“Austin Powers” vixen Elizabeth Hurley plays bad-to-the-bone Queen Helena in E!’s first-ever scripted series, “The Royals.” Filmed in London, the soapy drama — from “One Tree Hill” creator Mark Schwahn — follows an ultra-glamorous yet dysfunctional modern royal family, with Hurley on the throne.
Hurley tells Variety why she’s so good at playing bad:
Why was this the right project to bring you to TV?
99.9% of American shows shoot in America, and my son is in school in England. Also, I just never found something that I would have wanted to do for a period of time. Doing a movie, you’re in, you’re out, but on TV, there’s always that magical chance that we might be here for years.
Of course it adds an element of pressure, but we’ve shot it, so there’s only so much we can do.
Queen Helena is evil. Why are you so good at playing bad?
I starting off playing ingenues like everyone does, but I segued into playing bad quite early on, and I have to say, I’m better at bad. I felt a little guilty that I was so mean to the girls (co-stars Alexandra Park and Merritt Patterson). I’m vile! But it would be a bit boring if she took up crochet!
Why is Queen Helena so vile?
I think it’s like a physical pain to her when people don’t do what she wants and that’s what she’s fighting with the whole time because her children won’t do anything she wants them to do so there’s a lot of friction from the get go.
Queen Helena may be tough, but there’s no doubt she’s a strong female character. Was that important to you in choosing this role?
Yes, I suppose it was. The best parts in this [series] are for ladies. We get a lot to do in this. I don’t watch a lot of TV, but the few TV shows I have watched in recent years, with the exception of “Breaking Bad,” have been very female-orientated. I’m loving “Nashville” at the moment. I loved watching “Desperate Housewives.” I like seeing woman in TV. I like seeing women in film.
Speaking of strong women on TV, Joan Collins plays your mother.
The funny thing is, when I first read the script, the character that jumped at me was (one like) Alexis Carrington in “Dynasty.” I read it and thought, this is Joan Collins’ part, which is just ironic. In she comes!
Your character and your on-screen daughter, Princess Eleanor (Park) don’t have the best relationship. Can we expect any development or will they keep butting heads?
I think they’re both very different in their vileness. She’s had a misspent youth. She hasn’t had enough guidance. She’s just one of those youths you just want to help all the time. She’s clever, she’s pretty, she’s obviously got a very good heart, but she’s gone off the rails and she needs some help. My character is just so desperate to be in control and to dictate events. I think in Season 1, we have a few vulnerable moments, but most of them not with other. Not yet. I think there’s mother and daughter friction, but we have some moments and we get to do a lot together, as the season progresses. But we’re not friends in any way.
Your on-screen son, Prince Liam (William Moseley), is dating a commoner, Ophelia (Patterson). Any chance for redemption there?
She does not want her son to date a member of staff. It’s as simple as that. She’s not what she had planned and she’ll fight it tooth and nail all the way.
Queen Helena is bad. Is there anything you wouldn’t want to see her do?
She’s done quite a lot in the first season! She’s a character that people love to hate and she’s doing bad things, [but] I personally feel the jury is still out whether Queen Helena is a good or a bad person. She without any doubt does bad things, but I think there’s definitely an argument that she does it for the greater good. She wants to be a fabulous queen and represent a fabulous history of tradition for the people, for foreigners.
People are drawing a comparison to “Gossip Girl,” which you had a major arc on during Season 5. Is “The Royals” like “Gossip Girl” with accents?
The show is nothing like “Gossip Girl.” Going back to the days of “Dynasty,” we’ve seen big, epic [shows], looking at these lives we could never live. Private jets! Caviar! Champagne every night! Wonderful clothes! But there is very much this youthful feel in “Gossip Girl,” and that was a new world for me. This is very different because that was me going into a show on year five. I had a fabulous time. They we’re all charming, but most of my scenes were with Chace [Crawford], an enchanting man, but half my age — but what a lovely guy!
Your “Gossip Girl” character was another manipulative, powerful, wealthy lady. You really are good at playing bad, huh?
My character is a piece of work in that, as well. Very manipulative and controlling and deceitful, but she did do a lot for personal gain so it’s not so similar to Helena, but it certainly did have a foot in evil camp, which I do quite like.
“The Royals” premieres Sunday, March 15 at 10 p.m. on E!