BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Michael Hirst – the producer of such projects as “Vikings,” “The Tudors” and “Camelot” – had a very distinct image when he was young of the Wild West outlaw Billy the Kid. He was so fascinated with him that Hirst saw him as a rock star of the west.
As he grew older, Hirst began to realize his image of Billy the Kid was based on clichéd ideas about him being a born killer and a roughneck. It wasn’t until he started researching the outlaw for the new EPIX series “Billy the Kid,” that Hirst finally got to see the whole story.
“What I didn’t know was about his background, born of Irish immigrants, very devoted to his Catholic mother who taught him to respect women, to read, and to emphasize with the underdog,” Hirst says. “He had a beautiful singing voice. He played musical instruments. He was incredibly sensitive.
“As he said himself, he was more sinned against than sinning. He’s a wonderfully attractive character. He’s a compelling character. And I grew up writing about him, thinking about him. I grew to love him, and I think, and I hope, that the audience will love him as much as I do, and they should.”
Hirst wants viewers to see Billy the Kid as a very different young man in the eight-episode series slated to launch at 10 p.m. April 24 on the premium cable channel. The romantic adventure is based on the life of the famous American outlaw – also known as William H. Bonney — looks at his life from his humble Irish roots, to his early days as a cowboy and gunslinger in the American frontier, to his pivotal role in the Lincoln County War and beyond.
“Billy the Kid” features British actor Tom Blyth in the title role and Daniel Webber as Jesse Evans, another famous outlaw and leader of the Seven Rivers Gang. When they meet, Jesse has already embraced a life of crime robbing stores and cattle rustling. Billy is attracted to his wild and reckless character.
Blyth is not a wanted criminal but he does see a few similarities between himself and Billy the Kid. Both grew up in a house with a strong female presence who taught them how to move through the world with strength, grace, humility and savviness.
“But really I think for me, the immigration side of it is very interesting. I think moving to America six years ago as a 21-year-old and stepping into a new world, kind of looking for something bigger, I think I relate to that,” Blyth says. “I relate to the idea of going out there and searching for something bigger.
“And there’s a survivor in him, which I always related to, something about the scrappiness. I’ve always felt that kind of fight-or-flight mentality and usually a willingness to dig in and fight for what you believe in. I think that in him is very attractive to me.”
“Explorer: The Last Tepui,” Disney+, April 22
The Disney+ Earth Day special “Explorer: The Last Tepui,” from National Geographic, follows elite climber Alex Honnold (“Free Solo”) and a world-class climbing team led by National Geographic Explorer and climber Mark Synnott on a grueling mission. They go deep in the Amazon jungle to attempt a first-ascent climb up a 1000 foot sheer cliff. Their goal is to deliver legendary biologist and National Geographic Explorer Bruce Means to the top of a massive “island in the sky” known as a tepui.
The team must first trek miles of treacherous jungle terrain to help Dr. Means complete his life’s work, searching the cliff wall for undiscovered animal species.
Honnold admits his main reason for agreeing to be part of “Explorer: The Last Tepui” was his love of climbing. His main motivation was to climb a tepui that hadn’t been climbed.
“But I’d say it’s a huge bonus when we can do something that’s actually useful for the world as well, and I think the opportunity to take Bruce Means, the biologist, into this area that he otherwise would have great difficulty accessing was just a tremendous bonus,” Honnold says. “Personally, I’m still driven by climbing but it’s definitely a big bonus to do something useful.”
Means has spent his entire life studying ecosystems around the world that resulted in hundreds of scientific articles and technical reports for the likes of BBC Wildlife, National Geographic and Fauna. He traveled with the team deep into the Amazon jungle but at 80 years old, Means physically was unable to make the treacherous climb to the top of the tepui.
Filmmaker Taylor Rees says, “We had Bruce Means with us who is our reason that we were all there, to support him on his swan song expedition of moving through this landscape and discovering new species. We were kind of moving at his pace.”
The pace might have been slow but the team tackled the untouched point on Earth that will be featured in the special to air on the streaming channel.