Swords and shenanigans
Musketeers. Picture: MCT

There's a very good reason why new Foxtel channel BBC First has chosen to launch in Australia with the first season of swashbuckling action series The Musketeers.

When it premiered in the UK, it was the biggest BBC drama launch since the enormously popular series Call The Midwife.

No doubt some of the appeal of this action-packed version of the Alexandre Dumas classic is the involvement of handsome actor Luke Pasqualino, who plays the dashing D'Artagnan alongside the inseparable musketeer trio of Athos, Aramis and Porthos, the royal bodyguards of King Louis XIII. As befits a modern-day version of a 17th-century story, there's lots of ribaldry, between-the-sheets-shenanigans, and - to the consternation of some historians - as much gunfire as there is swordplay.

It's an interesting change for Pasqualino to do a period-costume drama. Although he did have a role in 17th century drama The Borgias, he is probably best known here as Skins' Freddie McClair, a laid-back, skateboarding stoner character a million miles away from his brooding, chivalric turn in The Musketeers.

"The character is a lot 'heavier' in the actual physical sense of the word, with all the costumes, the swords, the daggers, the guns, the belts," Pasqualino says with a deep chuckle. "Donning all that did have its complications, shall we say, at first. But now we get into those costumes just like we're getting into a pair of tracksuit bottoms and a T-shirt."

Essential to his preparation for the role of D'Artagnan - a young man seeking vengeance for the death of his father - was Musketeers Boot Camp, a week-long intensive training induction at a castle in Prague, where the series is filmed.

"I'd never really done any of the things I had to do as D'Artagnan before," Pasqualino says. "I mean, I've been on a horse before, but not at the level I needed to be. Being on a horse and swinging a great big sword around at someone else who is equally inexperienced is just a little bit daunting at first. But we got to grips with it eventually. I personally found the sword fighting a lot harder to grasp than the horse riding. But Musketeer Boot Camp was just an incredible experience, one that I'll never forget, actually."

With its ready-made castles, monasteries and churches, Pasqualino says Prague was the obvious place to set up camp, recreating parts of 17th century Paris in a way that no newly constructed, built-from-the-ground-up set could do.

"Shooting here is pretty amazing," he enthuses (second season filming is under way as we speak.) "It's like being a kid again. Every day on set is laughs and banter. My biggest memory from filming season one, actually, is just laughing all the time. We all get on like a house on fire so it makes getting up in the morning and going to work enjoyable."

Before shooting season one began, Pasqualino spent an intensive period researching the people, the historical time, and the numerous film interpretations of the famous story.

"But when I went into filming it was made very clear 'Look, we're not doing the book' - I mean, obviously it's inspired by the book and the characters are all still there but it's a new take on it," he explains. "We wanted something a bit more gritty. When I was watching the films, I wasn't looking to see what the actors had done with D'Artagnan - it was more to see what they hadn't done."

As for the naysayers who question the series' historical veracity, its modernisation of language and hodgepodge of accents, Pasqualino is nonplussed. "You've got to move with the times," he replies.

"The original story is great; you can't mess with that. But there have been so many versions of the Musketeers story because people want to do it differently - no-one wants to see the same thing over and over again.

"We've found something here that hasn't been done before and we're trying to make the most of it, and it seems like people are enjoying it as much as we are making it."

The West Australian

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