King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table (L-R): Tom Hopper (Sir Percival), Eoin Macken (Sir Gwaine), Sir Lancelot (Santiago Cabrera), Bradley James (King Arthur), Adetomiwa Edun (Sir Elyan) and Rupert Young (Sir Leon). Photo copyright of Shine Ltd./FremantleMedia Enterprises.
In Arthurian legend, the Knights of the Round Table were among King Arthur’s most trusted and noblest of soldiers. Courageous, loyal and of good humor, they fought beside their king whenever duty called and did not hesitate to undertake the most dangerous of missions with him in the name of Camelot.
The same is true in the BBC’s hit fantasy series Merlin. At the end of the show’s third season, the-then Prince Arthur had not only his personal servant – and unbeknownst to him, sorcerer – Merlin fighting by his side against the dark forces controlled by Morgana, but also the newly formed Knights of the Round Table.
Seeking revenge after being ousted from the throne, Morgana sacrificed her half-sister Morgause at the start of this season and unleashed hellish beings called the Dorocha on the innocent citizens of Camelot. Once again, Sir Lancelot, Sir Leon, Sir Percival, Sir Gwaine and Sir Elyan took up arms and stood with Arthur and Merlin in battle against these creatures. Sadly, Lancelot made the ultimate sacrifice to save the day. Season four is sure to hold further new and even more dangerous adventures for our heroes.
Last week, after finishing a London TV interview and before leaving for an awards ceremony, actors Rupert Young (Sir Leon), Tom Hopper (Sir Percival), Eoin Macken (Sir Gwaine) and Adetomiwa Edun (Sir Elyan) spoke on the phone with me as well as other journalists about working on Merlin. The following is an edited version of our Q & A. Enjoy!
What do you enjoy most about your role on Merlin?
Tom Hopper: We do quite a lot of physical stuff, including fighting, and we get to look cool with a sword, which is always a great deal of fun.
Adetomiwa Edun: Yes, I absolutely concur. I'm right behind Tom when he says it's a lot of fun kind of getting stuck in with the action, and we've got a couple of good ones (fights) in mix in this season.
Did any of you actually watch Merlin before you got cast in Merlin?
Eoin Macken: I did because Merlin is a wonderful show and I’d heard about it so often.
AE: I also watched Merlin before being cast. In fact, I actually watched all of the first three seasons.
Rupert Young: I had a couple of days before my audition, so I tried to watch as many episodes as I could. And since starting work on the show, I've watched it even more. My mom makes me (he jokes).
TH: We all now watch the show because we're all narcissistic (he jokes).
Could you all perhaps tell us a little about your initial audition for Merlin and being cast in your respective roles?
TH: When I heard I was going in to read for Sir Percival, I just did a lot of research about the character. However, when it then came to actually playing the role, my research didn’t come to much avail insofar as what they (the show’s producers/writers) chose to do with the character. Their take on Percival is slightly different. When it comes to my audition, it’s probably the same as it was for the rest of the boys in that you’re sent a script, you read through it with the director, and if you’re right for the part, they'll make you the offer.
RY: When I first auditioned, I was up for two parts, Sir Leon, which I now play, and the other was another knight, who was actually killed. Luckily they cast me as Sir Leon, otherwise I’d no longer be employed. I was only meant to be in a couple of episodes, but then they kept bringing Sir Leon back. So I’ve kind of developed the character with the writers, and that’s been quite exciting.
EM: I just sent a tape of me topless in a bed, and that was my audition (he jokes).
Can you tell us a little bit about some of the acting challenges you’ve found working on the show, and also how have you seen your characters grow and develop since you first began playing them?
RY: To answer the second part of your question, what's been quite lovely with the group of us working together is that we’ve managed to bring our off-screen relationship to our (Merlin) characters. It’s been quite fun to see the show’s writers finding and developing that group dynamic.
AE: Personally, one of the challenges I found is shooting in Wales. Although I love all the stuff that we film in the forest, it can get quite cold, and I'm definitely solar-powered.
I thought you guys did a terrific job in Merlin’s season four opener. What sticks out most in your mind about the two-parter and what you enjoyed most about working on it?
RY: Well, we were shooting on 35-mm, so everything looked bigger and better. When it comes to the work itself, it was us coming back together after being away from each other for a few months. It was also the first time that the Knights of the Round Table were really huge in the story line. So it just felt much more exciting from day one.
EM: I think what was fascinating about the season opener was the fact that it was a much darker tone than the previous seasons. It also had this great big quest feel to it and, as Rupert said, it was all of us together and going on an adventure. And with the Dorocha, which had a lot of special effects, we (as actors) didn't really know what was going on, which kind of lent itself to what was happening with our characters. We couldn’t see the Dorocha and didn't know what was happening, so our confusion was genuine and that was really great.
AE: The scale of the first two episodes was massive. We shot in some fantastic locations that were really evocative and added to the experience of shooting it, which was a lot of fun.
Was it tough filming with those special effects involving the Dorocha?
RY: I think what's quite interesting is when you're filming those types of scenes, you don't actually know what you're trying to attack. So for example, somebody will tell you to attack from all sides while looking in this general direction and holding a torch, but you’re to do it with nothing (in front of you). It's not until you actually watch the episode that you go, “Oh, wow, that’s actually quite scary."
