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Do some actors and actresses seem more suited to period TV than others?

Tobias Menzies is shown in this handout photo from the TV show

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Tobias Menzies is shown in this handout photo from the TV show "Outlander." More and more, television has been offering a window on the past. Historical dramas have never been so numerous. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

More and more, television has been offering a window on the past. Historical dramas have never been so numerous. TV can take us back 2,000 years with "The Bible," a thousand years with "Vikings," a hundred with "Downton Abbey" or 50 with "Mad Men."

For the most part, audiences love these trips back in time. "Hatfields and McCoys" set ratings records on U.S. cable. So have "The Bible" and "Downton Abbey" for their respective broadcasters. CBC's top drama today is "Murdoch Mysteries." "Sleepy Hollow" — which features a character from the 18th century — is a hit on Global and Fox. In recent months, shows such as "The Knick" and "Penny Dreadful" have continued the trend.

In bringing these past stories to life, some actors and actresses seem better able to jump back and forth in time than others. Donal Logue, who stars this fall in the Batman prequel "Gotham," was part of both "Vikings" and the 1860s drama "Copper." Lotte Verbeek jumped ahead a century or two from "The Borgias" to the new Scottish saga set in the 18th century, "Outlander."

Is it possible some actors just have more of a "period face"?

"I've been told that," says Tobias Menzies, who jumps between the 1940s and the 1740s in dual roles on "Outlander" (Sundays on Showcase). The London native was also in "Game of Thrones" and earlier starred on "Rome." "I think I've probably done a lot more period stuff," he says, "than I've done modern stuff."

Menzies has no problem with that. "I enjoy it and I often find stories set in the past to be quite rich," he says. "Besides, I'd rather be doing this than another police drama."

One of his co-stars on "Outlander," Graham McTavish, looks as if he was born to play a rugged, 18th-century Scottish highlander. It helps that he was born in Glasgow and has a full, bonnie beard. Still, McTavish — also featured in the "Hobbit" movies — isn't convinced his face is what gets him booked. "If you do these things often enough," he says, "people will say you have a period look."

Still, are there certain physical characteristics that make some players look like they've stepped out of a centuries-old painting? Verbeek, who was born in the Netherlands, says she often gets calls for shows set during the Renaissance. "You can say there's a bit of a forehead on my face, which they like," she says of casting directors.

Verbeek plays mysterious Geillis Duncan on "Outlander" and didn't think she'd get the part since producers were looking for "a tall, green-eyed Scottish woman." Nevertheless, she was told she had the part the moment the producers saw her photograph.

British-born Holliday Grainger, who jumped ahead a few centuries when she went from "The Borgias" to "Bonnie and Clyde," has also been told she has a period face. The writers and executive producers of "Bonnie and Clyde," John Rice and Joe Batteer, singled out Grainger as somebody whose porcelain skin just photographs well in any era.

Steve Buscemi, back for a fifth and final season of "Boardwalk Empire" (starting Sept. 7 on HBO Canada), feels clothes and setting make the man as much as facial features when it comes to his portrayal of Prohibition-era crime boss Enoch (Nucky) Thompson. The attention to detail on the set of his series helps.

"Everything about it — putting on the wardrobe and stepping on the set — you always feel you are there," he says. "It's certainly the best I've ever looked, not only on film or TV but in life."

Toronto native Charlotte Hegele has been told by casting agents that she has a good face for period drama. It's helped her land roles on the Second World War drama "Bomb Girls" as well as the Super Channel family drama "When Calls the Heart," set in 1910. Hegele says friends have told her, "Charlotte, you know how many actresses would kill to do period work and they can't because they don't have the look?'" Besides, she adds, "I get to wear these cool hats."

Filmmaker Neil Jordan says he had to talk Jeremy Irons into playing the lead on "The Borgias."

"Jeremy was perfect for this," says Jordan, "although I have to say he himself didn't think he was perfect." Irons felt he had too much of a contemporary look for a drama set in 1492, but Jordan convinced him it was the spirit of the character he was after.

The fact that Irons is much more handsome than the real Rodrigo Borgia — whose profile was captured in unflattering Renaissance paintings — well, as Jordan told his star, "don't let that get in the way, man."

———

Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.

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