Stepping into the shoes – or in this case – the boots – of Alexandre Dumas’ legendary heroes is no mean feat. There have been more than 50 adaptations of his 1844 novel and the roll call of musketeers includes John Wayne (1933), a long-locked Gene Kelly (1948) and Oliver Reed (1973). Fans of the latter will be disappointed to learn there are no feathers or tabards in the BBC’s ten-part series: this fearsome foursome favour slick leather.
What it doesn’t skimp on is swashbuckling – which meant a crash course in horse riding, sword-fighting and yoga for Tom Burke, Santiago Cabrera, Luke Pasqualino and Howard Charles.
What’s the appeal of the musketeers?
Tom: They each have a compulsion – whether it’s women or gambling or drink. I felt that being musketeers is as much of a compulsion for them.
Santiago: The series captures the spirit of Dumas’ book: gritty, dirty but great fun.
Luke: I liked the idea of stretching the story over ten hours; that hasn’t been done before.
Howard: I was moved that this version pays homage to Dumas senior and makes my character, Porthos, mixed race; the novelist’s father was mixed race and was a general in the French army. It was a proud moment for me, as a mixed-race man, to learn of this guy who lived hundreds of years ago and kicked ass.
Did you have to prove your physical credentials in the audition?
Luke: No, but as soon as we got to boot camp, they whipped us into shape. Our stunt coordinator was fantastic…
Howard: A sergeant major.
Luke: A really small guy with a military bearing.
Howard: I remember asking how we were getting on and he barked back: “You’ve all got the right attitude.” A polite way of saying we were rubbish!
Who was the fittest?
Howard: We were all in pretty decent shape.
Tom: I would say you were the fittest.
Luke: At one point I was doing press-ups on my knees, because I was knackered. I looked up and Howie was bounding up and down, barely breaking a sweat.
Tom: The boot camp is just a blur for me. I remember it going on and on, someone counting and knowing I should be counting, too. There is a video somewhere of us all doing yoga.
Howard: I never want to see that. There I was in a compromising shape praying that the yoga teacher would say “rest”. I open my eyes and there’s a camera capturing it all.
Tom: The only way I could get through it was to imagine I was Michael Palin travelling in some alien environment on the other side of the world.
Did you do any of your own stunts?
Luke: All of them.
Howard: We were very well rehearsed, so by the time we got to set it was second nature. You could see sparks coming off the swords.
Tom: Ones that involved multitasking were the most challenging – where you had to jump off a galloping horse, get your cloak off in mid-air and draw your sword.
Santiago: The biggest challenge for me? You learn very quickly to wear the right underwear when you’re horse riding.
Were there any accidents or near misses?
Santiago: I’d ridden horses before, so I was given a temperamental stallion called Lottero.
Luke: We nicknamed him Ferrari.
Santiago: He was great to ride; it was standing still that was the problem.
Howard: Riding in snow can be an unnerving experience when you’re a beginner. There was a hairy moment in boot camp when Luke’s foot came out of one of the stirrups, his horse bucked and he was flipped into the air. I was convinced he was going to hit a tree stump, but he didn’t: he was hanging on to the horse’s neck. How he managed to stay on, I don’t know.
Was that the only horse-related incident?
Luke: Another day it was very icy. When it was my turn to canter, my horse skidded and I came flying off. I rolled and, mid-roll, looked up to see the horse inches away from crushing me. Thankfully, it managed to gallop off.
Tom: I did a similar thing on a highly polished antique floor, which couldn’t have anything done to it to give it a bit more grip. It was the first sword fight I’d done inside and there was a lot of near-eye action. I just had to say a little prayer beforehand.
Did filming in Prague present any challenges?
Luke: In summer, it got up to 41°C.
Howard: The producer promised us a summer uniform, but it never materialised.
Tom: It’s funny: just as that was beginning to look like it might be a possibility, I started to feel quite institutionalised in my tunic. I would have felt really weird without it – it became like a second skin.
What other skills have you acquired?
Howard: Fighting with a fork. The first time you see Porthos, I fight someone with a fork because my sword is out of reach.
Tom: Springing. You’ll see what I mean.
Santiago: Loading, reloading and firing a musket – and managing to speak at the same time.
Luke: Running in Cuban heels!
The Musketeers starts Sunday at 9:00pm on BBC1