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April 19, 2014

'The Tudors' Season 4: Mid-Life Crisis, Illicit Affairs and the Series Finale

by Anna Dimond, posted Apr 11th 2010 2:00PM
Illicit affairs, political intrigue and a teen vixen are in the royal mix when 'The Tudors' returns to Showtime tonight at 9PM ET for its fourth and final season.

The show, which depicts the history and personal life of King Henry VIII (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) in lurid detail, begins season 4 just as the king has married his fifth wife, the 17-year-old Katherine Howard (Tamzin Merchant). Lacking royal lineage and prone to the type of behavior befitting girls her age, Howard's poor behavior catches up with her, and her eventual execution leaves the King to marry for a sixth and final time.Illicit affairs, political intrigue and a teen vixen are in the royal mix when 'The Tudors' returns to Showtime tonight at 9PM ET for its fourth and final season.

The show, which depicts the history and personal life of King Henry VIII (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) in lurid detail, begins season 4 just as the king has married his fifth wife, the 17-year-old Katherine Howard (Tamzin Merchant). Lacking royal lineage and prone to the type of behavior befitting girls her age, Howard's poor behavior catches up with her, and her eventual execution leaves the King to marry for a sixth and final time.

His next queen is Catherine Parr [Joely Richardson], a much more mature woman than her predecessor. As Henry enters his mid-40s, he becomes more unpredictable, ruling with an iron fist and picking fights with other countries more out of a mid-life crisis than a desire to expand his rule.

Just ahead of the season 4 premiere, 'Tudors' creator and writer Michael Hirst chatted with AOL TV about his experience working with Meyers, his "mourning" for the show and what he'll be doing next.

What was it like working on the final season, and what has the transition been like since it wrapped?
It was many things, the final series for me. It was great to know that we could actually finish [the show] in the way that we wanted to finish it, because from year to year you never know whether the thing's going to be picked up, or whether you're going to be able to do what you originally intended to do. So, it was fantastic when it was picked up, and it was fantastic to finish it properly and tell the whole story of Henry VIII ... And then it was pretty unendurable to write the last episode, because I felt I was dealing with the deaths of lots of my favorite characters, and leaving behind a whole world that I'd lived in for five years. The last episode was, physically, quite difficult to write, and very emotional.



Why did you choose to structure the seasons the way you did, and end it after four seasons?
It was organic because the first couple of seasons had dealt with [former queen] Catherine of Aragon and then [Queen] Anne Boleyn. It took a long time for Henry to deal with the end of his relationship w Catherine of Aragon, and when he actually got married to Anne Boleyn, Henry and Catherine Parrit wasn't long before he killed her. After that, the wives came along pretty thick and fast, so it was actually concentrated history. So I had a much shorter historical period to deal with. Each wife was only taking up two historical years as opposed to six or eight initially ... I just came to the end of his wives.

I wasn't so interested in his ending, I was always interested in his relationships with women because 'The Tudors' is really a kind of extended essay on love in some ways, and different kinds of love he had with his wives and mistresses. Once I got to his last wife, Catherine Parr, I'd almost reached the end of the story. It was just a natural place to end it.

Where do we pick up with Henry and what's his arc for this season?
There's no question about it that Henry becomes a complete tyrant, a murderer. When we pick up at the beginning of the series, he's going to marry Katherine Howard, who's ... 17, and who briefly rejuvenates him. He was getting very cynical. He had probably fallen out of the idea of love, and he was probably impotent. The relationship with [former queen] Anne of Cleves (Joss Stone) had been disastrous.

Katherine HowardHe wasn't aware of how manipulative his courtiers were in producing this young girl, Katherine Howard, for him to enjoy. But for a while he was kind of fooling himself, pretending to be young again. And he does two things: He falls in love with Katherine Howard and he also goes to war with France. Two things which suggest a mid-life crisis. He doesn't buy a red Ferrari ... He's probably clever enough to know that the relationship with Katherine Howard isn't real -- he's in denial. And in fact, the war with France is a similar thing. ... Six years later, he's going to sell [the conquered town] to the French ...

