Few shows have had the sort of rough history that Merlin has had to survive, including the simple lack of attention, and fewer still are as fun and wild. Somewhere in the general category of such things as Hercules, Robin Hood, and Legend of the Seeker, Merlin finds us tagging along with the earlier versions of our Camelot legends. Uther is alive, and has outlawed magic, and Merlin is Arthur’s squire-come-houseboy who has to somehow perfect his abilities without being able to use them openly. We have to get from there to the days that rise to mythic stature (so I guess we know who isn’t going to die), all the while doing battle with a variety of beasts and baddies.
I was on the fence about the show at the very beginning, but it has picked up rather well throughout the remainder of the first and second seasons, and I hope more people give it a chance now that the third season is showing up here.
Below check out a few clips, and a Q & A Interview with stars Bradley James and Colin Morgan.
Season three sees the young wizard Merlin (Colin Morgan) in increasingly more dangerous and dark battles in his secret quest to protect Prince Arthur (Bradley James) in the fabled kingdom of Camelot, where magic is forbidden by King Uther (Anthony Head). They rejoin Katie McGrath, who portrays the mesmerizing Morgana — who has a dark destiny of her own — Angel Coulby as her loyal maid Gwen, and Richard Wilson as wise Court physician Gaius. The new season finds Camelot’s heroes pushed to their limits as the kingdom is thrown into turmoil by the return of Morgana from a year’s absence.
A host of new guest stars joins the regular cast to enthrall audiences over the 13-week run. Harry Melling (The Harry Potter Series) portrays Gilli, Warwick Davis (The Harry Potter Series, The Chronicles of Narnia) will play Grettir, Miriam Margoyles (The Harry Potter Series, Being Julia) will play Grunhilda, and Mark Williams (The Harry Potter Series, The Fast Show) is the voice of a mischievous Goblin. Guest stars from the previous season such as Emilia Fox (The Pianist, Ballet Shoes) who plays Morgause, and Santiago Cabrera (Heroes, Che), who plays Launcelot, will also be returning.
Legendary actor John Hurt once again provides the Voice of the Great Dragon.
Bradley James & Colin Morgan Interview
How is the return of Morgana going to change the vibe in Season 3?
Bradley James: That’s all you, Colin.
Colin Morgan: Go for it, Bradley.
Bradley James: All right. I’ll answer that. And whenever Morgana turns up in Series 3 there’s been a year-long search for her as decreed by Uther. And we don’t know where she’s been for that year. We don’t know what she’s been up to or what she’s been harvesting.
But it becomes very evident very quickly in the first episode that despite appearances she hasn’t changed. She’s just as evil as she was before if not more. And so it’s basically the beginnings within the first episode of where she’s going to go and what she’s going to create and what she’s going to change.
You’re getting quite a few guest stars in Season 3, especially actors from the Harry Potter series. How do you think that part of the resume will help the show?
Colin Morgan: Bradley?
Bradley James: Oh hello. How do I think that part of the resume will help the show? Well I always say that the best thing about doing the show is the guests that come on. You find yourself learning from them quite a bit. You find you’re sort of enjoying hanging out with them and whatnot.
And the guests we get seem to be very fun people to have around. So for us personally it’s always a lot of fun.
We’ve sort of had a great time this year because the people who were brought in were lots of fun. I’m going to use that word a few times I think if I keep talking.
But in terms of commercially speaking for the show, Harry Potter’s very popular. I can’t see it being to the detriment of the show that you have people in the show who’ve been in Harry Potter.
But I don’t think they’re in it. I don’t think they’ve been cast in Merlin because they’ve been in Harry Potter. I just think the producers have gone out and found people who would enhance the show. And that’s how it’s felt on set for us as well.
Were you big fans of the Camelot and Merlin mythology before you signed on to be on the show?
Bradley James: I certainly was very aware of it. I think kind of growing up in Britain you find it’s kind of ingrained into your psyche a little bit without your realizing it. And, they’re very sort of inspiring kind of heroic stories.
So I always sort of had an interest in it beforehand, not a sort of specific interest that I followed it sort of religiously or anything but certainly when the opportunity to work on the show came up I’d already had a sort of previous knowledge of what the story was about and what the legends sort of told. And it’s kind of obviously been enhanced by doing the show. And research for the show’s kind of I guess just improved my knowledge of various aspects of the legend.
