“Good things come to an end,” says Alexander Vlahos. And so, when he put on his luscious wig and stepped in his high-heeled 17th century shoes onto the set of Versailles, the actor wasn’t exactly in mourning for the French historical drama.
He already knew that season three would be his last outing as the flamboyant Philippe d’Orleans – but he was ready to tell one last story and then say goodbye.
“There’s a lovely completion about it, and a definitiveness,” he tells RadioTimes.com, as Versailles heads towards its conclusion on BBC2. “When we left, when we had that wrap party, it wasn’t like, ‘Oh I wonder if we’re going to get picked up again’ – and then it doesn’t happen.
“We all knew it was the end, and that meant that we got to say goodbye to our characters and the story, and know that we can leave it all in France and know that we’ve done a really good job.”
He adds: “I don’t feel like I’m pining for Philippe any more. He’s been left in Paris with his wig and his high heels – and there shall he remain.”
It has been a long journey for King Louis XIV (George Blagden) and his brother Philippe. In episode one, the Palace of Versailles was just a glint in the French monarch’s eye as he examined his father’s hunting lodge. Since then we’ve seen wars, poisonings, murder plots, passionate love affairs, unrest, violence, frantic politicking and LOTS of sex.
But now the story is coming to a natural end – and as far as Vlahos is concerned, it’s exactly the right time to pack things up. Choosing his words carefully to avoid spoilers, he explains what he means by that: “Where we are in history, when we get to the end of season three episode ten, something quite catastrophic happens in terms of what Louis does. And in history Louis XIV goes quiet at that point for a while.
“Had we got to a season four, I think we would have been pushing more into the realms of fiction… I think the writers would have to really start thinking outside the box in terms of trying to create storylines that never really actually existed.
“And that’s fine, for a drama, but this is a historical based drama. Yes, we’ve always played around with facts, but in terms of the facts that we have represented, it has been wholeheartedly accurate.
“So when we start veering away from that, I think you’re in danger of upsetting die hard fans that are in tune with the history element of the show.”
And – at the risk of upsetting another die-hard fandom – Vlahos is glad Versailles didn’t go the way of Game of Thrones, which he characterises as a good drama that now “drags on and on.”
“I’d even put my head on a spike here and say, Game of Thrones for me sort of veered off after season four, you know?” Vlahos says. “They’re veering away from George RR Martin’s books, and you’re splitting an audience there.”
In this fictionalised re-imagining, Philippe becomes entangled. It’s an “obsession that turns into an addiction” and it obliterates everything else, including his affair with Chevalier (Evan Williams), a partnership known to fans as “Monchevy.”
“Unfortunately for the diehard Monchevy fans out there, that relationship sort of gets put on the back burner,” Vlahos says. “Because I think we did everything we possibly could with season two in showing every peak and ups and downs of their relationship.”
But while Chevalier is on the back burner simmering away, the relationship between the two royal brothers has become a lot more tender after 30 hours of stewing together at Versailles.
“The two brothers of Versailles were the start of it all,” Vlahos says. “Going back to episode one season one where they’re on that cliff top, looking out at a very small hunting lodge, and Louis turns to Philippe and says, ‘Will you have my back?’ And he says, ‘Where am I now?’ That’s a thread that extends all the way to the very end of season three.”
That’s not the only on-screen relationship that gets closure: there’s also finality for Louis, Chevalier, the women of the court, and evan Fabian. “All of those storylines that are started in season one get brought back up at the end of episodes nine and ten,” Vlahos says.
“And I think that’s great, that the writers hark back to that. Those questions that were represented. And that’s what I mean about it: I think it has a natural beautiful rewarding ending for the audience.”
It’s also the right time to say goodbye to Philippe. “I’d done everything I felt I could with him,” Vlahos says. “It’s the longest I’ve ever played a part, in a play or on television. I’ve loved playing him, I’ve hated playing him, and everything in between.”
“I loved his sense of loyalty and the way that he speaks his mind. He’s not always right but he’s always certain in what he believes. I think that’s something that is an amazing trait to have, that especially in this day and age, to have with all the fake news, and Philippe would be calling out the bullsh*t in the world at the moment,” he says.
“Whereas the stuff that I hated is his loose abandonment to life.”
It’s been an intense few years of huge highs and incredible lows, and that takes its toll. Vlahos explains: “I think that’s something that I dislike about his traits, and also find incredibly all consuming to play.
