Think it must be hard to be Merlin, the central character in Merlin, the “before-they-were-famous” retelling of the legend of the Camelot?
Imagine being Colin Morgan, the 24 year-old actor upon whose shoulders the entire production rests?
Last summer, the first season of Merlin aired on NBC (to mostly lackluster ratings). For the thirteen-episode second season, the show has gravitated to the SyFy channel, where it premieres this Friday night at 10 PM (9 C).
I was eager to talk to Colin about the new season, so we set up a call from Cardiff in the UK where he is currently filming the show’s third season. Because of the time-difference, it was quite late in the day there, but he was eager to share with me his thoughts on the latest season, his love-hate relationship with the internet, the truth about whether the show’s much-discussed “hoyay” (or gay subtext) is intentional or not, and even his curious love for American peanut butter.
In other words, just like his television counterpart, Colin seems to be holding up just fine.
TheTorchOnline.com: I appreciate your staying late to talk to us.
Colin Morgan: Well, it’s late every day these days. It’s all going well. We’re on the third series at the moment, about five weeks into it, and it’s all going good.
TTO: What episode are you filming now?
CM: The way it works, we film them in three-episode blocks, so we’re currently filming episodes one, two, and three.
TTO: Since the show airs so much later here in the U.S. — season two aired last year in the UK, but we’re just about to watch it here — does it ever get confusing when you’re doing press, thinking back on a season you filmed well over a year ago?
CM: Yeah, it is confusing. We just did an interview the other day, and they were asking questions about season one, and that was two years ago, and I was like, “Oh! Can I think back to that? What happened back then?”
But talking about series two [the second season] feels a lot more on home ground, especially since that was just released on DVD. But does definitely take up a lot of your head space.
TTO: Tell me what you liked best about season two?
CM: A couple of different ways to look at it. From having seen the whole of the second series, I liked the darker, more intense tone that the overall series took, especially toward the end. Me personally, those are the things that I like.
And I like that the writers weren’t afraid to put Merlin through some really horrendous situations. Going into the third season, I’ve learned how it’s really changed him, forever.
What’s great about the second series is that they’re taking bigger steps, bigger character steps. We see big steps taken in terms of Arthur and Guenevere. Morgana’s dark side is starting to come through, as is Merlin’s abilities and his past. We also get to see his first love.
TTO: With series three [the third season], are you going back to a more light tone, or are you carrying over the darker tone from the end of the second series?
CM: What’s great about the series is that, although the show takes a dark tone toward the end, the show does still somehow maintain its charm. It will always have its charm and that element of lightheartedness, even if the overall tone is quite extreme and serious.
There’s always a balance, there’s always room for those lighter moments. While it got quite dark, there were never the moments were it suddenly became The Exorcist.
TTO: Speaking of humor, one of things that I think is so great about your character is that you get to play both broad comedy and also the drama. Tell me honestly: between you and Bradley [James, who plays Arthur], you know you have the better role, right?
CM: Yeah. I’m more naturally drawn to the quirky, magically, fantastical aspect of many stories, and I’m a big fan of the fantasy genre, and I do like those more surreal elements.
And what’s great is that Merlin is the unsung hero, so he gets to look like an absolute prat to everyone else, but the truth is, he’s the one behind the successes of Arthur.
It’s great that you get the variety. You get a chance to have a laugh, and then, in the second series, when horrendous things happen, you get a chance to show a new emotional, even angry side. Everyone’s got their lighter side and they’re darker side.
TTO: A lot of people have written to me, expressing some frustration with the fact that Arthur still hasn’t figured out that Merlin has magic. Do we get some progress on that front in series two or even series three?
CM: You’re going to see huge changes in the relationship between Arthur and Merlin. Arthur’s going down the path of being more king-like, but he’s going to be a more understanding king that Uther would be.
And Merlin wouldn’t want to reveal that he has magic if he thought [Arthur] was going to have the same attitude as his father. I think it’d be the wrong time, but as the series progresses, you see times when Merlin is kind of assessing the situation. He’s becoming more like the “adviser” of the legends that we know.
Whether he comes right and says it in series three, you’ll have to watch it and see. But there are some big changes that I think people will be happy to see.
TTO: Do you ever joke on the set about how clueless Arthur sometimes seems? He’s always looking away when Merlin performs magic, or passing out, or whatever the excuse is for not seeing what’s really going on.
CM: Oh, yeah, definitely! We definitely look at it from an audience point-of-view. By no means are we naive to it all.
