During our set visit to the filming of Sins of the Father, we got a chance to sit down with a number of the actors – starting with Merlin himself, Colin Morgan, who was at pains to make everyone on the visit (especially the two young reporters) feel welcome. His gentle Northern Irish accent comes as a slight shock when you first hear it in person, but it emphasises the difference between Colin Morgan the actor, and Merlin the character…
How do you feel about playing Merlin again?
It’s weird because when we first started, we didn’t know what the show was going to look like, how the creatures were going to look. We were all very excited to see how it would look. Now we’re in the second series, we know the creatures pretty well, we know what they’re going to be like, so when we’re doing a scene with them, it’s a bit easier.
It’s good because we’re all really good friends, and get along, so it’s just fun. We’re all happy so hopefully you guys will be happy when it comes out.
How has Merlin changed this year?
We’ve got a lot bigger stories, and they’re a lot more complicated. Merlin’s becoming a lot more powerful. When he first came to Camelot, he was like a boy coming to the big city for the first time. Now he’s definitely starting to realise his powers. There’s a lot more magic coming up and a bit more excitement.
Obviously, you see the relationship between Arthur and Merlin, their friendship, develop. Later on in the series, you even see a love interest for Merlin as well.
We don’t know what’s going to happen with the series, and that’s what we love. We get really excited about the episodes coming through. Next week we get the final episode of the series, so we’ll know how it all ends, and we’re just as excited about it ourselves. It’s good that the audience is too.
Very, very little! We literally do find out almost days before we start shooting the next block – we do them in three episode blocks – and we start filming episodes 12-13 two weeks Monday, and we won’t get the episodes till Thursday or Friday. You have a few days to prepare but that’s about it.
Do you get the situation where you read a script and think you’d have played something differently in an earlier episode if you’d known what was revealed?
I think when you get the scripts in order, it helps. Because we’re going to do 12 and 13 next, the block after is 10 and 11 so we get a breakdown of the stories for those. We sometimes get a script and think, how am I going to do that? Other times you get really excited about it.
Are you headed towards being an action figure?
I really hope so! They’ve taken full body pictures and stuff – so we’ll see.
Was that a life goal?
When you’re in something, it is a bit of a goal to have your own action figure! I think it would be good to have action figures of the dragon and the monsters, which will be really cool.
Not during the first series. The second series has been a bit better because we’ve actually had the opportunity to go into the studio and record the scenes with him, which has been cool. Just because of the schedule, he records it in London when I’m still filming here in Cardiff, so it’s a question of time really. Luckily this series we got the chance.
Are there going to be any crazy creatures this year?
There are loads. Giant scorpions coming along, which are pretty scary – I haven’t seen them yet but Katie McGrath, who plays Morgana, comes in close contact with them, and she says they’re pretty frightening!
We also have creatures which are like giant mole-rats. They can’t hear or see, but they can smell. You do not want to find yourself in a dark cave underground with them as I do.
When you’re shooting those sequences, do you see pre-viz of the creatures, or do you have to work from the script description?
Sometimes it’s a mixture of both. When it’s something like that, you’ll often get a comparison to a baby elephant or similar, so you’ve got something to work against. Sometimes the creatures will be very like actual things, so it’s easy enough; you just need to know the size of it. Sometimes if you’re lucky, if the creatures have to touch you or come in contact with you, you’ll get something poking you in the face, or spraying slime onto your face.
What’s it like filming greenscreen?
When we first started filming the series, I didn’t know what it was going to be like and what I was going to be talking to. Now that I’ve seen the dragon, and seen the scenes, it’s a bit easier. But literally I’m talking to a green screen, with a marked X on it. We talk to that. You have to have lots of fun with it, give it your all and use lots of imagination – and they play back John Hurt’s recording of it. If I haven’t recorded it with him in the studio, then I get a CD beforehand and listen to that, and do my side of the dialogue.
Oftentimes you’ll read a script and see a really cool stunt and get quite excited about having to do it, and then realise it’s going to be a stunt double doing it. The great surprises are when you actually get to do stuff like that. This year, there’s been a lot more leeway on it. We’ve done all our horse riding on this series so far, which we didn’t get to do last series. There’s stuff on wires, which I love doing – you’re attached into a harness and if you’re zapped, you’re lifted up about six feet into the air and yanked back up against a foam wall. I get really excited about stuff like that, and also about the challenges.
They’re not afraid to explore darker avenues as well as comic things. I tend to get quite excited about the dramatic scenes and the things you get to sink your teeth into, which there’s been quite a lot of this series. There’s the complicated stuff, and the light-heartedness and the charm that the show has as well.
What do you think about the chances of a third series?
I really hope there is. There’s so much more to explore. Particularly with the Arthurian legends, you’re not limited because the show takes these elements and twists them and makes them new. There’s loads to explore, and lots set up so far which can be revisited, and is, in terms of Excalibur and Mordred, the introduction of the Lady of the Lake. There’s loads more to do and it would be a shame if we didn’t get to explore those further.
What do you do to chill out during the shoot?
That’s really important – it’s something that the more experienced members of the cast like Richard [Wilson] and Anthony [Stewart Head] are good at, pacing themselves. You can very much get into the mindset that you have to be on the ball all the time, and work really hard – you do that, but I try to get home to Northern Ireland as much as I can, stay in contact with friends and family. A lot of us end up going to the cinema together at the weekends. I tend not to do anything too wild or crazy at the weekends – I’m really boring during filming, but I figure if you spend eight months and work really hard, give it as much as you can, it’ll be worth it in the end. There’s not too much free time to use up. When you get time off, you end up sleeping!
I’d love to say I face these sorts of adventures and everything every day. That’s the great thing about the show – we get to do that. In real life, the most exciting thing you can face in Cardiff is getting a freebie in Sainsburys! The thing about the show is you get these exciting things to work with. Unfortunately it’s not as glamorous as it appears, but when you come on set every day into this environment, and you get these stories, that’s really the excitement in our lives in the minute, and hopefully that’ll come across in the show.
What made you want to be an actor?
It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, from when I could first speak. All I wanted from Santa Claus was puppets and little theatres. It feels like it was a natural instinct. I always got involved in stuff in school – that’s very important for anyone getting involved with acting. Do everything, I always did. I was lucky that the opportunities came along. You get that first break and it all goes from there. You get the taste of it. I feel very lucky and fortunate when it first happened.
Have you been sent anything unusual by the fans?
We’ve received some interesting vegetables! I went to one of the conventions and someone gave me a squash – some sort of pumpkin – and they’d written on it things they liked about Merlin and me… It was definitely a treasure to behold.
You get these strange things but you also get really cool things. Someone sent me a Stretch Armstrong – it was the Christmas present I never got, and I happened to mention it in an interview.
The fan response to the show has been amazing to the show. Getting to meet people and talking to them about the show, the build up to it and the support we’re getting for the second series. We’ve got some really good support behind us.
We just seem to have really genuine people following the show and it’s just nice to know it’s going down well.
Do you think Merlin is creating some fashion trends?
Someone did pick up a lot on the old scarves being a bit of a fashion icon. The boots – and I haven’t mentioned this before in an interview – they’re Vivien Westwood boots. We’re getting trendy with this show!