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An interview with Tom Burke

PUBLISHED: 12:03 10 April 2014 | UPDATED: 12:06 10 April 2014

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Actor TOM BURKE plays Athos in The Musketeers, the BBC’s new interpretation of the swashbuckling novel 
by Alexandre Dumas père. He tells Zoë McIntyre about the part and his other French roles

Tell us about your character, Athos, in The Musketeers.

He is seemingly the most independent character among the musketeers and there is a sort of remoteness to him, because he carries around a great weight to do with his past. There is a line in the Dumas novel, ‘he smiles but he never laughs’, which was the most helpful line to me when playing the part.

How familiar are you with the original novel, Les Trois Mousquetaires (1844)?

I had already read the book before seeing director Richard Lester’s two Musketeers films [1973 and 1974]. Then I read the book again and kept dipping in and out while we were filming. 
It was brilliant source material to inspire the series.

How faithful has the director Adrian Hodges been to the story?

I’m not sure if he would use the word adaptation – what he wanted to do was take the characters and build a new plot. The relationships are still there – such as Athos and Milady – but he has reinvented it. One element in the book is a comedy of manners, where there is a lot of humour coming from the etiquette of duelling and killing somebody. But Adrian wanted a fast-paced immediacy, so that has been distilled somewhat. The book is very wordy in a way, but what remains to the fore is the world of the court with the cardinal and the King and Queen.

Which other Dumas adaptations have you enjoyed?

Nobody does them as well as the French – I particularly like the film La Reine Margot (1994) and The Count of Monte Cristo (a 1998 TV mini-series) with Gérard Depardieu, both adapted from Dumas novels. Watching them made me realise what Dumas does so well; revenge is obviously a prevalent theme and there are many stories in that genre, but what he writes about so brilliantly is the cost of revenge for the avenger and how it wears away at them. I had that in my head while we were filming.

Which other French films and books do you admire?

I love Camille (La Dame aux Camélias) by Alexandre Dumas fils and would like to do it as a play; there was a fantastic theatre adaptation by English playwright Pam Gems. My favourite film is Rust and Bone [starring Marion Cotillard].

What was it like playing Napoléon in the 2007 BBC docudrama about the Battle of Toulon in 1793?

The filming was on a very tight schedule – I was in all but one scene – and on a budget. For the last battle scene, I was under a rain machine for about seven nights, so it was a slog, but what a great character to play. You have to realise that Napoléon was on a mission from day one. People really liked the episode – it was part of a series called Heroes and Villains – and at one point [writer-director] Nick Murphy did suggest picking up Napoléon’s life five years on, which would have been an amazing thing to do.

Tell us about filming Colette’s novel Chéri (2009) in Paris

Colette is a fantastic author – I read both books [Chéri and the sequel La Fin de Chéri]. The stories, which are about the love affair between an older woman and a younger man, have a wonderful grasp of what constitutes the beauty of a woman. The second book is particularly interesting, which the film didn’t go into. I had a wonderful time while filming, hanging out with Anita Pallenberg and Harriet Walter, who were also in the film, and that was when I really saw Paris properly.

What did you make of the city?

I love Paris; it’s just an amazing place for a Londoner to go. In London there are these little pockets where a bomb was dropped in the middle of a historic street during the war. With Paris it is just like going back in time – there is so much that still looks like the Belle Époque era in which the film was set.

The Musketeers is being broadcast on BBC One on Sundays at 9pm.

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