Firstly, Ed, thank you very much for agreeing to do this interview for fans. Before we start, I’m under strict instructions from everyone who has heard about this interview to let you know just how much fans of The Musketeers loved your portrayal of Doctor Lemay. He became a firm favourite very quickly, becoming quite possibly the most loved of all the supporting/recurring cast, and the fans were utterly devastated by his tragic and deeply unjust death. But in that regard, never underestimate the ingenuity of fans. One of the fan communities I belong to had a tradition of a ‘live’ communal re-watch of each episode a couple of days after it aired, and our coping strategy during Lemay’s final scene was to have him whisked away from certain death by an invisible unicorn. Adrian Hodges even entered into the spirit of things behind the scenes and named the unicorn Gaston! But for the purposes of this interview, we’ll keep up the pretence that the much loved doctor met an unfortunate end at the hands of the show’s main villain….
1. Using a) one word and b) one sentence (but without overly creative use of punctuation!), how would you describe Doctor Lemay?
b) A scientist first and foremost but one blessed with open-mindedness, integrity and humility.
2. Had you read Dumas’ works before taking the part? If so, did that influence your decision join the show? And in the same vein, had you already seen the first series?
I had read the Count of Monte Cristo at University (I studied French) and had certainly enjoyed his writing, so the chance to inhabit the world of his imagination was definitely an attraction. I had not seen the first series though I knew it was very good, so joining the show was a no-brainer.
3. Were all Lemay’s scenes filmed in one block, or did you have to go to and from Prague several times and if so, did you get to see anything of the city and the surrounding countryside?
I was back and forth over several months. I have 3 children, so I’m afraid I was one of those actors who goes straight to the airport on wrap. I knew Prague from previous jobs and enjoy exploring foreign cities. The Old Town is, mercifully, preserved and I would wander off for a few hours on my day off, hoping to stumble on something memorable.
4. Were you aware when you took the part how Lemay’s storyline would end? If so, how – if at all – did that knowledge affect your performance and how did you prepare for such an intense final scene?
If memory serves, I knew he wouldn’t make it from the beginning. However, that knowledge was mine not Lemay’s, so it was not until very late in the story that I felt he would have realised the end had come. That said, life in the Court would have been precarious and that threat could certainly inform performance throughout. As for the execution, we all have different processes - I’ve found that ‘remaining in character’ doesn’t work as well for me, as sustaining it for hours, days, weeks at a time ends up diminishing my connection with the character somehow. The only time I’ve found such an approach useful is if I am in every scene, with a very intense, detailed storyline. Acting is in great part an ‘immersion’ - in that respect I find that assuming your character for the minutes of the take works “best”, particularly when your scenes are very spread out. As for something like a death scene, I do whatever I feel I need to do to find a truthful physical and emotional state but we’re talking minutes, not hours and you’re never sure whether you’ll hit it first take or fifth. At the highest level, I feel there is an element of ‘lightning in a bottle’, which almost by definition precludes staying in character - but then some of the very best do exactly that, so what do I know?
5. If Lemay hadn’t died (for ‘died’ read ‘been rescued by Gaston the unicorn’), how would you have felt about continuing in the role?
I’d have been utterly delighted. It was a blast from start to finish.
6. We saw during the episode when Captain Treville was shot that Lemay was clearly the ‘go-to’ person for medical advice that went beyond Aramis’ capabilities. Did you ever get a sense that although Lemay didn’t appear in series 1, he might in fact have already been well known to the musketeers?
Well, I think it would have been unlikely, as he was the Court Physician, and for us it was very useful to view Constance as the connection that brought him into contact with the Musketeers.
7. Did any of the medical scenes, particularly the above, make you in any way squeamish and did you do any research into medical practices at the time?
Yes, I did do some research into techniques at that time such as using a drain, although Adrian had clearly done most of the work for me! I’m not too bad with that sort of thing though Hugo’s performance was so striking it required very little acting on my part.
8. The Musketeers often seems to play with the modern detective genre, and as a medical expert Lemay seems to have fitted in very nicely with this. How did you feel about the balance between authentic period drama and more modern references/sensibilities in the show?
As long as you make clear the tone of a show and remain consistent then nothing’s off the table (it seemed perfectly right for Heath Ledger to be dancing to David Bowie’s Golden Years in A Knight’s Tale). And in the case of Musketeers, at no point did the script jar for me, which frankly is not a given, so I’d say the balance was right. To some extent, you create your own ‘authenticity’.
9. Along similar lines, Lemay sterilises his instruments but insists on faith as his instructor. Do you think this dual view has modern parallels?
Absolutely. We have doctors who revere Darwin but still go to church on a Sunday. Despite what Richard Dawkins might think, I don’t believe they are mutually exclusive positions.
10. Although we never see it on screen, do you think it would have been in character for Lemay to have tried in any way to counteract Rochefort’s malign influence over Louis, and could that have given Rochefort a reason to want Lemay dead, over and above his attempts to blackmail Constance into betraying the Queen?
Even if Lemay had become aware of such an influence, I’m not sure he would have gone up against Rochefort, particularly as he didn’t really have the ear of the King.
