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April 29, 2013

‘Merlin’: Angel Coulby talks Gwen’s journey from servant to queen

Posted in: TV

arthurandgwen1 Merlin: Angel Coulby talks Gwens journey from servant to queen

Bradley James plays Arthur Pendragon, left, and Angel Coulby plays Gwen in "Merlin." (BBC / Syfy)

merlin arthur copy Merlin: Angel Coulby talks Gwens journey from servant to queen

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

merlinmithianmorgana Merlin: Angel Coulby talks Gwens journey from servant to queen

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

morgana and merlin Merlin: Angel Coulby talks Gwens journey from servant to queen

Colin Morgan as Merlin, left, and Katie McGrath as Morgana in a scene from "Merlin." (Syfy)

morganathrone Merlin: Angel Coulby talks Gwens journey from servant to queen

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

julian johnny Merlin: Angel Coulby talks Gwens journey from servant to queen

Julian Murphy, left, and Johnny Capps co-created "Merlin," based on the Arthurian legends. (Shine Ltd.)

The final season of the fantasy adventure series “Merlin” resumes on Syfy Friday evening after several weeks hiatus and the new episode, “With All My Heart,” focuses on Queen Guinevere.

“Merlin” has been massively popular in the U.K., where it rivaled “Doctor Who” in ratings, wrapping up last Christmas with a tragic, two-part season finale. In the U.S., the fifth and final season is airing on Syfy.

In the show, Gwen, played by Angel Coulby, is in many ways the moral compass of Camelot, influencing the decisions of her husband King Arthur Pendragon (Bradley James) and the secret sorcerer Merlin (Colin Morgan). She began as a maidservant to Morgana, now an evil sorceress, and now rules Camelot alongside Arthur.

Hero Complex caught up with Coulby to talk about Gwen’s journey and the success of “Merlin.”

Warning: Spoilers lie ahead.

Angel Coulby plays Gwen in "Merlin." (Syfy)

Angel Coulby plays Gwen in “Merlin.” (Syfy)

HC: “Merlin” takes such a different approach to Guinevere than other Arthurian adaptations. What was it like to play a servant as well as a queen?

AC: I kind of liked the idea that you go on a bit of a journey as an actor, starting off as a humble maidservant, kind of a bit bumbling, and then obviously growing into this very capable queen. It’s really nice to have that range throughout a job. That’s quite a rarity, really. ‘Cause often you have one character, and obviously they sort of fluctuate in their emotional journey, but this is quite a big leap, and it was a really nice challenge as well. I really enjoyed that aspect of it.

HC: Did you find inspiration for your character from previous adaptations?

AC: If I’m playing a well-renowned role, I try not look too much at the way other actors have done it, because I want to bring my own color to it. I’d seen a few. I’d seen a series on BBC with Sam Neill a long time ago, which was probably my first foray into the Arthurian legend, and I was really charmed by it. I knew by that point that I wanted to be an actress, and any lead role by any actress in any show made me think, “I want to be that, I want to do that.” So I remember thinking, “Oh, I’d quite like to be Guinevere one day,” and obviously never thinking it would actually happen. So it’s kind of a dream come true.

HC: Did you read any of the source material? “The Once and Future King”?

AC: I didn’t, really. I’ve actually just been given the “Once and Future King,” the book, so I might start reading it now, but in terms of the way that we were telling the story — although it sort of ended up following the legend — I vaguely knew the story of the Lady of the Lake and Lancelot and Arthur and Guinevere, but I hadn’t actually read any literature on it, because it was such a different sort of twist on the show that it wasn’t necessary. … The audience is a family audience, and obviously there are a lot of other storylines within the original legend that probably wouldn’t have been appropriate for our show. There’s all sorts of stuff, incest and all sorts of things which wouldn’t have gone down well with a family audience. So I think they did pretty well to factor in all the important points. Like the Arthur, Gwen and Lancelot love triangle — that could have been the death of the relationship between Arthur and Gwen, but instead they put a twist on it that made it possible for us to sort of carry on the series and for us get to the end point that they’d always planned. … Although I kind of like the stories, so I think right now is maybe the time to start reading the books.