For people who may not have seen the show before what – can you tell us what separates this version of the story from all the others that have come before?
Bradley James: Well I would say that we’ve completely butchered the legend and sort of reworked it for sort of Saturday night escapism because anyone who’s kind of quite strictly religious to the legend perhaps will take a bit of time to get used to what we’ve done to it. But we – I think we’ve taken the legend and kind of – I mean the producers like to sort of compare it with the sort of Smallville idea of having Superman before he was Superman.
And I mean this is Merlin before he was Merlin and Arthur before he was King Arthur. So it’s kind of the prelude story to the familiar tale that everyone’s aware of.
As actors, is there any frustration, or wishing things would move along a little bit quicker? I mean with the Arthur/Gwen story line or Arthur finding out about Merlin’s magic and just the various elements of the plot.
Colin Morgan: I think as an audience member, being aware of where these characters end up and knowing that they become the legends that they are, that Arthur and Gwen become king and queen, that Merlin becomes being accepted as Arthur’s advisor and a wizard and that magic is out in the open and I think when you know that that’s where they end up I think it can always be possibly a sense of frustration when you want that to happen quickly.
In reality things don’t happen that quickly. It takes time for those to happen.
And I guess as well that’s from a story point of view. I guess from a producer’s point of view they don’t want to rush things too quickly.
But I do believe that things are happening at quite a pace already in terms of character relationships. It’s just I think that we’re – as an audience we’re in the know about their – where they – of where they’re supposed to be.
Bradley James: We haven’t started on Season 4 yet but I would say had Season 3 not gone in the direction that it went in then yes those frustrations would have been there. But I think Season 3 kind of takes the show on in the direction it needed to go because we sort of had two seasons of, what the first two were about. And I think Season 3, things change.
So I think that was needed. And I think the producers kind of answered the call with where they went with the direction of the show.
You talked a little bit about how it’ll affect the show – the season. But can you talk about working with the actors from Harry Potter?
Bradley James: I will. I’m trying to think who, we had Harry. We had Miriam. I don’t think it was too different than working with anyone else really.
Again I sort of said that people that were brought in were kind of brought in because they were right for the role and enhanced the show and did something great with the characters which can be said for pretty much everyone who hasn’t been in Harry Potter I suppose. You went kind of on set going oh, that person’s been in Harry Potter, wow.
So now I’m trying to think who has been in Harry Potter. But from – Harry and Miriam and who else was there?
Colin Morgan: Well Warwick Davis is quite a highlight for me.
Bradley James: Warwick, yes Warwick of course.
Colin Morgan: Not because he was in Harry Potter but because he was Warwick Davis. You know? It’s…
Bradley James: Yeah, yeah.
Colin Morgan: …something as Bradley said. It’s the actors as opposed to their credits that just is very much cast on people who write for the roles the same way we were cast in them. And it does feel great to have those people on the show.
How will the relationship between the two of you — of Merlin and Arthur — will evolve this season?
Bradley James: Yeah, go.
Colin Morgan: You go ahead.
Bradley James: Well I’d probably say the same things as you, Col. Actually I’d say one thing different in the sense that you sort of mentioned that there’s that master/servant relationship which will always be there. And I’d probably disagree with that because I think they’ll get to a point where Arthur will no longer see Merlin as a servant, where they will be equals.
I don’t think that will happen too soon. But I think that’s kind of where the progression of that relationship goes.
I think the show itself kind of – that relationship has to be quite steady in its progression anyway because it can’t make any sort of major jumps because I think it’s sort of quite important to the show. So if you suddenly made too much of an adjustment to it I think the audience would kind of find it a little bit weird.
I’d say that there’s that progression to them becoming equals and the sort of high levels of trust in these seemingly endlessly kind of mortal situations they keep finding themselves in. Mortal situations, that didn’t make sense. What’s the word I’m looking for, Col?
Colin Morgan: Lethal?
Bradley James: Lethal, lethal, lethal situations they find themselves in.
Colin Morgan: I’m sorry. What was the word?
Bradley James: Yeah. That becomes a case of them being able to trust each other in those familiar situations… and a lot more.
And so we probably won’t see Merlin telling Arthur, listen, I’ve saved your butt 100 times and stop ordering me around?
Colin Morgan: That’s what people are eager to see I think. And I think as long as there’s any hint of doubt in Merlin’s mind that Arthur might have a similar attitude towards – that his father does, if there’s any sort of hint of then it’s not the right time.
