We talk to The Last Kingdom’s Adrian Schiller about how his scheming character might fare in season 5, and when the show could get back to work.
In the first part of our interview with The Last Kingdom’s Adrian Schiller, we talked all things Aethelhelm, improvising on set, and who passed gas in the middle of a critical scene. This go-round, we talk fantasy team ups, how Hollywood might get back to work, and more.
But first up, Schiller discussed where he sees Aethelhelm’s journey heading in season 5. The court schemer has been behind some dirty deeds, including the poisoning of Lady Ælswith, and Schiller doesn’t see him getting away unscathed:
"It’s difficult to see how he can survive. Partly because there’s a sort of dramatic morality, isn’t there? When you’ve seen somebody who is basically plotting to screw over the main characters and the characters that you love, the dramatic morality demands that they have a painful demise. I would imagine that he’s probably headed that way. I think what would be interesting would be for him to do quite well for two or three episodes and then have his attempt to kill Aelswith, which either he has at it again or he tries to get to the other kids or something, but anyway he gets found out. Then he’s really gonna be on the back foot, and we’ll have to see how the hell he copes, that’s what I would like to see. I’d like to see him try and get out of it, and maybe gets so close to getting out of it, that would be really cool."
If you’re reading, The Last Kingdom writers, you probably can’t do much better than that.
But Schiller was quick to qualify his idea. “I think probably what the fans would like to see is him, being badly beaten up and left in a cell to rot for a while and then executed (laughs). A lot of the comments I’ve seen are, ‘I hate that man,’ or ‘He’s a snake’, but that’s what we’re there for. If it’s having that effect, if people are having a visceral reaction to you, actually feeling that they really wish you harm that’s the point. Obviously I hope that, you know, most Last Kingdom fans are not actual psychopaths, since it’s a reaction to a fictional character.”
On the show, the person most likely to be angry with Aethelhelm is the Lady Aelswith, assuming she survives her current ordeal. As a fan of the show, Schiller enjoyed Aelswith this past season as much as we did, which makes it an especially rotten time to be on her bad side. “Her journey was brilliant,” he said. “I think in a way, she’s sort of slightly moving away from her faith. I mean, she isn’t truly, but her decisions are not made in a sort of fundamentalist way, right? She realizes that hasn’t worked, and she’ll go, ‘Oh, hang on, maybe it would be a good idea to have Uhtred around.’ I think that it was quite humanizing for her because in a way, she was such a kind of full on, uncompromising Christian, right? But that was quite alienating. That’s nothing to do with Christianity, it’s just that was the only thing that ever made her make a decision, and suddenly she’s being a bit more human about things.”
Image: The Last Kingdom/HBO
And if Aelswith is reconsidering the role faith plays in her life, Aethelhelm never took his very seriously. “For Aethelhelm, I think that he’s sort of Christian in name only,” Schiller said. “I think that he’s a guy that would be very much aligned with the Christian Kings and the Christianity of the Saxons, but because it was the Saxons. Aethelhelm wouldn’t really give a damn about Christianity, but he’d make sure he got the Christians on his side. I can think of other people who might be doing the same thing at the moment.”
Of course, Aehtelhelm would embrace his religion if it meant hating someone else. “He would regard the paganism of Vikings as being something to despise, and hence and paganism of Uhtred, but only because they’re Vikings. He just hates Vikings, he’s not having anything to do with those bloody Vikings. He could never trust Uhtred as a result of that.”
Aehtelhelm and Haesten vs Uhtred
But there’s an exception to every rule. Viking or not, Schiller would love to work with Jeppe Beck Laursen, who plays the warlord Haesten.
"I would really like to work with Jeppe. It would be hilarious. If I could persuade them to do it, I’d be very happy. The characters are so different, they’re both schemers, right? But, he’s big and he’s boisterous, and he’s always having fun and all that sort of stuff. They would just be such an odd couple. I just have this fantasy that they found out that I have been trying to poison Aelswith, so I get locked up and then Jeppe breaks me out of prison. I think that he knows that if he doesn’t kill Uhtred, Uhtred is going to get him eventually. You can’t leave Uhtred hanging upside down in the forest and expect to get away with it."
Put us down as wanting to see that team-up, unlikely as it is. “One of the pitfalls of of my job is, you have to be really be careful what you wish for, or what you expect,” Schiller continued. “It’s so easy to get bitterly disappointed when stuff that you really want to have happen doesn’t happen. Or something else happens altogether, which can be very exciting. So generally it’s best to deal with what’s put in front of you rather than what you might want, or what you can persuade yourself is a brilliant idea, and then the producers look at you like you’re mad.”
