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January 01, 2013

‘Merlin’ actors talk legendary roles, series’ epic conclusion

Posted in: TV

Colin Morgan plays Merlin, left, and Bradley James plays Arthur in "Merlin." (BBC / Syfy)

Merlin (Colin Morgan), Princess Mithian (Janet Montgomery) and Morgana (Katie McGrath) in "Merlin." (BBC / Syfy)

Katie McGrath as Morgana, left, and Terence Maynard as Helios in "Merlin." (Nick Briggs / Syfy)

BBC’s fantasy adventure “Merlin” cast its final spell in England over Christmas with a heartbreaking two-part finale that brought to a grand conclusion a series whose popularity rivals “Doctor Who” — the show drew about 7 million viewers each episode in the U.K., compared with around 1.7 million per episode in the U.S.

For fans on this side of the Atlantic, though, it’s only the beginning of the end for the epic tale.

The fifth and final season of the series, which traces the evolution of the relationship between young wizard Merlin (Colin Morgan) and future king Arthur Pendragon (Bradley James) in a realm where magic has been outlawed, premieres Friday on Syfy.

Much in the way “Smallville” updated the story of Superman, “Merlin” brings fresh life and contemporary resonance to iconic characters from English myth.

Hero Complex caught up with James and Katie McGrath, who plays the witch Morgana, to talk about the wizardry “Merlin’s” creators, Johnny Capps and Julian Murphy, conjured over the years. The actors revealed what it was like to inhabit those legendary roles and how it felt to finally say goodbye to Camelot.

HC: Word came in late November that Season 5 would be “Merlin’s” last. Did you know in advance the series was drawing to a close?

KM: The producers had a five-year plan. They always had plotted out the story lines for five series and the character arcs so we knew a good bit before everyone else [that the end was coming], and we feel very lucky to tell the story properly as it was intended.

HC: Is it daunting to play characters that are so mythic and beloved?
KM: Especially when you’re here in England. The Arthurian legend is something that’s so close to everybody’s hearts here, and you do feel a responsibility when playing these roles, that you do them justice. I really think the last five years has done the Arthurian legend proud. I think we’ve told the story, we’ve told a new spin on it, we’ve brought it in touch with a whole new generation of people who might not have known about this, and I think that’s a very special thing to be a part of.

HC: How familiar were you both with the legends of King Arthur before you took on these roles?

BJ: I knew quite a bit about them before hand, but I learned even more afterward, just through taking an interest in the subject. I saw myself reading things I would’ve never come across otherwise and learning so much about the darkness within the stories. They go a lot deeper than we could ever dare to go on our time slot on the BBC. That’s been a fascinating part of it — learning so much about the legend.

HC: Bradley, Arthur begins the series as arrogant, unlikable. Can you describe the process of taking the character from that initial place to where we find him in Season 5?

BJ: One of the really appealing things about Arthur was the fact that he was far from perfect, and I was aware that I was about to go on the journey of making him so. He becomes the Arthur that everyone is familiar with in myth and legend eventually, and where we begin with him, that seems like such an impossible task. It was a huge honor to play King Arthur because he means so much to the heritage in this country, albeit, legend but to be linked with that name and that legend has been a huge honor.

HC: Katie, what can we expect from Morgana in Season 5? A darker incarnation of the character?

Katie McGrath as Morgana in "Merlin." (BBC / Syfy)

Katie McGrath as Morgana in “Merlin.” (BBC / Syfy)

KM: Damn right. It’s about time. She wasn’t dark enough in Season 4. Season 5, let’s push it even more. She’s got a baby dragon now, you know, so who knows what she’s going to do?

HC: Will she have a similar relationship with the baby dragon as Merlin has with the Great Dragon?

KM: I think it’s difficult because the baby dragon is actually a small dragon and doesn’t have the wealth of knowledge and wisdom that obviously the Great Dragon does. I think there is that same bond there, and I think actually it’s more of a dependent bond than what Merlin has with the Great Dragon. It’s similar, but unique to her.

