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‘The Tudors’ turns bloodier in second season

The second season of Showtime's hit drama "The Tudors" turns the focus toward the rise of the Protestant Reformation during the finals days of Anne Boleyn's life.
/ Source: The Associated Press

It's no fun having your head cut off.

Natalie Dormer felt "hysterical" as she prepared to portray Anne Boleyn's final moments for Showtime's "The Tudors."

The scene was filmed at dawn in the courtyard of Dublin's famed Kilmainham Gaol, a stand-in location for the Tower of London, where the Tudor queen was beheaded on May 19, 1536.

Dormer was overwhelmed by thoughts of the queen's fate and by the potent atmosphere of the notorious prison, now a tourist attraction but once the site of many executions.

She describes her "demented" weeping and wailing at the thought of "Anne going to die, and this horrible place, and everything that is dark about the human spirit and what man can do to one another."

And to make things even more horrible, Dormer says they shot everything that is dark about the human spirit out of sequence, "so it was almost as though I needed to go through the whole upset process before I could stoically find my composure to walk up on to the scaffold," Dormer laughs.

But when the camera rolled, the 26-year-old actress pulled herself together, delivering the scene with the composure Anne had displayed as she waited for the executioner's sword to swing. Unlike the real queen, Dormer says she earned a standing ovation from the crew of onlookers when it was over.

It's no plot secret that Anne lost her head at the command of her ruthless husband, King Henry VIII (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), but this denouement won't occur until the last of the 10 episodes of the medieval drama series' second season, which premieres 9 p.m. EDT March 30.

"The second series is darker. It's more serious. ... There are big issues, and, of course, the big issue is the Reformation," says show creator, writer and executive producer Michael Hirst.

"Some of the things in the first series that people might have found too skittish — a band of young bloods having lots of sex and going hunting; having a rather carefree life while (Cardinal) Wolsey ran the state — that's gone," Hirst explains.

The new episodes reveal Henry taking charge of both church and state and beginning to display many of the tyrannical tendencies that ultimately dominated his personality.

Both Hirst and Dormer are staunch supporters of the casting of Rhys Meyers as Henry, which had earned some criticism because he is physically dark and slight, unlike the robust, redheaded king.

"He's not ginger, he's not tall and rotund, but the kind of alpha male that Henry was at his root, that he has — a charismatic young man, who had the eye of lots of ladies," says Dormer, who as Anne gets to feel the broad range of Henry's emotions, from love to hate to indifference.

"Henry was someone who never recognized boundaries. Nobody could tell him he couldn't do something," Hirst says, noting that Rhys Meyers also possesses a quality "you wouldn't want to mess with," which works perfectly for portraying the tempestuous king.

If the series continues into further seasons, he's hoping the 30-year-old actor will accept the challenge "to do a ‘Citizen Kane' and get big, bald, ferocious, ugly, monstrous."

But for now, Rhys Meyers' Henry remains glamorous.

Glamorous, too, is Dormer's Anne, despite all she endures.

"Natalie said, ‘Just throw everything at me,' and I did. I put her through the wringer," says Hirst. His script depicts Anne's fierce determination to stay involved in pushing through the Reformation, even as she struggles to hold on to Henry's affection and give him a son. Then there's "a kind of madness" when she's arrested and fears she may be burned at the stake.

"I was incredibly nervous about the psychological depths that she went to, the hysteria, the falling foul of herself, just the mess," says Dormer, adding she feared her Anne was "coming across as weak, and that's the last thing that Anne was." But she says Hirst reassured her that "you need to have that low in order to see it rise toward the end — to go to her death with dignity."