The New York Palace Hotel
POP! A celebratory toast begins the fashion shoot with the cast of The CW’s new drama Reign, and the actors are feeling the excitement. “This is weird in the most wonderful way,” says Adelaide Kane, dancing in a suite at The New York Palace hotel. The starlet steps into a Dolce & Gabbana outfit and puts on a set of outrageously heavy earrings. The series is only four days away from its network debut and its royal trinity of stars—Kane, Toby Regbo and Torrance Coombs—is in New York for Comic Con, the sci-fi and comics convention, where the cast got its first taste of audience affection in the long road from casting a pilot to airing the premiere. Months of hard work and the hopes of several careers are bound up in the weekly drama about teenage Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, in the court of France on the eve of her wedding. But the Comic Con fans were ecstatic, so the troika is celebrating.
“It’s the closest thing I’ve experienced to being onstage, getting to feel an audience’s immediate reaction,” says Regbo, who made his stage debut at London’s Royal Court Theatre when he was 17 and now stars as Prince Francis on The CW’s drama.
Reign is part fantasy, part history and all imperial drama. To amp up the heat, producers turned a historical romance into a love triangle, giving Francis an illegitimate half-brother, Bash, played by Coombs, who competes for Mary’s admiration and the attention of his father, the king of France.
While there is a palpable three-way spark onscreen, there is nothing but playfulness as the actors loosen their corsets and lay down their swords at The New York Palace. The room practically bubbles with the affection among Kane, Regbo and Coombs. The mutual lovefest has been going on since they first met while shooting the pilot on location in Ireland. “We were out every night at the pub, sharing stories, sharing laughter,” says Coombs, who is back in tights after his turn on Showtime’s hit series The Tudors. “And somehow magically in Ireland, you wake up and you’re not hung over. I don’t know how that works.”
Once Reign got the green light from The CW, filming moved to Toronto and the pub crawls were less frequent. “In Canada, it doesn’t work,” Coombs says, laughing. “We sort of tried the first week, like, ‘Hey! We’re going drinking!’ And then everyone was, like, ‘Oomph. …’ We were feeling it the next day. So there’s still that summer camp feel, but we’ve settled into a rhythm now. We’re just living our lives—we’re citizens of a city now, not visitors.”
A reporter can’t help but ask: Did any of the onscreen romances erupt into their personal lives? “Actors are notorious for sleeping with co-stars and it causes a lot of trouble,” says Kane. “But everyone in this cast is attached, in serious committed relationships, and it makes everyone relaxed.”
Having sweethearts back home inoculates the cast against steamy gossip fodder (and heartbreaks), but the awkwardness of love, rejection and adolescent peer pressure is front and center in the script. “Do I fit in? What should I do with my life? The characters in Reign are having those same anxieties on the screen,” says Coombs. “At some point [in my teens], I became afraid to be ridiculous in public; I felt like I had to cast it away and have everyone think I was cool.”
Filming Reign has been liberating in other ways as well: “I just did the first nude scene of my career,” says Regbo. “They give you a little drawstring bag, called a modesty sack. It was anything but.”
In addition to losing their inhibitions—and sometimes their clothing—filming a period piece required the actors to learn a whole new set of skills. Instead of fistfights there are sword fights, and when one is learning new tricks—albeit 500-year-old ones—it is impossible to be overly self-conscious. Coombs practiced what he thought was an elegant dismount from his horse, take after take, but his cloak got caught on the saddle. At last, riding into the frame, he stuck the landing perfectly. Next? “My horse then backs into a tree and starts scratching his ass,” he says.
“Bloody horse, acting just like a horse would,” laughs Regbo.
Kane sees parallels between the dramas of teenagers in courtly France and her own. Queen Mary is torn between her obligations to her country and her duty to herself. “I had a moment a few years ago where I wasn’t sure if I was acting for myself or because people expected it of me. A bit of a crisis of faith, I suppose,” she says. “I did some soul-searching, took a break and decided I was going to live my life only for me.” Within the year she was cast on Teen Wolf and soon after as Mary Stuart in Reign. Of course, the options available to her are wildly different from the life-or-death choices of a 16th-century queen, she admits. “I’m not responsible for other people’s lives, so that’s great.”
The high-stakes plot of Reign centers on the superstitions of a medieval castle, with doomsday prophecies from Nostradamus and dire warnings from ghosts. To Kane, the specters present a chance to explore a different side of herself. “I have ‘dream clicks.’ It sounds silly, but I’ll dream a few frames or seconds of something months or years or weeks or days away, and I’ll be going about my life and I’ll turn and look up and hear a click in my head and will know exactly what’s going to play out in the next three to five seconds. And I take it to mean that I’m in the right place, and I’m doing the right thing.”
The setting sun begins to light up Gotham’s skyscrapers. It is a magical and golden hour, so has Kane experienced a prophecy about Reign? “Actually, I’ve had quite a few of those clicks since we started,” she says, with a smile.
Originally published in Watch! magazine, February 2014