HC: Did you ever expect the show to enjoy this kind of widespread popularity?

AC: I always thought it would be popular in the U.K. When I first read the scripts, I just thought they had all the components of a really good show, and then when I went for the first read-through and saw the rest of the cast, I thought, “This is good. This is going to be good.” I never thought it would go worldwide like it has. That was a shock. But also, it’s a massive privilege to be part of a show that’s been so popular and so well-loved, and people have such affection for the show and all of us in it, as well. People are always very kind if you bump into people on the street. Adults and children approach you and say how much they love the show. It’s a real privilege to be in something like that that has such wide appeal.

HC: Can you talk about developing relationships with the other actors?

AC: To be honest, we all got on very well from the beginning, which is lucky, because [it’s] a huge amount of time with new people, and it was always kind of easy to discuss where we wanted to go with each scene and how we wanted to play it. And the more we got to know each other, the more comfortable we grew with any sort of physical contact and that sort of stuff, particularly between Arthur and myself. And it wasn’t hugely challenging, because they were all such professionals and we all did get on well. We had a really good rapport off-set as well as on. And as we got to know each other and it kind of went with the story that the relationships would get closer to each other, that would translate onto the screen as well. But it was all in the writing, really. The writers did a really good job in selling those relationships. It was all up to the script, a lot of it.

Angel Coulby as Gwen, left, and Katie McGrath as Morgana in "Merlin." (BBC / Syfy)

Angel Coulby as Gwen, left, and Katie McGrath as Morgana in “Merlin.” (BBC / Syfy)

HC: It seems that Gwen is really the conscience of the show.

AC: I agree. I think in the beginning I was a bit jealous of Morgana and her evil ways. Because Gwen is always so good and so moral and the moral compass of the show. They had this thing of keeping her good all the time, but then when you see her in this [season], she sort of has her bad, bad moments, which I loved. I was really glad to read that because it was such a different thing. It was such a different way of playing her. It was really refreshing for me to sort of have my chance at being evil Gwen.

HC: The show has some underlying feminist themes, with Morgana being the most powerful threat to the kingdom and Gwen being the person who more or less fulfills the prophecy of a peaceful Camelot.

AC: I think that was, in my opinion, a very intelligent choice by the writers and the producers, to sort of keep the women in the forefront. Lots of powerful women in the show. And that doesn’t always happen. I was glad that they had made that decision.

Angel Coulby as Gwen in "Merlin." (Syfy)

Angel Coulby as Gwen in “Merlin.” (Syfy)

HC: Did you know the series was going to end the way it did?

AC: No, we never knew that. We were only told each series as it happened, and even then, we wouldn’t necessarily be told, because a lot of times the producers were very busy creating the show, so they didn’t always have time to sit down with us and tell us what was going to happen. And obviously also that would sometimes change. They must have had a vague arc in their head, but they never told us how the final episode was going to play out. That was just as exciting for us to read as it was, I’m sure, for the fans to see.

HC: You have this beautiful moment in the final episode where Gwen realizes what’s happened, and in only a few moments you manage to portray the weight of everything she must be feeling.

AC: We knew the show was wrapping up, and there’s an element of sadness, but also appreciating the scale of it all and how popular it had been and how well it had been received and what a special sort of five years it had been, and that was helpful in portraying moments like that when you only have a short time. You’ve got to use a sort of emotional reality to help you.

HC: What was your last day on set like?

AC: It was quite fun. Everyone was in quite good spirits. Everybody was sort of feeling like although it had been an amazing experience, we always knew it was only going to be five years, and we were prepared that it was going to end. And although we were all sad, we were also very excited about our futures and the next chapters in all of our careers and stuff. So yeah, it was high spirits, and also we still had the wrap party yet to come. So it wasn’t necessarily the last time we were going to see each other.

— Noelene Clark | @NoeleneClark


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

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