Tony Curran on playing King James in “Mary & George”, that suffocation scene, filming orgies blindfolded

"We couldn't actually take any moisture into the 14th-century homes," he explains. "It was a very dry orgy, a lot of chafing."

Tony Curran went through a lot to play King James I of England on Mary & George.

The veteran actor, who's popped up in everything from Doctor Who to Ray Donovan, endured near suffocation for a key scene — and even worse, to his mind anyway, a lot of chafing while filming an orgy scene. That's because there were strict rules about moisture levels in the historic rooms where they were filming.

"I was going into those scenes completely blindfolded at times, so I couldn't actually see," he recounts to Entertainment Weekly. "And then it was only sometimes I would have a little peak and I would go, 'Oh, good lord.'"

"We couldn't actually take any moisture into the 14th-century homes," he continues. "It was a very dry orgy, a lot of chafing, sadly. But there was no moisture — no tea, no coffee, and especially no sort of spray. You may or may not have some perspiration, one would think with five fellas, but we weren't allowed to do that. I still think it looked genuine enough."

<p>Rory Mulvey/Starz</p> Tony Curran as King James in 'Mary & George'

Rory Mulvey/Starz

Tony Curran as King James in 'Mary & George'

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Curran is earning Emmy buzz for his portrayal of the mercurial, lonely monarch who finds himself ensnared in the social-climbing manipulations of George Villiers (Nicholas Galitzine) and George's scheming mother, Mary (Julianne Moore). The show, which aired on Starz this past spring, tells the story of George's meteoric rise from middle-class upstart to the Duke of Buckingham, as he becomes the King's righthand man and his lover.

Curran chatted with EW about taking on the role of his fellow Scotsman, crafting a playful atmosphere on set, and what famous ginger he might like to play next.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did Mary & George come your way, and had you ever noticed a resemblance between you and King James before?

TONY CURRAN: I'll take that as a compliment. But it was an audition. There's a bit of a biting scene where I take a bite out of old Georgie boy, and there was another scene as well. I really didn't realize what was about to unfold. But when I read the scripts and I met [creator] D.C. Moore, it was a thrilling experience. Frankly, it was a real challenge. It was quite daunting to play King James, but I relished it.

How much familiarity did you have with him before this project?

Many years ago, I did a play when I left drama school in the Royal Scottish Academy in Glasgow. I was at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh and doing some repertory theater. One of the plays I was doing was Mary, Queen of Scotts, and I played James' father, Lord Darnley, who subsequently was blown up and assassinated. But no, I knew quite a bit about it. But since I've shot the show, I've learned so much more about him and that period. It's interesting that you hear a lot about the Victorians, the Tudors, the Edwardian period. And because it was such a short period, the Jacobean reign, it's been swept under the carpet.

<p>Rory Mulvey/Starz</p> Tony Curran in 'Mary & George'

Rory Mulvey/Starz

Tony Curran in 'Mary & George'

Were you daunted by the amount of intimate scenes in the show?

No, not really. It was part of the character. Although walking into a 14th-century home blindfolded, and then we had a bit of the gentleman of the bed chamber orgy scene, it was interesting. I was like, "Oh, you don't get to do this every day." Acting can be fun, challenging, frightening. It can be so many things, but it also can be an exploration of yourself and other situations, and to get to fall into those situations when you may never partake in them in your real life — or maybe you do, I don't know — but you just relish it. I talked to the director and I knew what I was getting myself into, no pun intended.

Speaking of that orgy scene, how carefully choreographed was that? Because it almost reads as a dance number on screen.

[Our director] Oliver [Hermanus] had in his office these amazing images of not just what the sensuality of the scenes would be, but the whole vision of the show. It was quite edgy, punk, like animals out in the wild and fleshy bodies.

Related: Nicholas Galitzine shot 4 sex scenes with different partners in 1 day on Mary & George

In terms of this relationship between James and George, we really get this clear picture of how manipulative George is. What was it about George that James is enthralled by and falls in love with?

The first thing that he falls in love with, or he falls in lust with, is how damn good looking he is. I don't think there's any mystery about that. He catches his eye. For George, it was obviously somewhat of a transactional approach. His mother pimping him out, if you will. But there was such disloyalty within the monarchy and within James' ranks that when anybody appeared to be looking out for him or on his side, they became confidants very, very quickly. He trusted him. He definitely cared deeply for him. It was a love affair.

