Fox knows the perfect recipe to a juicy TV series is to throw complicated family relationships into the chaos of the music industry. Starting Sept. 11, we’ll see the enticing drama unfold on Monarch, a new multi-generation tale about America’s first family of country music. Starring Trace Adkins and Susan Sarandon, Monarch sees the Roman family put to the test to keep alive their legacy and stardom. Among the ensemble cast is Joshua Sasse, who plays Luke Roman, son to Albie (Adkins) and Dottie (Sarandon) who runs the family record label.
Ahead of the series premiere, Sasse opened up about auditioning from the hospital, improvising with Susan Sarandon and the close bond among the cast.
Before Monarch, were you a country music fan?
I just moved to Australia and my wife's whole family are cowboys essentially, so I learned it all by proxy. And just whenever I do a show, I just dive into it. I've listened to pretty much nothing but country for the last six months.
Are there any artists that grew to become favorites?
Well, my wife's a massive Garth Brooks fan, so I got inundated with Garth. To be honest, I'm more into really old school stuff, like I'm a real blues fan, so I sort of used that bridge into it more so. I listen to a hell of a lot of Johnny Cash. So that was where I started, from the bottom up, rather than a lot of the modern stuff.
What was the audition process like for Monarch?
Well, that's a funny story. Me and my wife were in hospital and she was giving birth to our second child. She had just given birth that morning at 5 a.m. and we were in the delivery room afterwards. She was in bed with a drip in one arm and a baby and the other breastfeeding, and I had auditioned for the job already and for a different role and they called back that day in the hospital. They said, “Look, we don't want you for that role. But we want you for the lead guy.” And my wife said, “What's on your phone?” I said, “I just got a callback, but I can't do it.” And she said, “Get out of this hospital right now.” And so we learned the lines in the hospital and I drove back from hospital and auditioned… Actually, I did the music— part of my audition was singing from the hospital room because I had to give them songs as well.
How would you describe Luke Roman?
The challenge for me being an artist is that Luke isn't one in a world where everyone around him is, and that's a massive struggle in terms of his relationships with his parents and his relationships with his sisters. He constantly feels like he's not good enough, but he's very, very talented and runs the record label and is very good at his job. But those things eternally go unnoticed. So it's a very Commodus-like struggle. He wants to impress everyone and he's doing his best, but it doesn't really matter because he's not in the limelight and that's the only currency that everybody values.
What was it like to play the on-screen son of Susan Sarandon and Trace Adkins?
Honestly, just such a privilege. I came from theater in England, and a lot of the time you're performing to very small audiences, bringing Shakespeare to places where Shakespeare isn't and a lot of people probably don't even want to see Shakespeare. So to find yourself performing with Trace and Susan Sarandon is mind boggling. But actually, strangely, for all of us coming from such different places, we all have very similar techniques. I'm a stickler for staying in the moment during a scene and it doesn't matter if we go off script or anything. I really believe in improvisation, so I always stay in the moment. And Susan and Trace are exactly like that. I mean, you could just do anything in a scene with Susan and she just keeps on rolling. And Trace is unbelievable. He never breaks character. He never breaks the truth and intensity of the scene and it's very, very intense. And you can change anything with Susan the whole time and she just keeps going and that's just an amazing thing.
What do you think audiences can look forward to from Monarch’s premiere season?
It's very Shakespearean. The amount of twists sometimes has been difficult for us to keep up with because it's relentless. So that’s something for a modern audience that is really saturated by media and expect a great deal from what they're watching because they binge watch and get such high quality content, I think this is really going to meet that. I just watched the first episode today in a locked room and I was amazed. It's really high drama. It's very gritty, and Fox hasn't shied away from tackling some really heavy issues for what's going on in the world. And they seem to have been really, really brave and have not taken an easy road. And yes, the backdrop of it is country music, but really this is a really hard-hitting drama touching on some really full-on material. But it's nice because there's the levity of having the country music as a backdrop and it dips in and out, so it's really good family entertainment.
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On Instagram you wrote about how not since your years at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe have you experienced such a “loving, united, caring and glorious family” as the cast and crew of Monarch. Can you tell us more about that?
It's pretty weird being on a show where everyone's so intense and backstabbing to each other when the cast is so close. We're all amazingly close. It's weird, actually. I haven't been this close to a cast since I was doing theater at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Everyone's just simpatico. They're really lovely people. A lot of the times you do a show, there's often a bad egg or there's just so much work that people focus on themselves more. But we're all having dinner with each other all the time. And I've got my two young children with us, and people are coming and helping being nannies and looking after the kids and coming over to the house and we're going home having dinners. I've been in the business 19 years and I've never had such a family atmosphere, so it's just really special. That kind of chemistry you can't plan. Sometimes it just happens, and wonderfully it's happened on this.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photography by: Kevin Scanlon