11. Lemay comes over as an immensely honest man, one who was prepared to give credit where it was due to Constance for helping save the Dauphin’s life, even putting his own position at risk by doing so. Do you feel he would have been a good match for Constance if she’d accepted his proposal? There are certainly a lot of fans who believe they could have been happy together.
I do. Their personalities are eminently compatible and I think his more enlightened sensibilities would complement her progressive, smart character. But then, D’Artagnan is a handsome devil.
12. Lemay’s very gracious acceptance of Constance’s gentle rejection of his proposal was in utter contrast to Rochefort’s reaction to discovering that Anne didn’t reciprocate his feelings for her. Fans were hugely relieved that Lemay was never portrayed as anything other than a thoroughly decent man. Do you think he would have been able to continue as a friend to her, despite his disappointment?
Yes, I think, as a scientist, he is rational enough to appreciate that her friendship would be better than nothing - and anyway for him, her happiness is paramount.
13. The final scene with Lemay on the block was shocking and very saddening. How did it feel to play such an intense scene and how did you prepare for it?
It’s nice to have something clear to play, even if that is terror at one’s impending death. It was certainly intense, but as a result absorbing. In terms of preparation, it’s tricky when you have to play a scene you (hopefully!) have no frame of reference for. I questioned how I felt Lemay would approach his execution (sang-froid; screaming; mute terror etc?) and how for example the suddenness of the realisation might affect him. Then it’s a question of connecting as best one can, so that it feels as truthful as possible. You can do physical things to help inform the emotional (quicker, shorter breaths; strained vs weak physically; eyes focused vs alarmed/darting etc). All these things combine to help you - some will feel ‘right’, others very ‘wrong’. Then you rely on your director to be judicious in guiding you towards what works best on camera. It might feel real to me but look ridiculous on screen. And definitely a need to just throw yourself into it.
14. On a hopefully happier note, what was your favourite scene to film?
Well, we had a scene with the leeches which sadly was cut but they were extraordinary things - I always like coming into contact with unusual stuff at work , it’s one of the perks. And Tamla was very welcoming and very, very good, which makes your job a hell of a lot easier (it’s hard to be in the moment when the person opposite you is doing something bizarre).
15. From snippets of information that have come from the show’s producers, we’ve seen that the occasional ad-lib did make it through to the final edits. Are there any parts of Lemay’s portrayal that stem from your own interpretation of the character?
I honestly can’t remember! Things have got stricter in the last few years, so I tend to run any thoughts past the director. I think on this occasion my ad-libs were kept to a minimum.
16. One thing we did hear from Adrian was that although it never made it to print or screen, in his mind Lemay’s first name was always François. Were you aware of that or did you have another name in mind for him?
I don’t think I did know. I played a captain at the Battle of the Somme years ago called Charles May, so I though of Lemay as another Charles.
17. Can you share any behind-the-scenes moments with us, maybe an ‘out-take’ or a ‘blooper’?
Um…. I dropped a leech on the Dauphin - fortunately just the doll. Otherwise, only the usual forgotten lines, I’m afraid.
18. You’ve done a lot of period work. How did your costume compare with those from other roles, and can you tell us anything about it?
I tell you, the heels were murder! After a day of standing up, my calves were killing me! I don’t know how the regulars do it. Otherwise, it was rather comfortable and quite flattering, I thought. Not quite up to late 19th century though. That’s my favourite.
19. If Lemay was to have had his own spin-off series, how do you think he would feel about starring in a period version of CSI:Paris with Poupart (the fascinating gentleman from the mortuary scenes in series 1) and Constance as a crime-busting trio?
Where do I sign? Always delighted to share screentime with Tamla.
20. Were you already aware of the strength of the fan’s reactions to Lemay as a character and their deep affection for him, and how do you feel about this?
I genuinely did not! I’m only sparingly engaged in social media but I’m very gratified. I don’t think the majority of actors set out to make the audience ‘like’ them, rather believe them. But it’s hard to achieve the former without the latter, so I’m properly chuffed. Thank you all for the support - maybe there’s a Lemay twin brother…?
I’d like to say thanks again for taking the time to do this interview and I’d also like to thank the many fans from the online communities on Live Journal, Tumblr and Twitter who contributed many of the questions. Doctor Lemay was much loved and will be very sorely missed! Thanks are also due to Ed’s agents for all their help with this and for and providing the photo for our use.
Truth be told, Upstairs Downstairs is rubbish. No wonder it was cancelled. But The Duke of Kent and Sir Hallam…more than a Bromance I’d say. I was waiting for this to happen. I guess I’ll have to wait forever. :’(
So I’m in the middle of writing a sequel to primum non nocere featuring our esteemed Dr. Lemay, so, out of idle curiosity, I googled the actor who plays him, Mr. Ed Stoppard.
Upon perusing his twitter page, I came across this glorious rant:
I would imagine this is exactly how Lemay would reason the world around him, and exactly how he would get kicked out of 17th century surgeons’ meetings. “Surely, Monsieur Gerard, if you insist on sticking that blade still encrusted with the pus from your previous patient into that poor unsuspecting man, you can hardly blame God for taking his soul purely on account of saving him from that revolting smell?”