EM: Acting is about reacting. You need to react off someone doing something to you. The Dorocha don't really give you anything back, so it was hard to act with them.
Eoin, as the feisty bad boy, your character of Sir Gwaine seems to have friendships both with Arthur (Bradley James) and Merlin (Colin Morgan), and they're kind of different. So I was wondering how Gwaine would describe his friendships with each of them.
EM: I think that the initial friendship with Arthur was actually more of a competitive relationship that became a friendship through respect. Initially, Gwaine as a character didn't have any time for Arthur because he was royalty. Merlin, however, was more respectful towards him and they became friends much quicker. But as it developed this year, I think Arthur and Gwaine became much stronger friends, as Arthur did with all the knights, through the virtue of them fighting side-by-side in battles. Merlin and Gwaine haven't been as strong friends-wise because Gwaine doesn't know what actually Merlin does in terms of his magic.
Rupert, your character of Sir Leon's been with Arthur for a long time and, for the most part, has seen Merlin as Arthur's servant. Now things have kind of changed, like when you guys joined together and were being subversive when Morgana was on the throne. So I was just wondering if Sir Leon’s picture of Merlin has changed. Will they become friends? Will they interact?
RY: I think because Merlin has been around and always at Arthur's side – as has Leon, in many ways – they’ve grown to like each other. However, there's always that status. So my character is always going to have a slightly higher status than Merlin. He and all the knights can enjoy a joke with Merlin and have a laugh with him, but there's always a line, although not as much as with Arthur and Merlin. So there’s respect there, but Merlin knows his place and we've always got to remember that he'll be our friend, but when he needs to be, he is still a servant.
Tom, we’ve been provided with these beefcake-type photos of you and some of the other knights. Can you tell us where that photo shoot came from?
TH: Oh, the Gay Times shoot, right? We did a magazine shoot earlier this year to promote the series, and we were asked by this magazine to dress in, well, not a lot, with swords and shields, but make it kind of a fashion piece as well. I think GT is quite a popular magazine here in the UK, so the (Merlin) producers thought it would be a good idea for us to do that.
Can we expect to see more about the knights' backgrounds or personal lives, and if not, what can we expect to see more of in the fourth season?
TH: You don't really get to see that much about our backgrounds because this series very much focuses on the development of Arthur becoming who he's going to be. I think it's more about the knights being there for him on that journey. Potentially next season there may be more about the knights, but for now the show is more about them being on Arthur’s side and there for him.
AE: Adding to what Tom was saying, this season is quite epic and it focuses on the overarching theme. Through the evolution of a slightly different Camelot, there are issues raised by Arthur's relationship with Guinevere (Angel Coulby) and things of that nature are sort of in the foreground. You do get glimpses of the knights, but you see them primarily as agitators in the formation of this new sort of Camelot.
And for each of you, what was your favorite scene to do?
EM: My favorite scene personally is one between me and Rupert. We have a really great scene coming up in, I think, episode seven or eight. It’s an episode that mainly focuses on the knights, so I'm sure the fans will look out for that one because we're pretty brilliant in it. The scene was quite interesting because there’s a lot more conflict among the knights in terms of creating a different dynamic to our relationship. So I enjoyed that scene with Rupert in the forest which got quite heated.
AE: Tom and I did a little bit in the season opener where we’re rescuing the children from the Dorocha, which was quite fun. And then following on from what Eoin said, I think that, if I may call it the knights' episode, has some really nice interplay between us all four of us, which was a lot of fun to do.
TH: Certainly my favorite has to be saving the kids with Adetomiwa in this season’s opener. That was a lot of fun. And saying again, I think the knights' episode, which is, I believe, episode eight, was a lot of fun for the four of us to do, and we also got a peek at or hint of something to come.
RY: Mine is the same as everyone else’s, the knights’ episode. I think our characters developed a bit more in that one with the conflicts, as Eoin, said, and it was the most fun to shoot.
I was wondering what kind of feedback do you get from fans about your characters?
TH: It's varied, really. Three of us are on Twitter and you get kind of mixed feedback, in that there are some girls and guys that, I guess, have an attraction towards them and then there are some fans who just want to know every single fact about the show. I think they know more about the show than we do. Generally, the feedback is good. It seems like we have some very kind, loyal fans, which is nice.
AE: Yes, it's really nice. It seems that this show has a very supportive family, which is awesome.
EO: Tom was being very literal when he talked about being on Twitter, in that we really do have interaction with the fans, and I think they’ve been great. Being on Twitter and so forth allows you to engage with someone, and as a result I've actually learnt an awful lot more about the show from them because, as Tom said, they do know everything about it. And when we don't pay attention to what's going on, they remind us.
RY: I think that's the amazing thing about the fans of the show is that it’s all age groups. There are a lot of children, but the age goes up to 80. It's a family show, so it’s been interesting just seeing that dynamic and those people around the world who love and know the show. It's terrific to be a part of that.
EO: It's been genuinely fascinating because Merlin does have such a wide-reaching fan base. It hits all demographics and you do get viewers from all over the world, which is great because you get to see how different people have their own subjective take on it.
As noted above, all Gay Times magazine photos by Leigh Kelly and copyright of GT/FremantleMedia Enterprises and all Merlin photos copyright of Shine Ltd./FremantleMedia Enterprises, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!