'World Without End' Star Rupert Evans On How He Got The Short Straw On The Looks, Big Straw On Evil Role Of Godwyn

'World Without End' may have just finished its blockbusting run on Channel 4, but fans can chew up the whole series afresh at their leisure, with the DVD and Blu-Ray collections released today. To mark this epic occasion, one of Kingsbridge's residents, Godwyn - played by upcoming actor Rupert Evans - reflects on the good, the bad, the grotesque in this salivatory slice of ye olde worlde noir...


How would you describe Godwyn?

He’s the son of Petranilla and what was great for me was that I start quite young and then they aged me to around 35. The bad thing was that they shaved the top of my head. All my friends thought it was very funny but I didn’t think it was funny at all; it was really embarrassing.

Out and about in Budapest the girls would give me funny looks. It was fine from the front but you’re dancing, you turn around and they’re gone. For my morale it wasn’t good. But to play a character who starts off quite young and ends up as a bishop was really interesting for me.

Rupert Evans plays Godwyn in the surprise hit 'World Without End' based on Ken Follett's book

What I most liked about the script when I first read it was his fundamentalism. That was the key; he’s a guy who is seeking something in his life early on to hold on to and believe in, and he uses religion. He’s misguided but he doesn’t see it as that – he sees it as something he truly believes in. He wants the world to go back to a time when religion was more powerful and there was a hierarchy.

He becomes blinded by that want and need for the church to be the central player in everybody’s life, and that belief makes him go a bit crazy. In hindsight he’s the evil character, although he doesn’t see it. I wouldn’t know but I imagine the Hitlers of the world, they don’t see themselves as mad. We do but they don’t, so it was important for me to find a way of working that would allow me to understand him – to not necessarily agree with him but to understand why he does what he does.

How were the costumes?

I got to wear dresses, which was great – long purple robes. I love all that. And I had this incredible bowl wig. I had the worst haircut on this job and it looks awful. Everyone else had long hair and there’s me with this bowl. I got the raw end of the deal on the looks, but what can you do? I’ve got this middle-parting and white make-up so I look ill and have eczema, but I really enjoyed that. I got together with the costume and make-up people and said ‘I want to look gross.’

He’s a bit weird and I wanted him to look weird. It’s nice to do a role like that. I’ve done parts before where I’m the nice young guy, but it’s good to change your look and do characters that are interesting. I like changing myself. Halfway through the story the plague arrives and I catch it. I had all these prosthetics, which took four hours. At 4.30am I’d be sat in make-up thinking ‘Why did I say yes to this?’

Did you enjoy working with Cynthia Nixon, who plays your mother?

I hadn’t met her before so I was a bit scared. But she was brilliant, amazing and fantastic to work with. We had an amazing bond as a mother and son and a lot of scenes together. She’s an amazing actress so she can do anything really. She’s open to anything and we had a great time, lots of laughs. We had to do a scene where I end up nearly killing her, not quite but nearly, and it was interesting seeing the power shift. With mothers and sons, when the boy is young he wants acceptance and a sense of their mother being proud of them. As Godwyn grows and becomes more powerful and obsessed with himself and his aims, his mother kind of seeks recognition from him. [Laughs] That’s a boring answer, I’m afraid. I wish I could say we had a big argument and aren’t talking anymore, but she’s really very nice.

How did you find filming in Budapest?

I fell in love with the place. It’s really weird in Hungary because it got really hot in the summer, absolutely boiling, and then it went incredibly cold. You get two big extremes. In England it sort of thinks about getting hot and thinks about getting really cold and never makes up its mind. Prior to Budapest I’d filmed other things in Prague and Lithuania but never Hungary. I hope I get to work there again because I had a lovely time.

Was there much preparation for the role?

I looked into the religious side because I didn’t know a great deal about how important the church was and how it influenced everyone’s lives. If a priest said ‘You’re going to hell,’ they really believed it was true. I researched the power of the church and what it meant to be a monk in those days, in terms of silence and when you were allowed to speak. There were different orders and different rules for each of them. Also, I looked into fundamental Christianity and how women were treated – the nunneries, the separation of women and the power. It was fascinating to learn how they were seen in those days and what they were and weren’t allowed to do. Also as regards village life in the 1300s, I didn’t know that much so I wanted to understand what was the main trade, distances people travelled, general life. [Laughs] But also the job came up quite quickly so it was a case of getting to the location and learning the lines.

Did you watch The Pillars Of The Earth before you filmed this?

I did, yes, and I had friends on 'Pillars' so I knew of it. I got an understanding of Kingsbridge and although 'World Without End' is set 200 years later it really helped. I think this is even better than Pillars but then I’m biased.

You also played a religious man in 'Agora'…

I know. Do I look like a priest? I think it’s because I go into the audition and say [clasps hands] ‘Please give me the job’. As for my own religious beliefs, I’m agnostic, which is a get-out, isn’t it? My personal feeling is that religion is wonderful for you if it works for you, but for me it can be a scary thing. So I’m not religious but I am fascinated by religion and politics. When I asked the director Alejandro Amenabar why he cast me in 'Agora' he said he thought I looked nice but inside I was evil.

And are you?

[Laughs] I think that’s true of all of us, isn’t it? We’ve all got a dark side, although we try and hide it. What’s great is that I don’t have to hide it in this job. There was a lot of shouting and screaming, which was great, and hanging people. There’s one horrific moment where we hang a bunch of 12 people on the bridge. They were all stuntmen and they all jumped off together. Michael’s daughter, who is 14, was on set and she was in tears. It’s really a shocking moment. It’s hard getting your head round the fact you’re having someone hanged but you have to understand that there’s a reason behind it. It’s like war – you may not agree with it but there’s a reason for it. I tried to go back to what Godwyn believes in and that’s if all the bad, evil people were hanged everyone else would be better for it. Godwyn is constantly using that as an excuse, but I think in dictatorships a lot of people do just that for what they see as the greater purpose.

What’s the worst thing he does in your opinion?

He savagely murders a judge in cold blood. There’s lot of blood everywhere, then he burns the place down. Oh and also I nearly kill my mother, which is pretty bad – but then my mother does some bad stuff.

'World Without End' is released on DVD and Blu-Ray today, 18 February. Watch the trailer below...