Two footmen in powdered white wigs and red and gold livery stand at attention beside a pair of French doors, through which Great Britain’s royal family is expected to enter at any moment to greet the press. But when those doors finally do open, it’s not Queen Elizabeth and her House of Windsor posse who parade through the regal portal. It’s the UK’s other royal family—Queen Helena, King Cyrus, Princess Eleanor, Prince Liam and their bodyguard, Jasper—stars of the E! hit television show “The Royals.”
The cast is here on an elaborate stage set near central London to promote the upcoming third series, which debuts on December 4. For those unfamiliar with the show, it’s like “Dynasty” meets Buckingham Palace, replete with scheming, bed-hopping, cheeky humor, gorgeous clothes…and Joan Collins, as an imperious matriarch.
Elizabeth Hurley stars as Queen Helena, Collins’ daughter and the mother of Alexandra Park’s Eleanor (a.k.a. Len), the rebel princess who never met a substance she wouldn’t drink or snort, and William Moseley’s Liam, a down-to-earth prince of the people. Jake Maskall is the deliciously devious King Cyrus, brother of Queen Helena’s late husband, King Simon. Tom Austen rounds out the main cast as the secretive Jasper, the hunk with the steely blue gaze who is keen to guard Len’s body in the most intimate way possible.
Hurley takes the lead as they enter, working her way down a receiving line of reporters, with a beaming smile, a handshake (a familiarity which the “real” Queen Elizabeth would never permit), and a few friendly words. “Didn’t I meet you before on the red carpet?” she asks one journalist, leaving her slack-jawed with surprise. “Uh, no,” the woman stammers, both flattered and flustered. “That wasn’t me.”
While Hurley’s posh tones and impeccable elegance mirror that of her character, her manner is far from Queen Helena’s icy haughtiness. As I sit down for a chat with Hurley, who is pristine in a white knee-length lace dress, she’s quick to dish about some of her favorite moments on set, recalling one “killer line” from Season Two.
“I had to say to the (female) Prime Minister, ‘Be very careful. These are shark-infested waters, and those fake (breasts) won’t keep you afloat for long.’ I remember that one, because I’ve used it on someone else, as a joke,” Hurley relates with a husky laugh. “I save it up for a rainy day.”
She insists that the plot lines have nothing to do with the real royal family, but Hurley admits that she does watch video clips of them at official events. “It’s just to see things like who offers their hand first, and how do they open the car door for them? The protocol is fascinating, although I’m the only one who really follows it in this crazy family.”
For some scenes, of course, there simply is no royal precedent—like the one in which Hurley had to remove a thong from a man’s backside. “That was a real piece of broad comedy,” she recalls. “It was hysterical, but the poor actor. I really felt for him.”
So then…that wasn’t a prosthetic derriere? “No, that was his bottom—and he was a very nice married man, and we all met his wife,” she finishes primly, metaphorically slipping into Queen Helena’s perfectly polished pumps for a moment.
Fortunately, Hurley says, the cast can always count on the crew for discretion when filming sensitive material. “You could be doing a really hot, passionate sex scene, and you think, ‘Oh, I bet the crew are enjoying that.’ And you look around, and they’re all (ignoring you and) texting!’” she laughs.
One character who has more than his fair share of such scenes is Maskall’s sexually omnivorous King Cyrus, who, on this day, is the only one of the cast showing any appetite at all. “Oh, look at all these treats and delights!” he purrs, snagging a fruit kabob from a passing waitress before launching into the subject of Cyrus’ love life.
“We don’t question sexuality, and we don’t judge it,” says Maskall, flamboyantly attired in one of Cyrus’ typical purple velvet suits and floral shirts. “I think that’s lovely and really important, after Orlando and the shootings,” he adds sympathetically. “Part of our demographic is for a younger audience, and I hope that our voice echoes that sexuality isn’t a problem, especially with the princess,” he says, referring to an affair that Len had with a woman last season.
So, what’s the best part about playing King Cyrus? “He just gets away with murder, quite literally,” Maskall laughs. “I’m wickedly…wicked!”
At least it must be a relief, I remark, to know that all he has to do to prove he’s much nicer in real life is to not kick a puppy.
In fact, Maskall says, he’s had a terrific reaction from fans. “It’s been great, because the writers and Mark (Schwahn, the show’s creator) have allowed Cyrus to have a vulnerable side, too, so the audience know he’s not just a monster. They love to hate him,” he says, with a mischievous glint in his enormous blue-green eyes.
One character fans love to love is Prince Liam, with his easy-going manner and boyish charm, reminiscent of Princess Di’s offspring, Princes William and Harry. Moseley, neatly attired in a dark suit today, has actually had several brushes with royalty, meeting Queen Elizabeth, the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and Camilla previously on red-carpet events for The Chronicles of Narnia, in which he starred as the young King Peter—but he hasn’t seen them since.
“No, and I don’t know if will ever meet them again after this,” he adds with a quiet laugh. “But I’d like to meet Prince William and Prince Harry, because they seem like really nice, normal people. Prince Harry seems like my kind of guy.”
Has he based Liam on Harry? “No,” Moseley says, before quickly contradicting himself. “I’m sure in some subconscious way, I probably have. I find that Prince Harry is very personable. He’s created a charity for soldiers. He cares. You could have a pint with him, and it would be like having a chat with one of your mates. So, when I play Liam, I want people to feel like that about him—that he’s a real human being.”
While none of the cast I speak with have heard any feedback from the royal family, Maskall, for one, is willing to speculate about their reaction.
“Do you know, I can imagine Harry, Kate and William, on the sofa, popcorn, ice cream, ‘Royals’—and I bet they love it,” Maskall says. “Because we are completely fictitious.”
“The show is a pure guilty pleasure, and I would hope they would see that, and find the joy in it.”