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My Casting Story: Mark Rowley on ‘The Last Kingdom’

We last spoke with Mark Rowley ahead of him filming the fifth season of The Last Kingdom. Now with Netflix releasing the series’ final installment on March 9, we wanted to virtually sit down with the actor who plays Finan in it and hear about his casting story that started it all. Keep reading for a window into Rowley’s journey with The Last Kingdom, including some of the lessons he learned along the way.


It’s good to virtually see you again, Mark. Before we dive into your casting story, I’d love to hear how you’d sum up the character of Finan.

I see him as unpredictable and charming at times — he loves to have a laugh. But there’s a real sense of sadness about Finan, which he tries to suppress with humor. Many people do that as a form of defense, and I think it’s a relatable quality which makes him kind of loveable to the audience. You know, Finan has that classic thing where he’d rather laugh than cry. I remember my coaches back home telling me to always find the light in my characters, no matter how dark. That stuck with me, and I think Finan very much embodies the idea. It’s interesting because he didn’t necessarily start off like that.


What do you mean?

I think it’s always important to go into a performance asking what you can bring to the story to help it along, as well as how you can help your fellow actors. I went into The Last Kingdom thinking it was a dark show, and my main goal was to make the character Uhtred smile. I wanted to make the others laugh and help them discover something about their characters in the process. Now looking back through the seasons, you can see how the writers started using Finan as a way to bring some levity to the show. Whenever there’s an episode that starts to get too dark, he comes into the scene and lightens things up a bit so people don’t get too depressed. [Laughs] They ended up using the character as a sort of writing device to help bring that quality to the show.


It’s fascinating to have that window into how the character developed, and now let’s take it back to the very beginning of your journey with The Last Kingdom. What can you tell us about the process of booking the role of Finan?

The casting team saw me in a play at the National Theatre in London. They were looking for new talent and managed to get me seen for a part in the first season of The Last Kingdom. The character Brida ends up killing the person I initially auditioned to play, and the scene involved me getting shot in the back. One of the first season directors, Peter Hoar, was in the audition room and even rolled around on the floor with me so he could cover all the action with the camera. He gave me permission to go full out, and I did. I have this thing with myself where it’s just all or nothing. In summary, it was a really fun audition — didn’t get the part, though. [Laughs]


You must’ve made an impression, though, since they brought you back to read for season two.

Kelly Valentine Hendry is the show’s casting director, and she had me in again for the second season. I was grateful I’d previously taken a risk in the audition room since I think it helped me be one of the top choices when going for the role of Finan. It seemed like they had me in mind for the part because the audition process was pretty quick. There was no chemistry read or anything. I saw the director and the producer for the recall [callback], and then it was just done — I booked Finan. I had brought the same full energy that time around and had just unapologetically given it my best. So, I can look back at my 26-year-old self and say, “Good on ya, you gave it your all.”


And it paid off! You’ve been with the show ever since and wrote in an Instagram post that you “made some best friends” filming the series along the way. Can you share a little about the bonds you formed with other cast members over the course of your time on The Last Kingdom?

We’re all so tight now — Alex [Dreymon] and Arnas [Fedaravicius] and all the girls are amazing. We have a WhatsApp group chat going and even went on holiday together during that very brief moment when the world opened up from lockdown. They’re just a great bunch of people who are also really hard workers. James Northcote seems to be able to do everything and anything. We each have our own niche area that we’re really good at, though, and then we champion each other. Season five is when we became really close because it was the only one filmed during Covid. We really couldn’t have anyone come and visit us, so we bonded over all the quality time spent together in our little bubble. You’d imagine we went crazy hanging about with just each other for seven months, and maybe at times we started to annoy each other. [Laughs] But I think that’s part of it, and we got on really well. Not one person came down with Covid throughout all of production, which was thanks to proper teamwork between all the cast and crew.


That is quite a feat and a tribute to everyone following safety protocols. Now before we wrap, I’d love to hear how playing Finan on The Last Kingdom has impacted your career.

I think being a part of the series has definitely given me a platform that’s helped lead to other work. An acting career is essentially a game of Snakes & Ladders — some jobs may take you down a bit, as if you landed on a snake. [Laughs] But others will shoot you up like a ladder, which is how The Last Kingdom felt. It gave me the breakthrough moment of realizing the importance of aiding the scene as an actor, even when you’re not speaking. What I love about the character of Finan is that he maybe doesn’t have as much to say at certain times, but he’s always present. Playing him has made me a better actor because it’s taught me how to find those golden moments and key reaction points that the editor always needs. I learned how to add to the scene and find what’s hidden beneath the text, as well as to be brave in sharing my ideas on how to make things better. So, I’d advise other actors to speak your mind because you never know how you may be able to help. It’s all about making each other better, along with the project.


I appreciate you wanting to share with other actors some of the insights gained from your experience on the show.

I’ll add one thing on that note. Actors, make sure your self-tapes start and end strong. I’ve talked to so many casting directors and producers who just don’t have the time to watch every single tape the whole way through. I know many people who’ll view the first 10 seconds and the last 10 seconds, which will determine if they see the rest of the tape or not. So, if you’re going to put in the work to make a tape, make sure it’ll be watched the whole way through by giving it a strong beginning and end.


Actors interested in learning more about the craft and the business, can check out The Actor’s Community, a collective Rowley founded to help thespians grow and flourish in their work. And fans of The Last Kingdom can find him on Instagram, where the actor will sometimes share a behind-the-scenes look into filming the series. Plus, Rowley’s journey with The Last Kingdom isn’t over just yet. A follow-up feature is being shot this year and will come after the series’ final season. So when you eventually see Finan in the film Seven Kings Must Die, you’ll already know the casting story that got the actor there.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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