It’s about time William Shakespeare got an origin story as exciting, sexy and violent as his plays.
TNT’s new drama “Will,” premiering July 10, ditches powdered wigs and formality to turn 16th-century London into the seductive and dangerous world that it was, where people lived fast and died young.
At the center of it was Shakespeare, played by British newcomer Laurie Davidson, who doesn’t take long to go from wide-eyed boy from the countryside to getting tangled up in the Protestant Reformation, adultery and trying to feed Londoners’ passion for theater. In short, “Will” is giving Shakespeare back to the people.
“The amazing thing about Shakespeare is he was writing plays where people from all walks of life were attending,” says Davidson, who was recruited out of his final year of acting school in London to play the young Bard. “So Shakespeare had to write plays that connected with a huge different variety of people, and be really clever about it.”
In the 16th century, playwrights were the rock stars, and “Will” takes that literally with a heavy dose of spikes, leather and colored hair straight out of the ‘70s punk rock era. The gritty aesthetic is thanks to writer and producer Craig Pearce, a longtime Baz Luhrmann collaborator whose resume includes “Romeo + Juliet” and “Great Gatsby.”
It’s not long before Shakespeare becomes the David Bowie of his era — with a few lessons from Eminem. The influence of “Hamilton” in the fusion of music and history is clear, with Shakespeare getting into what is the 16th-century version of a rap battle in the first episode.
To make the scene flow, Davidson watched “Straight Outta Compton” and “8 Mile” on the advice of director Shekhar Kapur.
“Whilst I didn’t go full-on gangsta rap,” he explains, “it just gave an idea of the way that people use words as weapons.”
Since little is known about Shakespeare’s personal life, “Will” has a lot of creative freedom and uses it to get to the story behind the famous plays.
“What Pearce did an amazing job of is trying to get inside the mind of why he wrote these plays, what inspired him, the world around him,” says Davidson.
Of course, Shakespeare's most famous contemporary Christopher Marlowe (Jamie Campbell Bower) also features in the show, which winks at their checkered past before setting the two up as frenemies on and off the stage.
“They basically see the good things in each other’s lives, and they want what the other person has,” Davidson explains.
Shakespeare, bound by his Catholic guilt with a wife and three children back in Stratford to provide for, “wants Marlowe’s freedom.” For Marlowe’s part, fame has made him jaded. “He’s become full of himself and got a little lost along the way,” Davidson says. “In Shakespeare, he sees a purity, so he’s trying to reclaim some of his innocence.”
Love, religious conflict, punk music and dramatic tension — sounds like a Shakespeare-worthy production.