In the first part of our interview with The Last Kingdom’s James Northcote (Aldhelm), the actor told us about how he came by the role, and about the most difficult scene he filmed for the upcoming fourth season of the medieval Netflix drama. Now, Northcote takes a deep dive into his character’s motivations, and promises exciting times ahead.
First, Northcote explained what he believes motivates Aldhelm as he navigates the shifting political landscape of Mercia, Wessex and the Danes.
"Aldhelm has developed a lot as a character since he arrived in Wessex. He’s someone who has come from nowhere, some small forgotten part of Mercia and has climbed his way to the top. He is sly and determined, but there is a very principled side to him – he’s not just a spin doctor. I always imagined that he respected [King] Alfred – even if sometimes he worked against him. The project of a united England – at peace – a modern country where learning can flourish and justice can be done appeals to Aldhelm. He wants a modern England – not Danes and Saxons fighting amongst themselves and fighting each other. I think he can see a better future and that is what motivates him."
To secure this future, Aldhelm flipped allegiances in season 3. Once a loyal right hand to Aethelred, the leader of Mercia, Aldhelm chose to support his lord’s wife, Aethelflaed, Lady of Mercia and daughter of Alfred. “The writer Steven Butchard told me about this idea when we were having a drink and it really took me by surprise,” Northcote recalled. “Aldhelm has so much love and loyalty to Aethelred in season 2, that the idea of betraying him wasn’t an easy one. However, it was exactly the right thing to do and I’m really grateful that they came up with the storyline. I think Aldhelm is loyal to whoever he believes will create a better world.”
"He sees that in Aethelflaed. She’s clearly the best hope for Mercia and despite his strong loyalty to Aethelred, he can’t let him throw everything away on a whim. In the end Aldhelm will serve whoever it is who can bring England together and keep Mercia strong. How he feels about Aethelflaed later in the series I think takes him by surprise. These things usually do. Also, Aethelred did kind of stab me, so…"
My boss stabbing me is where I draw the line, too.
Looking ahead to season 4, Northcote believes the departure of several key characters in season 3 sets up a whole new playing field:
"What you can expect is a new Queen in Aethelflaed and a new King in Edward. A brother and sister who are both cut from Alfred’s cloth is a pretty interesting mix. Losing [David Dawson’s] Alfred and also Harry McEntire’s Aethelwold left a big hole in my heart. The Saxon camp lost some pretty big characters. But there is a lot of action to look forward to and England is about to get turned on its head. Uhtred has some huge new challenges to face. It really is a whole new world with new adventures and new dangers – a lot of new dangers – for everyone."
Being The Last Kingdom, we’re guessing the brother/sister duo of Edward and Aethelflaed might not be the dynamic dream team many are expecting. When we spoke to Timothy Innes (Edward), he teased “more hostility” between Uhtred and Edward in season 4, something we’re guessing might center around Aethelflaed.
As for what effect it will all have on Aldhelm, Northcote was coy. “You’ll have to wait and see! Aldhelm has had to find a new place for himself, it’s a matter of survival. He’s really grown as a fighter and I think it’s going to be interesting to see how Aldhelm’s relationship with Uhtred develops. They have more in common than it might have seemed when they first met in season 2.”
If that relationship doesn’t lead to Aldhelm joining Uhtred’s crew, we’re gonna be disappointed.
Speaking of that, Northcote also revealed who he wishes he could work more with.
"I always wish I could work with the Danes more. Aldhelm really is a Saxon guy so he doesn’t hang with them much – unless he’s fighting them. One of my favorite things about the show is the international cast and working with actors from all over Europe and Scandinavia – Kelly Hendry and her casting team find the most incredible people. I’d like to work with Ian Hart more – he is an absolute legend and I’ve loved the few scenes we’ve had together. Season 4 has been a good one though as Aldhem has found himself crossing path’s with Uhtred’s gang more than usual…"
Calm and calculating, Aldhelm could prove an interesting addition to Uhtred’s gang, most of whom are rather more…excitable. One of those followers, Mark Rowley (Finan) has a reputation for being a wild horseman on set. On that subject, Northcote sounds like he’s sticking up for one of his allies:
"Ok, I need to set the record straight on this. Mark is not the *worst* horse rider – but he does usually end up with a strong horse because the stunt guys trust him. I’m really lucky because I just always end up with a really snoozy, good natured horse. Also my stunt double Atilla Beros is very supportive – I’ve learnt so much from him."
Well, we were hoping for a better horse story, but admire the loyalty to a comrade in arms.
As for other projects, Northcote is keeping busy, “I was recently in Catherine the Great for HBO working alongside Helen Mirren. That was an amazing experience. Otherwise I’m currently on stage in London in The Taming of the Shrew at The Globe and working on post production for an independent British feature: A Clever Woman which we shot at the end of last year. There are other exciting things in the works but I can’t talk about them yet!”
No matter how busy Northcote becomes, he still finds time to binge TV like the rest of us. “The shows that I’m obsessed with are Dark on Netflix, Succession on HBO and Atlanta on Fox. Even though I think some of the best stuff to watch is on TV now, I still love cinema. It’s how I got into acting in the first place. When I was on set last year I got really into Hungarian cinema. Nora Koltai (my makeup artist on season 4) lent me loads of DVD’s like Istvan Sabo’s Sunshine and Péter Gothár’s Time Stands Still. I’ve been working my way through Béla Tarr’s back catalogue, but there’s loads I still haven’t seen.”
Life isn’t just movies and TV, however. “I try and get myself away from all the screens and cameras,” Northcote said. “Spending time with friends & family and generally enjoying real life – whatever that is!”
Whatever that is, we hope Northcote enjoys it, and thank him for his time. Bring on season 4!