Jack Lowden, 28, is a successful and award-winning actor. Prior to being cast as Lord Darnley in Josie Rourke’s Mary Queen of Scots, Lowden performed on stage as well as in television and film projects. He spoke to Senior Editor Paraag Shukla about the film, which opens in theaters on December 7, 2018.
How familiar were you with this particular story prior to coming aboard?
Mary is such an incredible figure in our country’s history. I was familiar with her relationship with Elizabeth, and that she was imprisoned for about 18 years before her execution. I wasn’t at all familiar with Lord Darnley, who I played in the film, and the men that were in her life. Elizabeth I is considered England’s greatest monarch, and Mary was thought of as tragic.
This film does a fantastic job at portraying characters who are strong, ambitious, flawed, and vulnerable. That’s certainly true of Darnley. What kind of research did you do for your role?
I was very lucky and was given a hell of a lot of help in the way he interacts with the other characters. The script gave me several brilliant moments to play him not as a cocksure, arrogant young man of the court, but as an incredibly insecure and henpecked husband, as you said.
He was a Catholic by birth and was practicing, but he was incredibly fluid with that, too. He would bend it to whoever was in the room. When he wasn’t made king, I think he even went to Rome to petition, but then he’d also sit and watch John Knox’s Protestant preaching. A modern way of saying it would be that he was two-faced…or maybe he was a brilliant diplomat!
I didn’t have to do too much research because it was all there on the page, but as someone obsessed with history, I used it as an excuse to read tons of books!
Do you find it more or less challenging in portraying a real-life character?
I find it less challenging, maybe because there is a sort of blueprint already there for you. These characters are well documented, including other people’s opinions of them, so you have a lot to draw on. I’m most interested in how other people viewed my character.
How much leeway did Josie Rourke give you to explore Darnley and his behavior?
Josie gave me license to push as much as I could and see what I could get away with. Darnley really was renowned for being an idiot—unbelievably arrogant, insecure, violent, and a huge drinker. His sexuality was fluid and that obviously became a problem when he was married to Mary and his sole purpose was to produce an heir. There was so much for me to play with, and that’s a great problem to have!
There is a draw to him, to try and understand why he is the way he is, and to dig into his past and his family, which we do get a sense of in the film.
Yeah, it’s great, and it’s one of the more central themes in the film: expectation. Especially for Elizabeth and Mary, the expectation of being a woman as a monarch. And for someone as promising as Lord Darnley. He was well connected, something like third in line for the throne. That weight of expectation is a lot to be on anybody’s shoulders, as a young man or woman.
What did you find most challenging in the whole project?
I read a book by Robert Sellers called The Hellraisers, about Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole, and Oliver Reed. I watched a lot of Peter O’Toole films, and what I found hard was all the things I wanted to do and try, I had to make them fit within the 1500s. The way I moved and talked, it had to still be in keeping with the time. Again, I had to see what I could get away with. That was the most challenging but also the most fun.
What was your favorite scene to shoot?
It was when Darnley comes to see Mary. She needs an heir, and having found out that he sleeps with men, she forces him to do it. I liked that scene because you don’t often get to see a woman character do that. I like that Darnley is completely vulnerable in that moment.
Tell me about Saoirse and her work on this film. She gives a truly strong performance.
Yeah, if anyone could handle this role, it’s Saoirse Ronan. She is utterly formidable, on and off screen, and is completely fearless—for being only 22 years old! She was a perfect fit, because Mary came to Scotland to regain her crown when she was 18. So it was only fitting that such an incredible young actress take her on. We were constantly blown away and she was a remarkable leader on set.
Given today’s political and cultural climate, this film is incredibly relevant. What do you hope audiences will take away from it?
There is the huge relevance to the “Me Too” movement and women in power—all of which needs to be talked about a hell of a lot more. There is all of that in the film, and that is one of its more central messages.
Personally, as a Scotsman I also want people to know more about Scotland and its remarkable and unique history. Scotland severely punched above its weight, and even more so back then. It was a time when England, France, and Spain were vying to be superpowers and Scotland always managed to squeeze itself into the most important rooms. What a remarkable little country Scotland was and is—the “biggest wee country in the world,” as we call it!
If you could ask Darnley one question, what would it be?
Who killed him? I’d love to know that. He probably knew, he probably saw them. It’s one of the great mysteries. His place was blown up and he was found stripped completely naked in a walled garden, strangled. If only you could have a modern-day detective turn up at that scene! ✯
Film Recon is a web series by Paraag Shukla, Senior Editor of Military History magazine at HistoryNet.
Mary Queen of Scots opens in theaters on December 7, 2018.
Check out our other Film Recon interviews for Mary Queen of Scots:
Josie Rourke — Director
Beau Willimon — Screenwriter