'The Royals' Boss Previews "Much Bigger" Second Season

"I'm excited to show off a bigger, better version of this world," showrunner Mark Schwahn tells THR.
Frank W. Ockenfels 3/E! Entertainment

Life inside the palace is getting even messier for The Royals in season two.

Kicking off Sunday at 10 p.m. on E!, the soapy drama hits the ground running thanks to the three cliffhangers from the season one finale still in motion: are Liam (William Moseley) and Eleanor (Alexandra Park) legitimate heirs to the throne? Who was behind King Simon's (Vincent Regan) death? And what is the mysterious Domino symbol that's been popping up all over? But perhaps more important than that trio of scandalous storylines is the fact that sociopathic, narcissistic, malicious Cyrus (James Maskall) has maneuvered his way onto the throne via shady means. Is the country doomed to fail under its new monarch?

Executive producer Mark Schwahn spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about what fans can expect to see from the "bigger, better" season two, Jasper's "long way back" to redemption and the One Tree Hill lessons that he's applying to The Royals sophomore run.

What is the main focus of season two?

We have these three big cliffhangers in play for us. Who killed the king and why? Are the prince and princess illegitimate or are they rightful heirs to the throne? And what's this Domino thing? Who is behind it? Who knows about it? We're not sure if the queen knows what Domino is or if it's just some cryptic symbol that seems to be haunting her.

How soon will the show dive deep into those three stories? Will it be immediate or more of a slow burn?

I would say yes. (Laughs.) We jump right into them in the first episode. We're going to drop the audience right into this really awesome polo match because something we like to do is retain a bit of fabulousness since we are The Royals. And then through a series of flashbacks and moving forward, we dive into all three of those stories. Some of them are season-long arcs and some of them we get resolution or information about right away. That's the perfect balance – you have to reward a dedicated audience for hanging around. I don't want to drag things out forever. But I also think you can't give it all away at once. So yes, we dive into things right away, we get some closure right away and other things will be season-long arcs.

The Royals is the first scripted show on E! Taking that into account, were there any growing pains from season one?

Something that really surprised me is that the audience came in expecting almost an extension of the real-life royal family, so we had an older audience at first. And then when they realized that's not what we were doing, those older viewers left and we gained a younger audience that we've retained. So once we found our true audience, that's when we really hit our stride. And when you're a first-season show on any network, you have your instincts about story, casting and chemistry. And then along the way, if you're paying attention, you learn about what your actors are good at, who works well together and also what your fan base is interested in. My instincts were that Jasper and Eleanor would be a really compelling couple and they would push some people's buttons for better or worse and I think that turned out to be true. We weren't surprised, but we hoped and we learned that that relationship and storyline hit with the fan base. Something we also learned is that it's always fun to put two characters in a room together that haven't really spent time together. Jasper and Liam weren't really around each other much last year or at all, so this season, Eleanor will get a new bodyguard and Jasper will be brought back into the fold in Liam's life. 

What's coming up for Jasper and Eleanor's relationship (if you could even call it that right now) in season two?

Jasper has a long way back if he wants to win back Eleanor. It's a hard road to hoe when you've slept with the girl of your dreams' mother. (Laughs.) He's going to have to run the gauntlet and he's got some explaining to do. He really needs to step up and be heroic and earn her trust again and earn his way back into her heart. He may or may not be interested in that. It's hard to say with Jasper. But last season we met Beck in Monaco and he has a place in Eleanor's heart as well, so there may or may not be a love triangle in place for season two. And sometimes it will be a hate triangle. 

What do you consider the biggest success from season one?

Honestly, the show is many things to many people. And it's meant to be. A good show can balance different tones. I think this show can be a guilty pleasure for some, and it is. It can be a soap opera for many, and it is. But for many it's a drama, it's a mystery, it's a comedy. And hey, the show doesn't mind being funny. It's meant to be funny. I like that the show is a mystery and I like that it's a straightforward drama sometimes. But at the same time, it's always going to be soapy, cheeky, and while I don't feel guilty about it, it's a guilty pleasure. We're going to keep up that level of fabulousness, that level of soap, that level of that glitterati, high-wire, peek-behind-the-curtain thing that we love to do but in a bigger way. I think the show got much bigger this year. It can be a shit show. It gets pretty messy in the palace. It's going to be delicious.

Are you introducing any new characters this season?

The audience is invested in our main ensemble cast so that's what we'll be focusing on. I actually learned that lesson on my last show when I was doing One Tree Hill. The second season drill is to add a bunch of new characters. That's just what you do in television, but audiences don't care as much about new characters. So we will meet some new characters this year, and very good ones, but we're going to spend more time with characters that we already know from season one, like Beck. Having said that, Eleanor is getting a new bodyguard this year, a man named James Hill. He's a different color than what we've had on the show before. And there may or may not be a love interest for the King now that Cyrus is the King. He's a man who is steeped in vanity but he still wants the world to love him. His plan B is if they don't love him, at least they'll fear him. It will be interesting to see him actually care about something once in a while, but you can only go so far with a man who is just pure evil and vain and excessive.

With Cyrus on the throne, is the country automatically doomed?

(Laughs.) We like to say that Cyrus is in full peacock. He's apt to immerse himself in the trappings of being King like no other. He has no rules, he's very scrupulous. But beneath all that, he's quite insecure, which is a really bad combination for someone sitting on the throne. He wants what he wants and if he doesn’t get it, he's going to get malicious. Here's what kind of guy he is: the King owns all the mute swans in the land, just as the Queen does in real life. So in the premiere, Cyrus decides he wants to eat a mute swan just because he can. (Laughs.) And you don't want to cross him, because he has the power of the throne at his disposal now.

How will that affect his dynamic with Helena (Elizabeth Hurley)?

The Queen and Cyrus had a pact last year. They declared Liam and Eleanor illegitimate, and they may or may not have had something to do with King Simon's death. The thing about being thick as thieves is they're both still thieves. Can they trust each other? Helena is making moves to change the order of succession to make sure she's next in line and Cyrus is apt to feel very threatened by that.

Season one focused so much on Ophelia (Merritt Patterson) and Liam's love story. But now that she's dancing in America and they're long distance, will that still be a central storyline of the series?

No, we won't see as much of it. It's really easy to say love conquers all. But if we're to believe that Liam was this playboy prince, and if we're to believe that a big part of what held Ophelia back from fully committing to him was his world and his life, those things have to be addressed. Never say never for them. But the distance can either make the heart grow fonder or it can drive a wedge between them and that's the storyline we'll follow this season.

What are you most excited for fans to see from season two?

This is King Cyrus's regime. I'm excited to show off a bigger, better version of this world. Season twos can be very tricky, but we only do 10 episodes a year so I feel like I'm still in season one of my old life. (Laughs.) I used to make 22 a year. We have so many good stories to tell, and sometimes we want the audience to be upset with the stories we tell. We want our audience to react  not negatively, but we want to push their buttons and have them get outraged over what Cyrus does or be worried about what Helena is up to. We want them to happy about the right things and upset about the right things. I try to keep my eyes and my ears open to what the fans are saying and thinking. Obviously we make the show in advance and have to follow my instincts. But I'm not at a point where I'm not listening. When you stop listening, that's where you miss the mark. But this season is going to finish strong and I'm really proud of that.

The Royals season two premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. on E!