"Mary & George" star Nicholas Galitzine is happy to be more to us than the ideal boyfriend

“I'm definitely looking to continue to play people who are sort of morally questionable," the actor tells Salon

By Melanie McFarland

Senior Critic

Published May 19, 2024 1:30PM (EDT)

Nicholas Galitzine in "Mary & George" (Starz)
Nicholas Galitzine in "Mary & George" (Starz)

This interview contains spoilers about the season finale of "Mary & George."

My conversation with “Mary & George” star Nicholas Galitzine began with a risky admission that I haven’t seen all his work. “How dare you!” he replied with mock outrage, before breaking into an easy laughter. 

If you’re curious as to how Galitzine’s star has risen so quickly, moments like this provide some clues. Many young actors start taking themselves too seriously when their profile blows up. Not Galitzine. Over the course of our Zoom chat he's effortlessly charming and seems genuine in refusing to take his overnight popularity for granted.

That isn’t to say he's casual about his career or developing his craft. Playing George Villiers, a man who evolves from a naïf into a political player negotiating peace between kingdoms in the 17th century, required the actor to sit with George and his layered interiority, along with learning how to convincingly die.

Hence my confession – I  wasn’t sure if this was Galitzine's first fatal stabbing onscreen. Turns out that it was. To prepare for his bloody exit, he consulted an interview that the late Christopher Lee conducted related to his work in Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings." Lee's military experience informed his physical portrayal of taking a blade to the gut, Galitzine explained, so he simply followed his demonstration. 

“How do you think I did?”  he merrily inquired. “Was I convincing enough?”

I lobbed the question back to him – what was his first death like? Some actors love a majestic ending. Others resent being killed off.  What about him? 

“I had a great time, to be honest,” he answered. “Firstly, it was fun getting to see George a few years on and so haggard, and kind of just stuck in this horrible spiral of just needing more. But the stabbing was so fun.” (And for the record, the death is quite convincing.)

Within a few short years, Galitzine has transitioned from playing fantasy princes to a comedy foil to seducing Anne Hathaway in “The Idea of You,” where his 24-year-old boy band star wins the heart of her 40-year-old divorcee. 

The Idea of YouNicholas Galitzine and Anne Hathaway in "The Idea of You" (Alisha Wetheril/Prime Video)But Starz’s historical drama, in which he co-stars with Julianne Moore as his plotting, ambitious mother, Mary, challenged him in unforeseen ways.

“I've never played a character like George, and I think he's sort of been the most fulfilling character I've ever played because [he’s] exploring purity and lack of identity and sexual awakening, and then going into this kind of uncertainty of being.”

“Look, I've obviously lived within the romantic lead space for a while. And I think ‘Mary & George’ completely subverted that."

“Mary & George” lined up for Galitzine after he’d worked on the three movies — “Red, White & Royal Blue,” "Bottoms" and "The Idea of You” – with no break in between. He admitted that stepping into his first role in a historical period drama that had him playing against an Oscar winner and a BAFTA was "scary." Where many performers in his position would have tales about elocution training and other pre-production research to share, Galitzine had about two weeks over the holidays to prepare to play his. “A lot of it was having to rely on instinct,” he said.

Aspects of George Villiers, the courtier who seduces his way into a king’s bed, fit firmly in what we might perceive to be the actor’s wheelhouse. Galitzine says as much, likening his courtier’s experience to that of an actor “growing into the spotlight.”

George wouldn’t have caught the eye of King James (Tony Curran) if he weren’t arrestingly beautiful and erotically pliable, similar to the way that Galitzine’s physical desirability has made him the internet’s dreamboat of the moment. In the royal court, Galatzine explains, George contends with being in a very uncertain position, he's trying to learn the tools of the trade, gaining confidence, and dealing with the unpredictable  — James, in his case. 

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The recent PR onslaught in support of “The Idea of You” has made the basics of Galitzine’s background well known. He excelled at rugby and might have pursued going pro if he hadn’t sustained a series of injuries that made it impossible to continue.

Joining a friend’s production at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival led to a new passion and, in recent years, steady work. Influenced by his string of romantic lead roles – princes among them, including in a recent production of “Cinderella” – magazine profiles can't help bringing up his movie idol looks and his tendency to appear in movie love scenes with men and women. George is also sexually fluid, which he exploits to gain a political or social edge.

Mary & GeorgeNicholas Galitzine in "Mary & George" (Starz)But the facets of the character that are foreign to Galitzine are what helped him to stretch his abilities.

George is eventually undone by his inability to quell his appetites or rein in his mercurial lover who is convinced George has betrayed him. Galitzine was fascinated by the ways that his character was forced to kill parts of himself, starting with the unconditional love he has for his psychologically unstable brother and his first crush, a servant whom he abandoned after she’s maimed.

By the end even Mary tosses George aside to solidify her power, allying herself with her son only to save his life when a deranged James sentences George to death. 

“It culminates in that scene where he has to kill James,” he says. “We don't get to see a lot of marital bliss between them, but in that scene, I feel that we conveyed there was genuine love, you know, if not frequent bickering.”

One theory I shared with Galitzine concerning his appeal is that his most recent roles aren’t merely fulfilling the audience’s fantasy but inviting considerations of female power and its limits. In “The Idea of You” Hathaway’s Solène is socially crucified for daring to have a romantic relationship with a man 16 years younger than she is, despite Galitzine’s star Hayes’ insistent willingness to fight for them.

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Moore’s strategic countess can only elevate her position and that of her family by using George, which she does without guilt. That George eventually becomes a capable politician matters less to her than his ability to keep James happy, and therefore suggestible. But George’s evolution also helped Galitzine to transform before our eyes and, he hopes, expand the variety of roles he's offered beyond the fantasy boyfriend. 

 “Look, I've obviously lived within the romantic lead space for a while. And I think ‘Mary & George’ completely subverted that in a way,” he said. “I'm definitely looking to continue to play people who are sort of morally questionable . . . and I want to dip into genres that I haven't gone into before like sci-fi and action.”

Then, as if to remind his audience and himself that nothing is guaranteed, he adds, “I feel very lucky to be at a point now where I have much more agency over the roles I can play.” 

This sparks a recollection of being on a beach in Norfolk on the final day of filming with one of the drama’s directors and executive producers Oliver Hermanus, who Galitzine acknowledged “really took a chance on me.”

“I'm so grateful that he did because working with the likes of him and Julianne Moore has just been exciting,” he said. “And I can't wait for people to see what I've got coming up next.” 

The finale of "Mary & George" encores at 10 p.m. ET Sunday on Starz and is available to stream on the Starz app.


By Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's award-winning senior culture critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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