"Will" star Laurie Davidson talks tapping into Shakespeare

Newcomer Laurie Davidson kicks off his TV career with quite the daunting challenge: embodying William Shakespeare. The British actor's first lead role in a series sees him starring as the titular "Will" in TNT's punk-infused take on the Bard's early career in 16th century London.

Davidson spoke to CBS News about taking on the role and about the recent controversy surrounding Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar."

How daunting was it when they said, "We want you to play William Shakespeare"?

It was pretty nuts. If you're British, you hear William Shakespeare's name all the time, so it was kind of weird. It was very, very odd, actually. But I was super-excited. One thing I was really excited about was getting behind the man of these words and really taking Shakespeare out of the history books and fleshing him out into a real living person that modern audiences can understand and connect with.

Your first TV gig, and you're the title character. How do you wrap your mind around that as an actor?

It's kind of similar to fight or flight. It all happened so fast, I didn't really have any time to question it. I think [executive producers] Vince [Gerardis] and Craig [Pearce] had given a lot of belief in me, and for any actor -- we're sensitive souls -- that really helps. It frees you up to play. 

It's been nearly 20 years since "Shakespeare in Love," but do you find you have to fend off a lot of comparisons it?

No, actually. They're both about Shakespeare, and he does fall in love. But it's got a very different feel, I think. It's got a much more modern feel. We don't want to distance people from these characters, because the themes that are in the show and were in Shakespeare's plays were ones that really would never look out of place today. I love "Shakespeare in Love," but I'm just saying they were very different in their approach.

How surprised have you been by the controversy surrounding the Shakespeare in the Park production of "Julius Caesar"?

It's an amazing thing and something that we need to explore in our show, which is how can art make a difference? When you're making a film or you're performing a play, you sometimes think, "Does what I'm doing actually matter in a world that is crazy and people being blown up and there's famine and people have awful, awful lives? Does anything I do actually matter?" I think when people actually get an opportunity to make a difference with their work or do something important, that's really special. I don't want to give too much away, but there's some really close parallels with what's happened in that play and the attention around it to what happens in our series. 

Where do you stand on the debates over whether or not Shakespeare was one person or several people?

I think what's interesting is that people don't think that he could've written all those plays, and I think it's a slight snobbery because he was relatively uneducated, but I think that's what made Shakespeare so great -- he was different from the university wit. He was essentially just a guy from a normal background, and that's why his writing has a different quality -- because he was able to dip into so many more different types of people's heads and mindsets. He wrote plays that could connect with aristocracy and could connect with the penny-paying groundlings, as they called them -- people who were poor. Some people think that there's no way that he could've written those plays, but I like to think he did. It's a much more interesting story, the one we've gone with.

"Will" airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on TNT.

Will: Season 1 - OFFICIAL TRAILER | TNT by TNT on YouTube