Troy: Fall Of A City

The story of a love that threatened to bring an empire to its knees

Interview with Bella Dayne (Helen)

How would I describe Troy? As the most epic love story. Bella Dayne
Date: 14.02.2018     Last updated: 14.02.2018 at 20.53
Category: BBC One; Drama

How would you describe Troy: Fall Of A City?
As the most epic love story. At the same time it’s a story about belonging. About what home is, what the family is, what happiness is. And love for yourself. How to find that, and how sometimes when you don't listen to that you can go the wrong way. And about sacrifice and choices in life.

I think that when you watch it you become emotionally alive. It shows you all of the ranges within you that you can feel in life, and the different depths of our existence and existing in the world.

How are you playing Helen of Troy, a name that’s so familiar to so many people?
Before I read the scripts I wondered if this was going to be the Helen that we’ve seen in the past, where she is portrayed as the weak woman. I wasn't sure if I wanted to play that, even though I love the time period and wanted the opportunity to travel back to it. But then I saw the script and I realised, wow, this is actually the opposite. It is a story of empowerment for a woman. Generally at the time women were really only used to produce babies and had no voice, but she was a very modern woman in that she broke out of that and did something completely unheard of.

What moved me about her is that she feels like a woman who’s completely imprisoned in an abusive relationship, and has never had time in her life where she was not controlled by men constantly. She was never able to have her own voice, and she finally wakes up through Paris and starts listening to her own voice and finding that kind of self-value. And I think that is a beautiful message and it is something that moved me. I want to tell this story because I think it's a really important one to tell, and a very empowering one for women.

People have said about Helen in the past, "you know she was a whore, she cheated on her husband" and similar things, and it was really important to me to sit down and really in detail show and explore how trapped she was and how unbearable the situation was that she was in, and how unhappy and what a deep depression she was in to break out of it.

And it is important to tell that story because I think it's awful if men constantly shame a woman without knowing what her circumstances are, just because society tells us this is how a woman has to behave. I'm so grateful to get the chance to tell that story and reveal her psychological depth, what she suffers. And women in general suffer a lot in silence. And you know, I think we're very, very strong. And people say women are very strong because we are able to suffer in silence a lot. And I love that I can get the opportunity here to show what it is like to break out of those restraints and out of the control of men.

It’s been said that this is a fresh take on Troy…
Yes I definitely agree. This is a fresh take on Troy because it is told across eight episodes and has much more depth. It really goes into the deep psychology of the characters, which I absolutely love. Even the good characters have faults and flaws about them. And at the same time characters that were originally considered bad, you can see the humanity in them and why they are driven to be how they are. Like Menelaus for example, Helen's husband at the start of the series. Jonas [Armstrong] plays him so interestingly because you can see that it's coming out of pain and ego, and not being able to deal with that in a healthy way. Seeing that kind of depth in each character makes this series so much more human, because we're all imperfect and we all have our flaws.

What research and prep did you do for the role?
I think I may have done the most research! Obviously with something as extensive as Greek mythology it feels like you can never stop. You want to do it for months and years if possible. I read The Odyssey and The Iliad just to really understand how it's told and from what perspective, and then I read so much material about Helen and her backstory. Obviously that backstory informs the entire journey that we see in the series.

Life is very different for Helen in Troy than it was in Sparta...
Yes, so when Helen comes to Troy it’s such a new, exciting place. She thinks, wow, this is what life could be like. People are very free. Women are equal there. They're respected. You see that with Hecuba, the Queen who rules alongside Priam. Her voice is always heard, and I think she becomes a role model for Helen, who looks up to her and sees that a woman can have her own voice and be respected. And I think that she goes on that journey, finding that voice and fighting in Troy to be respected by the family, as well as by the people.

At first it seems like it might be okay, and she can do this easily, but when the war starts because of her being in Troy, and the more and more pain is inflicted, and the more deaths are caused the harder it gets to justify. She soon realises she cannot have the love of her life without suffering being caused on such a huge scale. She will never be able to just be with Paris and love him without causing death and suffering. It's very tragic.

What was it like working on those sets and with so many costumes?
The costumes we have on the show are absolutely incredible, and fed into my character right from the very start. I talked to Diana Cilliers, the costume designer, and I got really excited. At the first fitting I was bouncing around because I felt like every different costume fed so much into each scene, whether it's this colour reflecting how she feels in a moment, or a particular set of jewellery feeling like it's restricting her. Every detail informs the scene and makes me, and, in turn, Helen feel a certain way. It's been a privilege collaborating with Diana and talking about different scenes and what works with what.

The first time seeing the exterior city set felt like I really was time-traveling. It was the scene when Paris and Helen are riding into Troy on horseback for the first time and it was like living a dream. We really were riding through the ancient city of Troy, fully immersed and no matter where I looked there was set and every supporting artist was doing their own thing. It was mind-blowing.

On this project we have historians that we work with and go over every detail. How you know what people wore, how the set dressing is, what this figure means - every little detail is talked through to give you an insight into life at the time. I loved that. I’m like a geek in that way; I want to dive into a world and really know what it was like. It was great to know all that stuff and have that trust that everything had been checked. And that's how it should be, I think, that kind of quality level.

Helen’s affair and elopement to Troy with Paris is so central to the whole series. How did you approach that?
From the very beginning Louis [Hunter, who plays Paris] and I discussed a lot what makes Helen and Paris do such a thing that causes so much pain and affects so many.

The most important thing to us was that their love has to be so strong and real. It cannot just be some small obsession or a fling - it has to be so much more than that. It has to be like the love of your life, but also have that excitement and madness and sensuality and sexuality that falling into love like that has.

It's a deep connection that they've never felt with someone before. It was very important to us to make that love believable, because if you don't feel for that couple and if you don't believe in that love then there is no story and no justification for why any of this happens.

It's the most epic love story ever told so it needs to be that kind of love. And I hope that we got that.