And you’re seeing Arthur change a lot. And – but I think while his father’s still alive — maybe Bradley wants to talk more about this — but, you know, while his father’s still around. And there’s an incidence there. And I think that’s in any kid’s or anyone’s relationship with their parents they’re always an influence there and you always want to do them proud.
And I think magic being such a big thing for Uther, it would be hard for Arthur to change that. And I certainly think – certainly while Uther’s still around it would be very difficult for Merlin to justify coming out in something so huge.
Bradley James: Let’s call the pink elephant in the room here. We need to get rid of Uther. Then we can get on with it. I’ll say it if no one else will.
I also wanted to ask since you’re between filming right now what are your plans. Are you working on other projects or taking any vacations anywhere?
Colin Morgan: I’ll start. I’ve been traveling about. I did a couple of films last year, one called Parked and one called Island. And then I’m doing the festival circuit. I just got back from the premiere of one of the three new film festivals in Italy last week for a part which went down really well. The promotion wagon has sort of kicked off with those.
I’ll be starting a project in London in the new year which it’s not out yet so I don’t think I can say what it is. But yeah, so it’s nice to sort of do other things in between. But it’s also nice to have the break because it takes up so much of the year that you’re kind of ready to sleep for a month whenever it’s finished.
Bradley James: I’m nowhere near as interesting as that. I’ve just been trying to play as much football as possible because then you get the opportunity while filming so I’ve been just getting on a football pitch and playing lots. Soccer in your country.
Can you tell me how you think Arthur sees his relationship with his father?
Bradley James: Arthur’s grown up with purely his father as I suppose as anyone in sort of a high position in him. And his only parental figure has been his father. So, you know, his father’s such a huge influence on him.
But I think as time goes on I – as the show has gone on I think you sort of see Arthur kind of starting to figure things out for himself where he has disagreed with his father. And I think in time it’ll lead to Arthur sort of making the choices as king that he will do that’ll be different to how Uther does it which you would imagine there’ll be a stark contrast in the way that the pair of them rule. So yeah, as time goes on I think it just becomes a lot more questioning from Arthur in how Uther does things.
However, I should have started with this as opposed to rattled on about that. I think what Arthur does see is that on one side he has the kind of liberal kind of argument from people like Morgana and Merlin who are saying oh you should do things and blah, blah, blah. And then he’s got this kind of hard-nosed kind of conservative line from his father who’s going, you need to kill people with magic, blah, blah, blah.
I think what he does have is the ability to see both sides of the argument. And I think that’s kind of what, perhaps, Morgana doesn’t have. She can’t understand why Uther makes certain decisions. And Uther can’t understand why Morgana feels certain ways about things. And I think Arthur has the ability to be able to see both sides of the argument.
A lot of the great comedic moments of this series come out of your characters’ relationship. How did that develop between you? Is it all acting? Does any of it carry over off-camera?
Bradley James: I think it’s been said that the similar sounds coming from the pair of us when we’re working together is laughter. We do tend to have quite a good time and crack quite a few jokes.
And I suppose that sort of then takes itself onto set when we’re performing the roles. And it kind of helps, kind of that fluidity I suppose and that ease when it comes to doing scenes with comedy involved.
And it’s a lot of fun to work with Colin. Colin, just cover your ears a minute. You might…
Colin Morgan: Yeah.
Bradley James: But it’s a lot of fun to work with Colin because we work together a lot and I could have personally found myself in a situation where because Arthur and Merlin do have so many scenes together you really would have been hoping for somebody who you can act with.
And I think, once we sort of get on set and get through the course of filming the series we have a very good time. So I feel very fortunate about that because it could have been a hell of a lot worse.
Colin, you can take your hands off your ears now.
Colin Morgan: Oh sorry. I was…
Bradley James: How could you hear me say that? That proves you weren’t covering your ears.
Colin Morgan: Oh no.
Bradley James: Anyway, sorry. Go ahead. Speak.
Colin Morgan: Yeah. I agree. I mean it’s great because you can go and have a bit of a laugh before your scenes when there’s humor and comedy involved but equally when it comes to more I guess dramatic ones or ones that are a bit heavier.
We also can tone it down and focus on it as well. But it’s good that you’re getting that dynamic as well. We’re both challenged with the work in that way. But as Bradley says because we get on so well it’s never feels like work which is great.