It’s one of the conventions of the show, and that’s how it is. Part of the fun is that [Arthur doesn't know, those are] some of the great comic scenes. It’s one of the things from the start of the show, that Merlin does have to keep his magic secret.
He’d love to be able to confide in someone, and what’s great about series two is that he does. One of those is Morgana. It was a good dilemma for Merlin, having someone who has magic and who is part of the court of Camelot. What are the consequences of telling someone? Does Merlin help her when her powers start to come to the fore?
TTO: You mentioned you were interested in fantasy. What books and movies?
CM: Do you know Terry Pratchett?
TTO: Oh, sure.
CM: I’m a big fan of his, I think he’s brilliant. And I love Tim Burton — Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, Big Fish. I love all those.
More recently, things like Avatar are right up my street. Strangely, I haven’t been into Star Wars — I’ve have to revisit them — but Indiana Jones, The Goonies, that kind of thing. Escapism — I think people do enjoy escaping from their daily lives for an hour or two. It’s why I love the fantasy genre, which seems to be really in at the moment. I just finished watching the first series of True Blood. That was brilliant.
The fantasy genre is really in at the moment, and it’s great to be a part of that.
TTO: I have to ask you about this phenomenon of “hoyay” that I read about everywhere, where people see a gay subtext between Merlin and Arthur. Are you guys aware of this when you’re filming and what do you think about all this?
CM: It’s certainly something that we never ever play. I think you’re watching anything, and you’re looking for it, you could probably find it. You could find gay connotations in Barney. You could find it anything.
I think it very much depends on the individual watching it as opposed to any portrayal that’s being done on-screen.
TTO: Well, it’s a huge online thing. And I think it goes back to the whole keeping a secret, how Merlin can’t tell Arthur about his magic.
CM: It’s lucky that I’m not an internet person. I avoid the internet like the plague, so it’s probably a good thing that I don’t know what’s been going on.
But I can attest to the fact that there’s no intentions there of pushing of any that kind of subtext. It purely as innocent as the scripts are.
I think it’s very much dependent on the individual watching it.
TTO: So you really don’t read what people write about you online?
CM: It’s not an ignorant way that I’m doing that at all — I think it’s great that there is the internet, for people to talk about the show and have that base and that community and meet fellow fans. I think that’s brilliant.
But I think it’s a bit scary. It’s great to get the support and appreciation, but there’s a lot of things out there. If you’re an actor, if you’re to read things that are good, you get full of yourself, and if it’s bad, you never forget it. So I think it’s destructive either way.
So I’ve always stayed clear.
TTO: Well, what I read is all very positive. And when I tweeted I was interviewing you, I was inundated with questions.
CM: You’re gonna make me full of myself!
TTO: Oh, right, sorry. I wanted to ask you, since the show runs in the UK and in the U.S., is there anything you do that’s different for the U.S. broadcast?
CM: You’re seeing exactly what we see, as far as I know. The only thing that’s the changed, in the first season … I have to change my accent [which is Irish] for the show to an English one, and I had the line, “Don’t be such an ass.” Because I was doing an English accent, I was saying it “aaass,” more like “posh,” and they wanted to change it to the American “ass.” They didn’t think it would be understood.
And that’s the only thing I can think of that’s changed.
TTO: With the success of the show, have you done any auditions in Los Angeles for American television?
CM: I’d love to come to the States and audition for some things. I think it’s worth doing, but I think it’s probably better if a job came up that took me. I get the impression that it’s quite hard to go there and just audition. It might be better to go in the back. But it’s definitely something I’d love to do.
I was in the States for the first time last August. We had a week off, and I went to Boston and New York for a couple of days. Gave me the bug for the States — I’d love to do a road trip for a year!
I’d love to do some exploring and just chill out. Life isn’t just all about work.
TTO: When will you be coming back to the States?
CM: I might be doing something over Thanksgiving. I’ll probably be going back to the Boston area, because we know people there, but I want to get to New York and Washington too.
One of the things I love about the States is your peanut butter.
TTO: How is it different?
CM: It’s completely different. The peanut butter we have here is like sawdust.
But your Skippy and your Jif is awesome. I literally order it online because I like it so much. I’m a loser.
TTO: Nah. Well, I’ve enjoyed the show, and I’m looking forward to series two — and three too, although that probably won’t be for several years, the way they’re going.
CM: I’ll try to speed them up as much as possible.
Looking to buy anything Merlin-related (or any other media)? Support TheTorchOnline.com by purchasing it through this link.
Thanks to all who suggested questions for Colin!