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Swordplay Certificate Pays Off for Star of BBC's 'Musketeers'
June 21, 2014  | By Donna J. Plesh

[Editor's Note: TVWW contributor Donna J. Plesh died April 2, 2015, from ovarian cancer. She was 71. Donna covered television since the early 1980s, initially for the Orange County Register and its TV magazine. She also was a member of the Television Critics Association. Donna was always a cheerful spirit within the TVWW network and often gave readers a kind, up-close viewpoint in her interviews with a wide variety of television stars. She will be missed.]

Back in the days of lawless 17th-century Paris, only the king’s personal bodyguards, The Musketeers, stood for social justice, honor, love and valor. 

Most of us know about The Musketeers from the Alexandre Dumas books or the Richard Lester films, shown at right (The Three Musketeers, The Four Musketeers: Milady’s Revenge and The Return of the Musketeers). The Musketeers were three pretty tough guys who knew how to handle swords and swordfights, yet with distinctly individual personalities. BBC America’s The Musketeers, which premieres Sunday, June 22, at 9 p.m. ET, starts out with three: Tom Burke as Athos, Santiago Cabrera as Aramis and Howard Charles at Porthos.

But yes, there is a fourth Musketeer who joins the trio, as Burke explained in a Television Critics Association press tour interview and afterward.

“There are three Musketeers and then Luke’s character (Pasqualino as D’Artagnan) comes along, he explained. "The series is very much inspired by the book. The series of books is called the D’Artagnan Romances, and D’Artagnan is the character that goes all the way through them, and the others kind of come in and out.

But "The Three Musketeers" is the book that everybody knows, and it is the first book, and it is where D’Artagnan meets the three, and by the end of that book they have become the four (Musketeers). So the Richard Lester movies in the 1970s — they made two back to back — The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers — but it’s really the journey of D’Artagnan becoming a Musketeer,” said Burke.

Writer Adrian Hodges says the 10-episode series, which already has been renewed for a second season, is not an adaptation of the book. “I didn’t want to adapt the book. The book effectively becomes a serial, and this is a series of new adventures. But what it does do is take themes, ideas, all clearly characters from the book, and use them in ways that sometimes are familiar from the book and sometimes very, very different to the book, but it isn’t an adaptation of the book, and it doesn’t follow the famous story that has been adapted a number of times. I wanted to do something completely new,” said Hodges in an interview.

Burke, 31, said he always was interested in tales of the Musketeers. “I was very into the Musketeers.  When I was growing up the spacemen were generally wearing a sort of kind of tight fluorescent onesie, which I never felt would sort of suit my frame. I’ve always brushed down slightly better than I brush up. So I suppose the more kind of rustic, if you will, look of the Musketeers I just thought would work with what I had to offer.

“Every time I’ve had a costume fitting for any job, regardless of period or character, I think I do kind of scan the rail for something in dark leather, so it was great to just be wearing that and [have] it be appropriate. There was a period of adjustment with kind of, like, you’ve got the heels, and then you’re dealing with heels and cobblestones, so we’re all a bit shaky for a couple of days,” said Burke.

Handling a sword for his role in the series was nothing new for Burke. “In my drama school we had to do a bit of it [swordplay], and we had to get a sort of certificate to prove we were sort of safe to go and do it. And I had done a bit [of swordplay] at the Globe Theatre in London in a production of Romeo and Juliet. But it had been a while, and it's not like riding a bike,” he said.

Burke, like so many of his acting peers from Britain, comes from an acting family. His father is the actor David Burke, and his mother is the actress Anna Calder-Marshall. But there are more: “I have a cousin who is an actress and a godfather and godmother who are actors. I always sort of knew that’s what I was going to do,” he said.

Burke said filming the series took about seven months and took place in the Czech Republic in a town outside of Prague. “We were shooting five days a week, sometimes six. It was pretty long hours. It was slow, but, I mean, and we were all taking it very seriously. I just mean the work alone. But if I have an abiding memory of the seven months, it’s probably of laughing, and just between my takes, there was something to laugh about.” Such as?

“There was a lot of goofing around. There was quite a lot of hiding behind any available object and jumping out and making a noise of a dog or a peacock and just seeing how much we can frighten the living daylights out of each other. I actually waited on three occasions in the toilet of Luke’s caravan to surprise him, which in total," he said, "meant I waited there an hour and he never turned up.”

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