Tom Cullen had to get in shape quick smart for his action-filled lead role in Knightfall, including mastering the brutal art of medieval warfare
Tom Cullen cuts down foes with one fatal swing of his sword in the medieval drama Knightfall, but the actor admits he wasn’t anywhere near battle ready when he accepted the lead role in the series.
“When I got the job, I looked like a mix between a gerbil and a Christmas pudding,” he says.
“I wasn’t in the best shape. I had to go to the gym for about two months leading up to the show just to get myself into a physical condition where I looked like a guy who had been fighting in war since he was 11.
“The costume weighed 23kg and I put on about 14kg of muscle. Then we had to learn to fight and ride horses. It was a really fun process.”
The series recounts the fall and persecution of the Knights Templar, as orchestrated by King Philip IV of France.
The cast and crew faced a race against the clock after fire destroyed most of the sets at Barrandov Studios in the Czech Republic.
“They built medieval Paris in the biggest backlot in Europe. The sets were just extraordinary,” Cullen says.
“It all burned down while we were shooting our second block out on location ... but incredibly we didn’t stop filming. The writers had to go back to the room and reevaluate and change the scripts, which isn’t ideal, but we carried on shooting, and they rebuilt the sets and we went back and reshot all the things we were missing.
“December was a crazy month running three units at once. I was doing 18 to 19-hour days for 21 days straight, but we got there and we finished it. It bonded us all together and created a unified front.”
Knightfall follows the Knights Templar 15 years after the siege of the holy city of Acre, during which the Holy Grail is lost. Spread across Europe, the order is a shadow of what it once was.
Cullen plays Landry, a knight thrust into the position of Master and Commander of the Paris Temple after his mentor Godfrey’s assassination.
“Landry is someone who’s always rallied against authority,” he says.
“He’s a maverick, headstrong kind of guy but he’s a natural leader and people respect him.
“He’s thrust into this position of power which he hates and doesn’t want to be in.
“He has to work out what a leader is, and he makes huge mistakes during that process, but he starts to grow into the role throughout the series.” Knightfall premieres tonight at 8.35pm on SBS
Tom Cullen and Olivia Ross in a scene from new TV series Knightfall, which screens on SBS.