eye on the Danes. And the Mersey was called the River Mercia back then. I love little facts like that. The Runcorn-Widnes bridge has a plaque on it even now which says that it is the Aethelflaed bridge. I am yet to visit Winchester but I want to go and salute the statue of Alfred.

The Last Kingdom

Q: How did you get on with Millie Brady, who is playing Alfred’s daughter?
David Dawson: I love her very much. And I love Eliza Butterworth who plays Aelswith, my wife. We have kind of taken Millie under our wing and we look after her. She’s great. Half this story I haven’t seen so I can’t wait to watch the show myself. Because Uhtred has gone up to Northumbria I only know about the Saxon court. I don’t know about all the battles that have gone on up there.

Q: Does Alfred continue to learn new things about himself over the course of this season?
David Dawson: We see the politically astute side of him and how that develops. He is trying to play England like a chess board and I have enjoyed seeing that side of him, the more intellectual side rather than having this immediate danger. And I have always loved the fact that he has not only got to keep an eye on his enemies on the Dane’s side, he has a court full of people that at any moment might want him off that throne and who would want to take his place. Every day could be his last. It is by no means a safe place to be, the palace of Winchester.

Q: Do you enjoy watching the series back? Some actors don’t like to watch themselves on screen…
David Dawson: I normally watch it back first with the sound off so I can see the visuals but I always do like to watch things so that I can learn from them. I like seeing things that I can pick up from the performance. I always want to learn.

Q: Has this series been shot in the same way, kind of grubby and gritty with all the hand-held stuff?
David Dawson: Yes. As far as I know. The costumes have gone a bit more flamboyant and tailored. I think that goes along with the story that now Wessex is a stronghold, the court can afford to have a bit more tailoring! The court is still a bit grubby and he is not concerned with bling at all so there’s no jewellery on Alfred. But then we will meet characters from Mercia this year, like Aethelflaed. The producers have made the distinction quiet cleverly so they are quite blinged up and more concerned with the luxury of court life than Alfred ever is.

Q: Do you enjoy watching these long-form shows, like Game of Thrones? In fact, you must know people on it…
David Dawson: I do. Kit Harington. We worked together. We were doing Posh at the Royal Court together when he got cast as Jon Snow. He was in constant pain because he had a personal trainer and he was literally like, ‘I can’t move!’ I love Game of Thrones.

Q: Do you mind the comparisons with Game of Thrones?
David Dawson: It is always going to be compared. But I think if a show like Game of Thrones hadn’t been made I don’t think this would have been made. That said, I think this is a lot more grounded in real life, which is what I really admire. I love shows like The Thick of It. I like all that, hearing what is said in corridors behind the backs of others and people vying for power.

Q: Have you got the same horse this year?
David Dawson: Yes, which really makes a difference. I underestimated how important that is. Once you understand each other you realise how easy it can be. For one day I had a different horse and I knew I was on a different horse!

Q: Because you did have quite an unruly horse to begin with, right?
David Dawson: I did at the beginning and then I got this gorgeous old fellow called Skeeter. He has been through it all. He is like a Richard Harris of the horse world!

Watch a clip

The Last Kingdom: Season 2 is available on Blu-ray and DVD from May 8, 2017 courtesy of Universal Pictures (UK).

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