"You got to stay in your lane, really, in this. It’s a very complicated thing making a television show; the writers write, the actors act, and the musicians do the music. There’s a little bit of input, a little bit of crossover, but as soon as you start trying to write your own plot lines, it’s just never gonna happen so there’s no point in doing it (laughs). Maybe you can if you’re Alex (Dreymon), but I think anybody who’s in a position to do it probably won’t. You know better by then. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a conversation with the writers."
Of course, fans who have read Bernard Cornwell’s best-selling Saxon Stories already know generally where the plot is going, whether they’ve talk to the writers or not. Has Schiller cracked the novels? “Well, I did a bit just to get a flavor of it. But the thing is, with these stories that they’re so different from the original books that actually it’s a bit of a confusion. It gives you a feeling for the place and the time. But partly because I joined the series late, I think season three episode four or something, maybe even later than that, the more useful research for me was simply to watch the earlier seasons. I knew that one wasn’t going to follow the other one. Once we finish, I’ll read it all. But I’ll wait til then, because you can have the wrong sort of information.”
When will The Last Kingdom start shooting again?
The Last Kingdom season 5 has officially been ordered by Netflix, and Schiller was bullish on when he, and the rest of Hollywood, might get back to work. “Well things have really ground to a halt,” he said. “I had other Netflix shows that I can’t talk about yet, but we’ve got no idea when these things are going to start up again. I think people are trying to work out ways of doing it. I know some of the Australian soaps have started shooting again, but they’re having to do some cheeky stuff with telephoto lenses and cameras shot a long way away to make people look like they’re very close to one another. I don’t know how much of that is possible to do; film sets are naturally very intimate spaces. There tend to be a lot of people around, everyone’s in everybody’s face all the time, and I just don’t really see how it could be easily handled safely. It’s just a very difficult thing to do. So I think at the moment everybody is just crossing their fingers and waiting to see what happens.”
"There are projects which already sort of ready to go, right? There was a horror movie that I was doing a little bit on just before Christmas, which we still got another week to shoot on, and we still don’t know when that’s gonna happen. They’re trying to do it in late July, but we’ll be lucky if we can do it. The difficulty is simply that, if anybody on the set got ill, you’d have to close the whole thing down. I don’t see how you could insure against it."
Schiller also thinks that The Last Kingdom, and other period dramas like it, will face extra problems. “It’s more difficult if you gotta have a pitched battle between Saxons and Vikings, right? I think that the real problem, and this is not me speaking with any insider knowledge, but just the practicality of it, is if you’re running a film set, which is costing tens of thousands of dollars a day, and you discovered that you’ve got one infectious person in that set up, you absolutely have to isolate everybody who’s had any contact with them. And with the way a film set works, the lines of transmission just basically lead from everyone to everybody. At that point, you have to shut down, a $50,000 a day operation for two weeks. That’s gonna cost a million bucks. No one’s going to insure that, it’s just not going to be done. They can’t function without insurance, and I think that’s where it’s gonna fall down. You could take as many precautions as you like, but at that point, where you’re having to essentially isolate 200 people, you’re screwed aren’t you?”
Image: The Last Kingdom/Netflix
In the meantime, Schiller believes we have about a year left of content if Hollywood isn’t able to get back on its feet. “For anything but really, really big budget stuff with long post-production, the release date is partly to do with the amount of time it takes to do the edit and put it through all the various processes aiming for it to drop it an appropriate moment. A year later, if you wrap a year later is about as far as you’ll go usually.”
Finally, Schiller revealed what activities he’s engaged with to get through the lockdown:
"A bit of everything. I’ve watched a lot of telly. I watched Homeland from the beginning again. It’s a fantastic series. I love that. Westworld, we started all that again, I love that one. I play the guitar, I play classical guitar. I’ve been writing some bits and pieces, but the thing I find most challenging is really organizing your day. Generally speaking, when you’re working as an actor, your day is very rigorously organized for you; you have to be in certain places at certain times, and there really isn’t much time left over to do anything except sleep to be honest. Then when you do have days off, then it’s perfectly legitimate to just kick back and do whatever you like. But having enforced days off for weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks is…pretty hard. I think that some people are more disciplined and better able to organize their time, but I I find it psychologically quite tough. There’s no end in sight you know? It could go on for another six months and we just have no idea."
Hopefully things turn around quicker than that, because there’s a certain show that just got renewed.
Whatever happens, we thank Mr. Schiller for his time, and look forward to seeing him on the screen soon!