On the E! scripted drama series The Royals, money and power are in endless supply, when it comes to being the royal family of England. But after losing her eldest son, Queen Helena (Elizabeth Hurley) is left trying to figure out what to do with her other son, Prince Liam (William Moseley), who she feels is spending too much time with the American Ophelia (Merritt Patterson), that just so happens to be the daughter of their head of security, and her out-of-control daughter, Princess Eleanor (Alexandra Park), whose only goal seems to be to drive her mother crazy, as publicly as possible.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor William Moseley talked about how exciting it is to already have a second season pick-up, his audition process for this role, his biggest concerns before signing on, what sold him on the show, working on something so top secret, why living vicariously through this character is so much fun, but not something he’d want to do in real life, having Elizabeth Hurley and Joan Collins playing his mother and grandmother, and just how surreal it all is sometimes. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: Congrats on the second season pick-up, before Season 1 had even aired a single episode! What was it like to get that news, in a business that you never know where your next job is coming from?
WILLIAM MOSELEY: That was really weird. I’m so skeptical now. This is a business where there are a lot of broken promises, and you become very jaded and cynical. And then, when someone is actually like, “No, this is happening. This is actually the real deal,” it’s always better. It’s a bigger surprise. I’m really happy about it. It’s really, really wonderful.
How did you come to this show?
MOSELEY: My agent just sent me the pilot script. I didn’t really know what to expect, and I was skeptical that it was about the British royal family. But once I read it, I was stunned. I was blown away. The show moves so quickly. It’s so punchy and so fun, and you love the world. I love the world that we’ve created. I went back to America and I was in New York, and they asked me to self-tape. So, I self-taped, and then I went in for casting. Then, I flew myself back to England. Fortunately, it paid off.
This show really has the potential for being the next big guilty pleasure for viewers, but it could also have gone very badly in the wrong hands. Was that a concern for you?
MOSELEY: Yeah, it was. What I was concerned about was whether they could keep up the energy of the pilot, and the excitement, the madness, the fun and the heart of the show. That’s where you connect, on an emotional level, and I didn’t know if that would maintain. But, it really did. By the time we get to Episode 10, the show does a full 180 and almost spins back on itself. It’s very powerful and it’s very moving. Everything that’s been built in from the first is there at the last. That’s really the genius of our creator/writer Mark Schwahn. He’s done over 200 episodes of TV. He did 187 episodes of One Tree Hill. So, he knows what he’s doing. If anybody ever has any doubt, I just tell them to ask that guy.
The Royals is the first scripted series for E! Is it exciting to be the first at a network?
MOSELEY: E! has always loved the show. There are people at E! who would give us their first born baby. I’m not even joking. They are behind this show 150,000%. We’ve seen a surprising amount of support. People will tune in to E!, but whether they will give E! a chance as a scripted channel, that’s something we have yet to see. Beyond that, E! is very good at marketing and branding. I think they’re the best out there, at bringing people into the world and making them present. As an actor, nowadays, that’s something that you need. I privately said to my girlfriend, “You have to be modern, you have to be present, you have to be out there,” and E! couldn’t be a better channel for that.
Did you have conversations ahead of time, to get an idea of where things would be headed with the story and with your character’s journey, in particular, or has there been a lot of discovery, episode to episode?
MOSELEY: It’s a bit of both. We follow the story of Hamlet, so I had a rough idea of where the first season was going. However, in saying that, for some reason, they gave us our scripts last. The make-up people would have the scripts first, and we would just be secretly reading through the scripts from the make-up girl in the make-up trailer. We really had no idea. It was all top secret. Mark, our producer, always wanted to surprise us and give us a little bit of a shock and keep us on edge.
No one has ever done a TV show about a fictional British royal family before. What excites you the most about that?
MOSELEY: It’s always fun to try something new. People think every avenue has been explored on TV, but this has never been done. That, in itself, really excites me. I think we’re really lucky because there’s such a love and affection and appreciation for the British royal family, right now. It’s a reinvented fascination with Kate and this magical fantasy fairy tale that she was a commoner and married a prince and had a baby. That seems to be in people’s minds, and they like that. We really couldn’t have hit it at a better time, or in a more accepting time. I’m really excited to see how people receive it. I’m sure some people will absolutely hate it, but I think it’s cool.
