Tony Curran: Queer Scottish King James I finally gets his due in 'Mary & George'

Tony Curran plays Britain's King James I in the new historical drama, "Mary &amp George," premiering Friday. Photo courtesy of Starz
1 of 4 | Tony Curran plays Britain's King James I in the new historical drama, "Mary & George," premiering Friday. Photo courtesy of Starz

NEW YORK, April 5 (UPI) -- League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Outlaw King star Tony Curran says James I, the British monarch he plays in the new drama series, Mary & George, is a historical figure most people don't know as much about as they should.

Co-starring Julianne Moore and Nicholas Galitzine, the series is set in 17th century England and premieres Friday on Starz.


It follows Mary Villiers, who pushed her handsome, charming son, George, to seduce the king so their family could move up the social ladder.

Nicola Walker and Laurie Davidson co-star.

"When I read D.C. Moore's script, there was not very much on the page about his journeys and his vulnerabilities, his aspirations, his sensual exploits, his thirst for hunting and literature and the arts," Curran told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.

"Ultimately, it was the relationship between him and George and the destructive nature of it, without giving to much away about how the show [explores] the power structure within this Jacobean era. I just found it fascinating."


Some people Curran has spoken to while promoting the series seem surprised to hear that James served a 23-year reign because he isn't a royal whose story is often retold in detail in history classes, TV and film, other than passing references in works such as The Three Musketeers and Outlander, or mentions about the American colony of Jamestown or the King James Bible being named for him.

"One reason was because he was a Scotsman put on an English throne. 2. It may have been because he was Queer and 3. because he was not a warring king. He called himself Rex Pacificus, which means 'great king of peace.' These are sort of elements we feel may have contributed to [his obscurity]," Curran said.

"It's a very human story and a very tragic story, but, also, a very tender story. All of those elements, as an actor, with this cast and crew, was a real challenge and a joy to play."

To prepare for the role, Curran read books about James and the period in which he lived.

His research, which suggested that most of Moore's scripts were factually accurate though exaggerated, helped inform the actor's performance.

Curran learned how James was kidnapped as a boy, then later survived the executions of his parents. Mary, Queen of Scots, and Henry Stuart.


"He was nourished in fear. He had experienced violence in his life," Curran said.

"Heavy sleeps the head that wears the crown. People always wanted a piece of him. Those elements had a profound effect on the research, on the experience of how I correlated that with how we could bring him to life off of the page."

The show is sexy and even hilarious at times, especially when the scheming Mary is on screen.

But it also addresses power, privilege, class and opportunity -- important social issues likely to resonate with many viewers in 2024.

"I think that's what we found so interesting," Curran said.

"I'm not saying that all historical drama or Jacobean or Elizabethan have to be grey or stodgy, but I think D.C. Moore's script was so contemporary in its dialogue and themes," he added.

Viewers might also see contemporary geopolitics reflected in the "Macciavellian warmongering and backstabbing" that is the cornerstone of Mary & George, as well.

"A lot of that is relative to what is happening in the world today," Curran said.

While the actor is excited for people to know more about King James, he also thinks there is much to learn from Moore's Mary, who rose up from nothing to become the mother of the monarch's most trusted adviser, a woman who was buried in London's vaunted Westminster Abbey when she died.


"She rose up through society to be part of King James' court. King James made her the Duchess of Buckingham and George the Duke of Buckingham. It was an unprecedented move at the time," Curran said.

"James broke protocol to bestow that on him because he cared about them and loved them so much."

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