HC: Will Morgana find redemption?

KM: I don’t need to find redemption. I don’t think she thinks that she’s doing anything wrong. I think Morgana believes that she’s fighting for freedom for people like her, so I don’t think she needs redemption.

HC: Many of your fans would agree. Although Merlin is the protagonist and Arthur becomes this great egalitarian leader, some of your fans believe they’re fighting on the wrong side. And that even though Morgana’s methods are evil, her cause is just.

BJ: She can spin whatever yarn she wants. Arthur effectively is trying to create a kingdom which can never be replicated, in a way. It’s something that many people throughout history have tried to re-create the ideas and practices of Arthur because he got it right. It’s just unfortunate that he had this psychotic evil sister. [laughs]

HC: You’ve spent so much time on set together. I imagine that you’re all pretty good friends by now.

BJ: It’s been a huge bonus to the show. I feel very fortunate to have worked with the cast that we’ve had, because they’ve been great to spend five years of my life with. I have many fond memories of them all.

KM: I have fond memories of them all too, except for Bradley, who makes fun of my accent.

HC: Bradley, where do you find inspiration for the relationship between Arthur and Merlin? It’s a great bromance.

BJ: I find inspiration with Colin. We have a lot of fun working together. I’ve been very fortunate that we’ve had such a great working relationship that it’s translated onto the screen. Because he’s been a big part of the show, we’ve had to work together so much. We’ve had a lot of scenes to do, and it’s made them enjoyable, so inspiration comes from hanging out together ’cause we have a laugh.

Colin Morgan plays Merlin, left, and Bradley James plays Arthur in "Merlin." (BBC / Syfy)

Colin Morgan plays Merlin, left, and Bradley James plays Arthur in “Merlin.” (BBC / Syfy)

HC: Can you share a little about your last day on set?

KM: My last day on set was very emotional, I had Colin come in and do my last clapboard. It was like a carnivorous beast running in and grabbing the board out of everyone’s hands. It was a good laugh.

BJ: I share the same sign of the zodiac as Arthur. We’re both Libras, and so I was able to look at the last day with a very balanced view, because at the same time as being a quite emotional time, there was quite a lot of work to do on the last day, and so you had to not let that get in the way…. But underlying all of that, if I watch the scenes back, I’ll see that kind of emotional side to me that was very present that day.

HC: Why do you think the show has become so popular both in England and now overseas?

KM: I think it’s got mass appeal. It deals with issues that cross cultural boundaries — the idea of accepting who you are and making friends is something that everybody can deal with. I know it’s a show about magic and things like that, but at the heart of it, it’s just a story about people trying to be the people they’re supposed to be.

Merlin (Colin Morgan), Princess Mithian (Janet Montgomery) and Morgana (Katie McGrath) in "Merlin." (BBC / Syfy)

Merlin (Colin Morgan), Princess Mithian (Janet Montgomery) and Morgana (Katie McGrath) in “Merlin.” (BBC / Syfy)

HC: Now that “Merlin” has reached its conclusion, what’s next for you as actors?

KM: Sky’s the limit, really. Who knows where we’re going to go. I think “Merlin” has opened up a lot of doors for us that I don’t think we necessarily would have had.

HC: Bradley, there have been rumors about an Arthur spinoff. Is that something you’d be interested in?

BJ: It was something discussed, but I think it’s time for me to hang up the chain mail, to be honest with you, and pass the mantle on to the next person who shall take on the throne of Arthur Pendragon. The post-”Merlin” era is an exciting time to look forward to…. Variety is the spice of life. That’s the fantastic thing about acting is all the different challenges it can provide you with. To limit yourself just to one would be foolish, therefore I’m looking forward to different things that come my way.

– Noelene Clark
Twitter.com/@NoeleneClark

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