There's a lovely scene where George and James are lying next to each other on the ground. How do you craft that intimacy when there's a camera hovering right above you?

My wife said to me at one point, "Sometimes watching it, I couldn't tell whether it was you or whether it was James." The sense of humor that me and Nick have together instilled that chemistry into both the characters. It gave it a levity and a sweetness at times, two little puppies at play.

How would you describe both of your senses of humor and why they meshed so well? 

A little silly, a little wacky, a little sarcastic and playful. We like to take the mickey. Sometimes when you're on set, if it's a drama or a comedy or whatever you're doing, or you're having an orgy with five other fellas, you can't beat a bit of levity. It should be fun. We're not on the front lines here. It's an art form. We take it seriously, of course we do, but between takes, Julianne and Nick, all of us, we'd always be having a bit of a giggle. It makes the day go quicker.

Do you have a favorite joke or moment of taking the piss out of each other?

Nick would always sit on me. There would be moments where I'd be relaxing in the grass, and I won't go into detail, but Nick's a big boy. He would often sit on me when I was trying to relax in the sun at lunchtime or something. But that's because I head-butted him during a scene of deep passion. I cut him with this ring I'm wearing. But it was all in the name of art. We were struggling. If someone's sitting on you and trying to asphyxiate you, you do all you can to try and live, surely. But yeah, I did cut him.

You have a lot of these scenes where James' rage is unleashed. How do you prepare for something like that, both vocally and emotionally? 

A lot of it would come from being brought up the south side of Glasgow in the '60s, '70s, and '80s. The West-coast-of-Scotland male, you can go, "Oh, I'll just tap into some rage, shall I? Oh, there's a bit of wrath. Oh, I'll take some of that." I try not to use that in my everyday life. We all have those elements inside of us, whether we believe we do or not. Thankfully, as an actor, you can hopefully tap into them and use them in an artistic sense.

That outdoor palace bedroom looks freezing. Was it cold? 

It was in a forest out in Kent, somewhere in England. It was a bit of a drive to get there, but we shot it over two nights. It got a little cold at night, no doubt about that. But getting into bed in a forest, where's those Jacobean heat lamps? It was quite an incredible set that's beautiful and tragic. James is on his way out; he's losing his grip on many things. It was quite a crescendo to the end of the episode.

<p>Rory Mulvey/Starz</p> Tony Curran in 'Mary & George'

Rory Mulvey/Starz

Tony Curran in 'Mary & George'

Related: Mary & George creator breaks down that murderous finale

What did you make of the show's supposition that James did not die of natural causes

Well, it's a good argument. He had gout and a lot of diseases. He drank quite a lot. I've read a lot about all these ailments that he had. Seventeenth-century life expectancy wasn't very high. So, it could well be the case that he died of natural causes, but if we shot that scene, it might not have been as dramatic as the one we shot.

Tell me more about shooting that. Being suffocated on camera seems like it would be a challenge. 

My God. We were going to do Julianne's coverage and instead of rehearsing, we had one camera here, another one over here, and we looked at each other and said, "Okay, let's just shoot it." He puts the drink in my mouth and I wake up and I knock it out of his hand, and we just went for it. It was dirty, you might say. That was the first time Julianne had seen us rehearse. Her son kills the king. After he'd got up and was strangling me, I had to keep my eyes open. And I was thinking to myself, "Please, please say cut. Please say cut before I actually pop my clogs here." Eventually they cut. And I took this massive intake of breath, and for some reason I turned to Julianne, and I said, "Are you okay?" She was visibly unwell, that was the take they used, visibly shocked. And she went,
Am I okay? Are you okay?" The fact that it was so violent and we made it look quite realistic and horrific I think was helpful to Julie. When you can get quite gritty sometimes with scenes, then even the greatest actors can pull out something even more incredible. 

Now you've played King James, and Vincent Van Gogh on Doctor Who. Is there another famous ginger you want to tackle next? 

Well, at the moment, I'm playing Lord Lovat in Outlander: Blood of My Blood. And he's another ginger, or I've made him ginger.

Mary & George is available to stream on Starz.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Read the original article on Entertainment Weekly.