“Philippe in season one, I found incredibly hard to break off the shackles that he had on me as an actor. I don’t believe in method and all that nonsense, but it was quite difficult to shake it for long afterwards.
“And season two got better, and in season three I could really find myself as an actor and Philippe and separate between the two of them. It wasn’t all-encompassing.
“But I think that comes with the writing, I think the writing allows Philippe to be a bit more mature in season three. There wasn’t so much of storming into court and shouting at his brother and storming out again. There was less fireworks, they’re more firecrackers than fireworks. He’s mellowed.”
Saying goodbye to the newly-mellowed Philippe has been easier than saying goodbye to his co-stars.
“It was an even bigger sadness of saying goodbye to those people and not being able to work with them again,” he says. “Especially Evan, who I’ve seen every orifice and corner of Evan’s body that I wish I never had seen, and I’m sure he’d say the same about me.
“But in playing these brave, beautiful characters means that I got to know Evan off-screen and he’s become my best friend. He lives in LA and I live in London, it’s not only saying goodbye to someone and saying, ‘Oh, maybe we’ll see each other in London for a coffee.’ You’re saying goodbye to someone who’s across on the other side of the world.”
So what next?
Some actors are quite coy about the parts they might secretly want to play. James Bond? Not thinking about it yet, says Aidan Turner. Forget the rumours, says Idris Elba. But Alexander Vlahos is so, so, SO keen to play his dream role that he just cannot hide how much he wants to star as Doctor Who.
He might not have got it this time around – the job went to Jodie Whittaker – but Vlahos is prepared to wait. Even if he is bouncing on the edge of his seat for several years.
“My agent is telling me off and she’s going to tell me off even for saying this, but I still want to play Doctor Who,” he admits. “Of course! That dream is never going to go!”
No bitterness, though. The Doctor Who mega-fan immediately adds: “I just want to say, on record, that I think Jodie Whittaker’s appointment is the most genius thing in the world, and I think she’s going to be a fantastic Doctor. So maybe not after Jodie, but the one after that.
“If the BBC still believe in the show, which I think they should, maybe there’ll be time for a Welsh Doctor. Finally.”
If this Welshman does get his chance to enter the Tardis as the Fourteenth or Fifteenth or Sixteenth Doctor, he has a part in mind for his Versailles lover Evan Williams – and it’s not as the Doctor’s Companion.
“Oh god he’d be awful – but lovely – wouldn’t he?” Vlahos says, giggling at the idea of the Chevalier actor joining him in Doctor Who. “He’d be brilliant. He’d be awful and lovely and brilliant. He’d be all three. I’d put Evan in a Dalek.”
The demise of Versailles leaves Vlahos at a turning point in his career. As he hangs up his Philippe wig, the actor is stepping behind the camera to direct his first project, a crowdfunded short film called Lola. He’s also preparing to tread the boards, playing Romeo at Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in York this summer.
“I turn 30 this year,” he explains. “I’ll be playing Romeo and Juliet on the day that I’m turning 30, so I’m having to sort of tap into the non-being-30-midlife-crisis that’s dawning on me every day, and try and get that youthful exuberance, and try to remind myself of an 18-year-old boy falling in love.”
Helping him regain his youthful exuberance will be Alexandra Dowling, as his star cross’d lover Juliet. It’s also a Merlin reunion; the first time they worked together, he was Mordred to Allie’s Druid girl Kara.
“I don’t think the director quite realised the fate that Mordred and Kara had, which is probably very similar to Romeo and Juliet,” he jokes, explaining how their rapport shone through in the audition room. Even as Vlahos is taking a new direction, things somehow come full-circle.
And wherever he goes next, the actor will carry the legacy of Mordred and of Philippe. Not that he minds one bit.
“The fandom will never go, I don’t think,” he says as he prepares to bid au revoir to Versailles for good. “They are a small bunch but a fierce bunch and very loyal and supportive and generous and artistic and creative. Almost in the same way as the Merlin fans, you know?
“I’ve been very blessed to work on two shows that have catapulted me into a mainstream audience, and kept me there as well. I’ve embraced them and they’ve embraced me. And I wouldn’t be here without them, I genuinely wouldn’t, and I will miss them – but I don’t think they’re ever going away.”