How did you approaching finding your portrayal of this character? Did you want to look at any actual members of the royal family, or did you just want to look at people of this class level, in general?
MOSELEY: What I wanted the character to be like, I think are some of the qualities that Harry really has. I didn’t want this character to have that arrogance or condescension, or that “I’m better than you” attitude. I wanted him to be completely real, completely normal, and a down-to-earth, fun guy that you’d want to go to the pub and have a drink with. And Mark wanted that, as well, so we were on the same page, from day one. That’s something that Harry has, and it’s why people really relate to Harry and like him. The royal family seems to be doing a really good job with getting Prince William and Kate out there, as well. They’re not keeping them in a box. I went to make the character as normal as possible.
How does losing his brother affect Liam?
MOSELEY: For someone to go from being a royal rock star to having responsibilities, and having to change his entire life and rethink his personality, that is the bones of the show. He has to rise to the occasion. What would happen if Prince Harry, when he was 19, suddenly had to be the next king? How would he feel? What would he have been like? It’s an interesting question to ask. We follow him. We see the world through his eyes, and through this American girl’s eyes. We see how hard that would actually be.
Liam is searching for normalcy in an abnormal world. Is there any chance of him actually being able to achieve that?
MOSELEY: I think any normalcy he’ll find is in himself. That’s a tough thing, especially with all of the madness going on in the palace. It’s something that we can’t imagine. If you’re an amazing basketball player, or you’re David Beckham, it’s one level of success and power and fame. But being a prince, or the next King of England, is a thing that none of us could ever imagine, and luckily don’t have to. It’s so isolating, in a weird way. You’re alienated from everybody else. It’s a very threatening feeling because everybody knows who they are. They know that, if they were to rob you, they would get a whole bunch of money. It’s a weird feeling to go through something like that. It’s hard enough to deal with that on TV. I wouldn’t want to deal with that, in real life.
Why do you think Liam is so drawn to this American girl, Ophelia (Merritt Patterson), that he wants to risk everything to be with her?
MOSELEY: There’s a sense that she sees him for who he is, not what he is. That’s a very important thing in life, to be really looked upon for the qualities which you hold in yourself and not all of this superficiality. The material world will always attract a lot of women. A lot of people would be down for that, whatever the cost. But, she doesn’t really care. She’s seen it and doesn’t care about that. She just likes him for him. That real bond and real love is something that is actually worth fighting for. But there are a lot of temptations, along the way, for him. He has to navigate through some tricky waters.
You’ve said that you wouldn’t want to be in this situation yourself, but what are the best parts about living vicariously through this character and as a part of this family?
MOSELEY: I love playing the character. We get to go to the most beautiful places in England. We literally get to film in palaces. We get amazing sports cars to drive and a crazy private jet. It’s the best of both worlds. You get to have a great time, and then you get to go home and back to your own life. You get to sit in the subway, and nobody has a clue who you are or what you’re doing, or cares.
What’s it been like to work with this cast? Could you ever have imagined you’d have Elizabeth Hurley playing your mother?
MOSELEY: I was blown away by it. It’s so weird. I’ve known Elizabeth now for just over a year, and I’m still like, “Oh, my god, that’s Elizabeth Hurley!” She has this x-factor. There’s something about her where she’s just magnetizing. She’s someone I’ve grown up watching and seen all of my life, and now she’s playing my mom.
And then, you add Joan Collins into the mix, on top of that.
MOSELEY: I know! You think you’ve got one diva on the set, but you’ve got the biggest diva of all time, with Joan Collins. They couldn’t have cast a better person to play the Queen Mum. They really couldn’t. Weirdly enough, I worked with Joan Collins when I was 10 years old. I was just an extra in a film, and I met her and she was really lovely. Now, she’s 10 or 15 years on, playing my grandmother.
Are there moments, when you’re filming on these sets and you’re in the wardrobe and you’re looking at everybody around you, that it all just feels completely surreal?
MOSELEY: Yeah. You do a lot of jobs, some good and some not so good. This is definitely up there with one of the best. With the Narnia films, as well, there were moments like that, that are magic. There are several moments of magic with this, as well. When we stepped out of the palace with all of the extras, or stepping out for the royal funeral, and there was a casket with a British flag around it, for a moment, it’s almost real. You’re almost the Prince of England. It’s a weird feeling.
The Royals airs on Sunday nights on E!