‘It’s dirtier and grittier than Game of Thrones’

Picture: PA Photo/BBC/Steffan Hill.
Picture: PA Photo/BBC/Steffan Hill.
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If anyone can pull off long locks in the name of art, it’s Alexander Dreymon.

This is no wannabe-hipster guise; the sparkly-eyed actor’s lengthy tresses are in aid of reprising his hero role of Uhtred, in the second series of BBC Two’s swords-and-Saxons drama The Last Kingdom.

‘This season we’re playing around with different lengths. But last season I was working with extensions,’ says the 34-year-old, brushing stray hairs from his face.

‘It takes so much time and it’s really heavy; it’s like an alien body constantly sitting on your shoulders, it got quite claustrophobic.

‘This year it’s more manageable,’ he concludes, grinning.

While some might scoff at the German-American’s discomfort, it’s hard not to sympathise when meeting him clad in heavy armoury, while filming on a blisteringly hot Budapest set.

The new instalment of the lavish series sees Dreymon return alongside familiar faces David Dawson, Emily Cox, Ian Hart and Tobias Santelmann, as well as newbies Thure Lindhardt, Millie Brady and Peter McDonald.

Promising to be bigger and better than the first, the second run - again based on Bernard Cornwell’s novels - will return to the 9th century, as the fearless and instinctive warrior Uhtred continues his fight for his native land of Northumbria.

Having given his sword to King Alfred, despite his upbringing by the invading pagan Danes, he embarks on his voyage north to reclaim his fate; to avenge Earl Ragnar’s death and recapture his ancestral lands of Bebbanburg.

‘He’s just living the Viking life!’ Dreymon declares. ‘We finished the first series on a very clear objective, but that trajectory, he doesn’t quite know how to go about it. There are missing elements for him to be able to pursue that journey.

‘Though Uhtred has his own personal objectives, it very quickly becomes about a much bigger picture.’

With the scale of the show magnified, Dreymon is only too happy to embrace new characters, a bigger cast and more locations.

‘The sets are incredibly well made and very accurate, or we’re on location in a forest or on horseback, so it’s quite easy to suspend disbelief and forget about the cameras.

‘It’s a lot more fun than being in a studio,’ adds the actor, who previously played Luke Ramsey in American Horror Story. ‘It’s easier to feel part of this universe and live it.’

As for upping the action, gore fans won’t be disappointed.

‘I’ve done some great fight sequences and seen other characters in great battles,’ says Dreymon, who reveals he couldn’t ride his motorcycle for three months before filming, in order to avoid any injuries.

‘We’ve just finished shooting a torture scene, which was pretty exhausting and painful. You should have seen that set!’ he cries. ‘We filmed on half a boat, so we could get cameras in. [There was] a hydraulic system to rock the boat, we had huge rain and wind machines, plus water cannons.

‘It really did feel like being on a ship. When it first started moving, I thought I was going to get sea sick - there were huge waves splashing over the ship.’

He confesses the cast all sustained a few injuries along the way.

‘Bruises, ankles, knuckles split open... but we have amazing stunt doubles,’ he divulges. ‘They’re operating at such a high level, it’s a joy to watch them and they’re doing things I can never hope to do. I’d be in hospital if I tried!’

Indeed; with an army of fans, the hunky leading man can’t afford to be off-limits - but he’s resolute the historical epic is an ‘ensemble piece’.

‘It’s team work, you know? It doesn’t feel like I’m heading anything, which is nice because I wouldn’t want to feel that pressure.’

But with comparisons to huge fantasy hit Game Of Thrones (The Last Kingdom’s been dubbed ‘Britain’s answer to Game Of Thrones - without the nudity’), isn’t a certain degree of pressure inevitable?

‘Game Of Thrones is the number one show in the world right now, so of course it’s a compliment to be compared to them,’ Dreymon reasons.

‘I’ve got a few buddies on the show, I think it’s really cool, but I think The Last Kingdom is really nothing alike, even though its a similar genre. There’s sword fighting, yes, but I think our show is a lot less glossy - [it’s] dirtier, grittier and truer.’

With US audiences now able to catch the series on Netflix, Dreymon - who resides in California - believes the reaction from fans will be a positive one.

And having lived and worked in various countries (the German-born actor grew up between Germany, France, Switzerland and the US, before training in Paris and London), can he identify with Uhtred’s sense of being out of place?

‘Of course, I always feel that way, and it’s not a bad thing. I like it. It allows me to feel at home wherever I go - in Budapest with The Last Kingdom, LA where I live now, and also France and Dakota, where I’ve worked before.

‘I think Uhtred has the same feelings, though,’ he notes, stating that the show has plenty of longevity and enough material to keep going for five seasons.

‘He has this one place which to him represents home, Bebbanburg, where he’s so desperate to get back, because he feels that’s where his roots are and where he belongs.

‘His life is his journey back to that place,’ says Dreymon, ‘but it takes him an awfully long time to get there.’

:: The Last Kingdom returns to BBC Two on Thursday, March 16