A character known as “The Boy” shows up and claims to be long-lost royalty in this week’s The White Princess, and no one — not even Patrick Gibson, the actor who plays him — knows whether he’s telling the truth.
If you’ve kept up with Starz’s historical drama, you know that Edward and Richard — the younger brothers of main character Lizzie, and heirs to the throne of England — went missing as children after their mother, Elizabeth of Woodville, sent them away in an attempt to keep them safe from vengeful Tudors.
What became of them is one of history’s great mysteries. The boys disappeared, and historians still cannot agree on their fates. In the world of the Starz series, most of the characters believe the boys died years ago… which makes the appearance of a young man claiming to be a grown-up Richard rather interesting, indeed.
Gibson (who also appears in Netflix’s The OA and Guerilla) makes his debut as the pretender to the throne in Sunday’s White Princess (8/7c). Ahead of his first episode, we got the Irish actor on the phone to talk about playing with ambiguity, captaining The Boy’s fate and messing with King Henry’s head.
TVLINE | I will confess to not knowing anything about this period of British history before this show started.
[Laughs] Neither did I.
TVLINE | As I was doing my research to find out what really happened to Lizzie’s brothers in the Tower of London… it turns out nobody really knows?!
Right. It’s a part of history that is terribly ambiguous, which makes it kind of strange to play this character that is supposedly a real-life person, but which we don’t know much about whether they were who they said they were or any of that. It’s interesting.
TVLINE | The name of your character is “The Boy.” He claims he’s Richard, but even the show isn’t taking a stance on whether he is who he says he is. How did you play him, given that ambiguity?
I definitely knew what I was playing in my mind. I feel like if I say, it might [influence] people when they see it. I definitely knew in my mind how it was being played. It’s funny, at one point before we started shooting, I was like, “Maybe if I feel ambiguous it would be more fun because it would be harder for the audience to guess.” But then I realized that’s probably a stupid idea and I shouldn’t, considering I was supposed to be that person, I should know myself. I thought I was being very clever, but I really wasn’t. I decided to make the decision myself and play that.
TVLINE | Did you have any conversations about that with the director and producers?
Yeah, totally. We thought about which one we swayed more towards. Considering the time that this occurred, it’s a pretty incredible feat to be able to pretend to be royalty, essentially, just because of the different social norms and the way people would’ve spoken. It seems like such an incredible feat. Either way, if he is who he says he is, it’s as interesting a story as if he’s not… We sort of came up with what we thought to be the right answer. [Laughs] I’m sorry, this is all sort of cryptic. I don’t want to give it away!
TVLINE | No, I get it.
That’s half the excitement of it, for people to make up their own minds. I think by the end of the show people will probably have a pretty firm idea, as well.
TVLINE | There are a lot of people in this show who are basically just pawns for others who have more power, status, etc. Talk to me about how much agency your character has in determining his own fate.
When you think about The Boy in the series, what makes him such a threat to Henry is that he does have his own agency. He is, in many ways, the master of his own destiny. Although he’s got his aunt and his grandmother who is looking out for him and [bringing him to] court, he ultimately is the one who decides his plan of action and his next moves… That makes him more of a natural leader than what Henry might be.
TVLINE | It’s no spoiler that Henry and his mother don’t want anyone challenging Henry’s right to the throne. When the king becomes aware of your character’s existence, how does he react? Do they come face to face?
They do. That’s in Henry’s court. For The Boy, that’s his moment to show his power and how relaxed he is and how ready he is for that moment. For The Boy, it’s kind of all part of his plan to come face to face with Henry. He needs to do that to show he is who he says he is… That moment is really significant to his cause.
TVLINE | I can’t think of three more disparate shows that your last three: The White Princess, The OA and Guerilla. Do you notice any commonalities among them?
All three of them, when I read them, anyway, are authentic and felt multidimensional and well-written characters and have an inner life that they’re not always able to show on the outside.