TORONTO - If it seems like "Tudors" star Jonathan Rhys Meyers is bigger than ever, it's because he is.
At least when it comes to his portrayal of the brutal King Henry VIII on the fourth and final season of the sprawling historical epic, which focuses on the more salacious aspects of his notorious rule.
The Irish star packs a bit more heft and dons facial hair and prosthetics to simulate the monarch's advancing age and expanding physique, says co-star Tamzin Merchant, who joins the cast this season as the tyrant's fifth wife, Katherine Howard.
"They definitely did kind of make a gesture towards making him the bigger character from history that we all know," Merchant said of Meyers' appearance during a recent promotional stop in Toronto.
"They kind of padded him out a bit and he grew a bit of a bigger beard and had a bit of a girth going on."
The Irish-Canadian co-production has weathered complaints that Meyers' slim build bears little resemblance to the image of the bearded and rotund king made famous by Hans Holbein's definitive portrait.
But as the sexy serial reached the end of Henry's reign, concessions were made to conclude with a look that more closely matched public perception of the king in his later years, says Merchant, noting that includes the adoption of a jaunty cap but still falls short of a full-on fat suit.
"That was an important part of Henry VIII although they haven't sort of taken it to an extreme," says the 23-year-old Londoner, whose character is based on the second of two wives that Henry had beheaded for alleged adultery.
"I think perhaps it would have been tempting for him to don a fat suit and a huge fake beard, but actually I think what he's done personally is to kind of take the essence of Henry and kind of carry it in different ways."
The fourth season picks up with Henry taking the vivacious but naive Katherine Howard as his wife, a 19-year-old siren whose sexual appetite soon gets the better of her. Meanwhile, Henry's health declines rapidly, in large part due to a festering leg injury.
Merchant says her first-ever onscreen sex scenes were the ones she shot with Meyers and Vancouver actor Torrance Coombs (who plays the duplicitous courtier Thomas Culpepper).
"They're very choreographed, they're obviously designed to look completely spontaneous, but it's almost funny the degree to which you choose to put your hand in a particular place and the director sort of says, 'No, can we change it here?'" says Merchant, whose credits include a small role in 2005's "Pride & Prejudice" and soon as Mary Rivers in a film adaptation of the novel "Jane Eyre."
Coombs says the massive production was the largest he'd been a part of, noting the large-scale sets, award-winning costumes and crowds of extras went a long way toward helping him immerse himself in the period.
But for actors who had been with the series since the beginning, aging makeup became a new norm on the set, he says.
"It's funny, a guy like Henry Cavill (as Charles Brandon) is my age and he's supposed to be 20 years older or something," says Coombs, formerly of the CBC-TV series "jPod."
"That's the trouble you run into when you're covering such a large period of history but you want to keep the same actors from Season 1 for continuity purposes. I think they struck a good balance with that — obviously you're not going to make them look that much older, but everybody did a lot of really great, just subtle work with their bodies and their demeanours and it was cool to be a part of that."
For history buffs, it will be no surprise that Culpepper and Howard are bound for spectacular death scenes.
While Katherine was beheaded, the real Culpepper was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered along with another of Katherine's lovers before the king commuted his sentence to a simple beheading.
"It's pretty gruesome. You'll want to have some kind of pillow to hold up to your eyes in case you feel a bit sick," Merchant warns of their grand finale. http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/entertainment/breakingnews/tudors-embarks-on-final-season-with-more-girth-for-meyers-king-henry-viii-103943549.html<\/u><\/a>