After six episodes of the Starz’ series “Camelot,” I’m still having a hard time believing Guinevere would throw over her hubby, the knight Leontes, for young King Arthur.
Leontes is brave, dashing, honorable, and Philip Winchester plays him.
“Well, I appreciate that, mate,” Winchester responded with a laugh when I suggested Guinevere was crazy.
Leontes also is head-over-heels in love with his wife (Tamsin Egerton) and loyal to his king (Jamie Campbell Bower). He doesn’t know about their past affair, or that they struggle against reigniting the spark, which is apparent in the episode “Three Journeys,” debuting at 9 p.m. May 6. While Leontes goes on a mission for the king, Arthur accompanies Guinevere on a trip to see her ailing father.
The love triangle explodes later in the season, Winchester admitted. “It will get resolved in a very dramatic way. I can tell you that,” he said, joking: “We have a tap dance-off.”
I’m not sure about his dancing, but Winchester is no stranger to playing men who lose in love. In Fox’s “Fringe,” he guest stars as Fauxlivia’s ex, Frank, and in NBC’s long-gone “Crusoe,” he played the title role, a man living on a deserted island and lost to his wife back in England.
It was as that ab-baring, swashbuckling character that Winchester became widely exposed to American TV audiences. But thanks to Crusoe and subsequent roles, including in “Camelot,” many viewers believe he is British. “My mom’s English and she met a cowboy when she was on holiday in Montana,” he said, “and then I came along.”
The acting bug hit the Montana native early. Between riding horses on his grandfather’s ranch and family trips to Britain, he spent a lot of time with his father’s actor friends. His dad participated in theater at Montana State University, and would let his son hang out at rehearsals.
During high school, Winchester appeared in commercials and in the movie “The Patriot.” “It wasn’t the Mel Gibson one,” he said. “It was the Steven Seagal one, which is really embarrassing to say. I was 16 and I didn't know any better; it was my first movie.”
When he told his parents a few years later that he wanted to be an actor professionally, they said he had to train in England. So at 18, he packed up and headed to his grandmother’s bed-and-breakfast outside London and studied at The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Eventually he spent a year working with the Royal Shakespeare Company, starring as Edmund in “King Lear.”
“When I left the States I had a full American accent,” he said, “but over the years … I just learned to pick up [an English accent] very quickly and use it.”
He may have gotten the accent right in London, but there was one thing he didn’t learn until filming “Camelot” in Ireland last year. He and the other actors playing knights perfected their sword fighting, horseback riding and other knightly skills at “medieval boot camp." But they also played hard, Winchester suggested.
“It is true what they say about the Guinness [in Ireland],” he said. “It tastes absolutely different. It’s creamier and smoother. You can put several down before you know you’ve done it. Not only were we on the ‘Camelot’ quest for protecting the king and all the Arthurian legend, but we were also on the quest for the perfect pint of Guinness, which we did quite often. We went looking for that as much as we could.”
Winchester, calling from Cape Town, South Africa, talked about “Camelot” and “Fringe,” his HBO/Cinemax project, doing the “knight workout” and how Va Va Voom the horse never, ever follows.
Hi Philip. You're calling from South Africa?
I am, yeah. My wife and I are out in Cape Town at the moment shooting a show for HBO ("Strike Back," which will air on Cinemax.)
I hear you did some extra “Camelot,” too?
Yeah, that's right, we just finished a few pickups for “Camelot.” … “Camelot” came down here because I couldn't go back to Dublin to do pickups for that. So they flew their production down here. [Laughs.] Which is really cool, actually, because I get to see all the guys and everyone's really excited.
That’s cool they came to Cape Town.
Well, it was really nice of them because I know they could've just cut me out of it. [Laughs.] But they were actually quite nice, and said, “We'll leave you in,” and they came down here. So it's great.
What are you shooting? Can you talk about it?
We're doing a series called “Strike Back,” which is a—sorry, one second, I'm just going to grab something off my mate—thank you very much, I appreciate it. Sorry, it's my birthday and just got handed a lovely bottle of champagne.
Oh, happy birthday.
Thanks buddy. So yeah, so it's called “Strike Back” and it’s actually their second season. It was on Skye [in Britain] originally. Richard Armitage was the lead in it and Daniel Percival directed it. HBO got wind of it and now HBO [Cinemax] and Skye have collaborated on it and … we’re doing six episodes in Cape Town and four episodes up in Hungary.
Cool. Didn’t you shoot “Crusoe” in South Africa?
Yeah, that's right. We're not exactly in the same location geographically, but we're working with a lot of the crew and a lot of the same stunt people. So it's really great for my wife and I. It feels like we've come home, because there's a very tight community here. It's really neat.
I should tell you that I actually enjoyed “Crusoe.”
[Laughs.] I like how you say that, because you know that not many people did.
I know, but I did. I liked it; it was fun.