He really is getting unhinged by now. And because he's killed Cromwell, his last great servant [who was executed in season 3], it's like the ship's status is foundering. Nobody knows what he's going to do ... who he's going to kill. I think even Henry doesn't know that.

Season 4 also reveals a little bit Henry's isolation, such as when he meets again with Anne of Cleves.
This is Henry VIII the human being, as opposed to the king. As a human being, I think he knew perfectly well that Katherine Howard was unsuitable for him. But he recognized that his immediate reaction to Anne of Cleves had been wrong. When she changed -- she became very Anglified -- [he realized] he totally overreacted to her, and that she's a much more appropriate woman for him. That's very human that he would go back [and see her] ... One of the things, hopefully, that 'The Tudors' is full of, is human moments as well as historical ones.

Has your work on the show affected your perspectives on modern power and manhood?
What studying history tells you of course is that what goes around comes around, and that history continuously repeats itself. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So, ultimately, Henry is a monster. But the interesting thing I think about the show is that still right at the end, you can feel great sympathy for him. When you remember where he started from, how much he wanted to be an enlightened monarch, how much he wanted to reform the system, how much he wanted to be a just ruler. And then during the course of the four seasons, we've seen how all those dreams have been destroyed and corrupted and corroded. And in the end, he's almost mad in his tyranny. It reminds you slightly of any leader you've put your faith in -- it's almost impossible for them to produce what they've promised.

What were some of the specific challenges you faced in the making of season, as well as some of the goals?
It was very difficult to approach the end, even though I had some idea of how I wanted to end it. I had the culmination of four years of living with this guy [Henry], and I wanted to say things about him. The easiest thing would have been for me to kill him off -- and there would have been some cheap emotion. I didn't want to do that, but I did want to say something about both him as a man, and about his place in history. Occasionally I've been criticized for my portrayal of him. I wanted to make the point that even historians make it up. I knew that with the last couple of episodes, I was approaching this juncture, between what I'd been developing and writing, and what historians had said. So the last episode, I had to confront these things. I couldn't run away from the fact that this is my Henry VIII.

Jonathan Rhys MeyersDo you believe you achieved what you set out to do?
I do. The last day of shooting, we shot this visionary scene, where Henry imagines himself dying, and the scene of what he sees when he faces death. And Johnny [Jonathan Rhys Meyers], who'd by this stage aged a lot -- we'd changed his appearance quite a bit -- and in this vision right at the end, he becomes young again. We were all watching, and we had a very special set. It was outside in a tunnel of trees, and we had wind machines and leaves and white horses ... it was a hyper-tense, beautiful set. And just to look on the monitor, and see Johnny as the young man as we'd first seen him, was so incredibly moving, as if we'd come full circle. I did try hold it together, but I did break down when I [saw] Johnny. This guy has held the show together for four years.

Did Meyers have feedback for you throughout that process?
I talked a lot more to a lot of the other actors. A lot of them were more intellectual, where they'd read more history books. Johnny knew his stuff, but he wasn't interested particularly in the historical [perspective], it was more the immediacy of it ... We had emotional discussions about things. He's very instinctive as an actor.

Are you ready to move on from 'The Tudors'?
There's a sort of mourning period [afterward].

And what are you looking to do next?
I'm doing 'The Borgias' for Showtime, which is the next big, historically based Showtime series. We're shooting that in Hungary. Neil Jordan's directing, has written the first two episodes, and I'm taking over as show runner, and possibly writing the [remaining] episodes. I never meant in a position of writing all the episodes for 'The Tudors,' it just worked out that way ... I'm an adviser on 'Camelot,' and I'm working with Michael Mann on a movie about Agincourt, so I'm quite busy.

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