Questions with David Dawson
English actor David Dawson stars as the visionary King Alfred in BBC America's The Last Kingdom. Here he delves into what makes Alfred "Great," his love story with Uhtred, and his horse McFlurry's diva tendencies.
Before this role, what did you know about King Alfred?
Dawson: I didn’t know a lot, but I am a real lover of history and I love research. You picture Alfred as this heroic warrior king, but then you realize that in our story, he's far more thoughtful, frail, sickly, quiet, pensive, and calculating. That was what really drew me to the part. In a world full of brave warriors, this thin little pale man may not have had the clout physically, but he was the cleverest man in any room.
What do you think makes Alfred "Great"?
Dawson: At the start of the story, we don't think he's capable of achieving greatness, and I don't ￼think even he does. We meet him in a library and he seems like a very quiet bookworm, and then he grows in confidence and becomes quite a visionary king. He is also ruthless and dangerous, and that's partly why I'm very fond of him.
Tell us about Alfred's relationship with Uhtred.
Dawson: What I love about the image of Alfred and Uhtred is that they are complete opposites of each other. In one you have this brave, handsome warrior and then you have this thin, frail, but incredibly clever man, and they both want what the other has. It is a bit of a love story, because the conflict between them shows how they need each other to survive in this brutal world. Alfred hates Uhtred at the beginning of the story, but realizes that he has value because he has so much knowledge of his enemy.
What was it like filming the series' epic battle scenes?
Dawson: In scenes when you're on huge battlefields surrounded by warriors, you realize that to survive this period of time must have required a lot of strength, both physically and mentally. ￼I got to learn how to ride a horse, which I had never done before. I wasn't very good at the beginning! I rode a horse called McFlurry, and he was a bit of a diva, I think. He kept stopping to eat grass, so I kept trying to lift him up. However, I didn't know that if you lift a horse up by the reins, it means reverse. So while we were filming scenes I would be looking at the monitor and suddenly my horse would be moving backwards. I carried on anyway. Once you get the handle of your horse, you do really enjoy it.
What about filming Alfred's Coronation?
Dawson: The coronation was filmed early on and was quite terrifying. When I arrived on set, there were about one hundred and fifty extras all lining this very long route to the hall. I was really nervous about it, but it was good because Alfred must have been nervous, too. In my coronation, I am bare-chested and they have all these oils. It's an alien world.
How does religion factor into Alfred's life?
Dawson: What makes Alfred quite terrifying is his complete devotion to God and his complete belief that God will be on his side. Mixed in with that, though, there is the conflict of his more human desires. Beocca is almost his conscience; constantly bringing him back to faith and helping him through.
Tell us about Alfred and Aelswith's marriage.
Dawson: I love the fact that there are some strong women in this story. Although I'm not sure that Alfred and Aelswith enjoy being in bed with each other a lot, they do have an enormous respect for one another. She is always there and is looking after his best interests. She is possibly more dominant than Alfred wants her to be, but I think it's great to have a powerful woman behind the King.
What were your costumes like?
Dawson: When I first went into the wardrobe truck, I could see all the 'rock 'n' roll' costumes for the Vikings, with the big furs and the horned helmets. Then I looked at Alfred's shelf, which was literally just one very dull tunic. Although I'm not wearing the most exciting clothes, they say an awful lot about the man inside them. For Alfred, clothes aren't something that resemble extreme importance — it's all about a life devoted to God and to Wessex.
Is there a particular Wessex court scene that stands out for you?
Dawson: There is a lot of humor within the show, and we spent a lot of time purely doing the Saxon court scenes. One of the scenes is when the Saxons meet the Danes Ubba and Guthrum. It was really refreshing having this completely different energy in the room — these foreigners invading our turf, one of them a psychopath and the other a sociopath.