MIPTV: 'Knightfall' Producer Jeremy Renner on Making History's Knights Templar Epic
The drama series, starring Tom Cullen, Simon Merrells, Olivia Ross and Sabrina Bartlett, had its world premiere in Cannes Tuesday night.
Avengers star Jeremy Renner has always had a thing for knights.
“When I was a kid, it was cowboys and knights. But even when I was a struggling actor, I collected knight swords — who knows what I thought I was doing,” said the actor, explaining why he boarded Knightfall, the new drama series from the History Channel on the Knights Templar, the real-life order of warrior monks from the Middle Ages
Renner was on hand Tuesday night for the world premiere of Knightfall at the international television conference MIPTV in Cannes. A+E Networks, which is rolling out the series worldwide, pulled out all the stops for the event, held in suitably epic style in a medieval castle just outside the city.
Knightfall traces the history of the Knights Templar by looking at their downfall. The 10-hour series covers the period from 1291, when the Knights Templar were forced out of Acre, their last stronghold in Jerusalem, to Friday the 13th of October 1307, when King Philip IV of France disbanded the order (the source, many believe, of the Friday the 13th superstition.)
“We thought since Star Wars began at the end, with the end of the Jedi Knights, and since George Lucas used the Knights Templar as an inspiration for the Jedi, we could start at the end as well,” said Richard Rayner, who co-created the series with Don Handfield. “We also wanted to avoid something directly involved with the Crusades, to not have 200 years of Christians fighting Muslims.”
The pilot episode of Knightfall, which screened as a work-in-progress at MIPTV Tuesday night, was a swashbuckling affair, packed with bloody swordplay amid the religious strife and political intrigue of the era (with a healthy dose of eroticism thrown in). Historians might quibble about the show's authenticity, but Dan Jones, a English writer and historian, who acted as a consultant on the project, praised Knightfall for getting it right.
“It shows both the history and the legend of the Templars,” said Jones, “and that history was also violent. These were warrior monks. They were the Navy Seals of their day.”
Knightfall castmembers Tom Cullen, Simon Merrells, Olivia Ross and Sabrina Bartlett, speaking after the screening, also praised the authenticity of the production, in particular the details of the set and costume design. Though Cullen, who stars as Landry, a veteran Knight Templar who has come to question his faith in the order, noted that authenticity meant spending hours running around in 50 pounds of real armor.
“It's like carrying a 8-year-old child on your back for 12 to 14 hours a day,” noted the Downton Abbey alum.
Olivia Ross, who plays Queen Joan of France, said the series also shines a welcome light on a figure she called “a medieval feminist icon” who “like so many female leaders of the past, tend to be underwritten by history.”
For Renner, the move to television was an opportunity to do something “bigger and deeper” than is usually possible in film these days.
“To be in cinema today you have to be a superhero and put on tights,” he said. “A lot of the quality of content has really swung to TV, it's a place where you can really get involved in story and character.”
The actor, however, assured his fans he would soon be "putting back on the tights" to reprise his role as Hawkeye in the upcoming Avengers sequel, Avengers: Infinity War.
History plans to premiere Knightfall late this year or in early 2018.