Ruairi O’Connor gives new spin to familiar role with ‘Spanish Princess’

Rick's Reviews

Ruairi O’Connor and Charlotte Hope star in the Starz series ‘The Spanish Princess.” (Photo courtesy of Starz)

(KGET) — “The Spanish Princess” star Ruairi O’Connor isn’t the first actor to portray Henry VIII. He joins the likes of Richard Burton, Robert Shaw, Damian Lewis, Jonathan Rhys Myers and Charles Laughton who have portrayed the British king in TV and film projects.

O’Connor didn’t worry about comparisons when he took on the role for the first season of the Starz original series and feels even more comfortable with the character now that the second – and concluding – season is set to start at 8 p.m. Oct. 11.

“I was very lucky because I was playing a teenage version of him in the first season,” O’Connor says. “So I was just playing a lovesick puppy who was trying to get out of his parents’ shadow.

“I was lucky in the second season because I was just going from season one on the journey. In the course of that, Henry gets a little bit less friendly. I didn’t have to show up and play a jolly Henry VIII cutting people’s heads off.”

O’Connor pauses, laughs and then adds, “I’m not a good enough actor for that.”

The transformation of Henry VII continues with “The Spanish Princess,” the follow-up to the Golden Globe and Emmy award-nominated Starz miniseries “The White Queen” and the critically acclaimed Starz limited series “The White Princess.” The concluding part of “The Spanish Princess” continues the story of Queen Catherine and Henry VIII as they preside over the most glamorous court in Europe and are beloved by their people. Together they create an England that is proud, confident and strong enough to withstand threat from abroad.

Because the series is told chiefly from Catherine’s perspective, it focuses on her struggle to produce an heir that places her marriage and position in the court at risk. She has proven herself to be a politician, a diplomat, a national inspiration and even a military commander but Catherine must battle to save her love with the King and to preserve the peace and prosperity of their reign. 

The eight episode series – adapted from Philippa Gregory’s novels The Constant Princess and The King’s Curse – continues to feed the public’s interest in this historical period.  O’Connor’s not quite certain why there is such a fascination for this era but has a few theories.

“I think so much change happened in the world at this time,” O’Connor says. “It’s the same way when people say if one person dies it’s a tragedy and if a million people die it’s a statistic.

“I think the personal and the public were the most intertwined it ever was in history. It was a most tantalizing moment where relationships and affairs and the fertility of the Queen were going to have such an outsized effect on history in general.”

O’Connor also believes that all of the political intrigue, infidelity, corruption, back-stabbing and fighting for power at that time are elements that feel very modern.

 “The Spanish Princess” is the most significant role O’Connor has played in his young career. Previous work by the Irish actor includes the TV series “Delicious” and the film “Teen Spirit.”

Just as O’Connor didn’t look at how other actors played the role, he did very little research of the time period. He found everything he needed to play his version of Henry VIII in the script.

He’s playing a Henry VIII who shows more kindness and humility than the way others have portrayed him. O’Connor credits the writing of “The Spanish Princess” with giving him a character who is showing signs of change with each episode.

“He is becoming slightly more pompous or at least trying to have an air of pomposity because he’s nervous about his place in the world,” O’Connor says. “I hope that’s what is the audience’s take.

“He’s not an evil person but just under a lot of stress. And, He’s not dealing with it very well. If that comes across, I will be very grateful.”

The cast of “The Spanish Princess” also includes Charlotte Hope as Catherine of Aragon, Georgie Henley as Henry’s younger sister and Queen of Scotland Margaret Tudor and Laura Carmichael as Margaret Pole.

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