An update of the story of the infamous sorcerer of Arthurian legend, Season 3 of the fantasy drama series Merlin returns to SyFy on January 7th. In the mythical city of Camelot, in a time before history began, and in a fantastical realm of legendary beasts and mysterious peoples, there is a dangerous world in which magic has been banned by the ruthless tyrant, Uther Pendragon (Anthony Head). When Merlin (Colin Morgan), a young man gifted with extraordinary magical powers, first arrived in the kingdom, he quickly makes enemies, including the heir to Uther’s crown, Prince Arthur (Bradley James). But, their friendship soon started to develop and now, three seasons in, both Arthur and Merlin know that there are greater things at stake and they must trust each other as equals, if they are to prevail.
During a recent interview to promote the show’s upcoming third season, co-stars Colin Morgan and Bradley James talked about the development of the friendship between Arthur and Merlin, the introduction of certain characters who are important to the Arthurian legend, the return of Morgana (Katie McGrath) and her impact as a villain, and how this season will really ramp things up for Season 4. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
What can viewers expect from Season 3?
BRADLEY JAMES: Basically, the thing I was most excited about with the third season is the introduction of certain characters who have a more long-standing place within the legend, the story and the show for us. There’s one or two knights who turn up. I was particularly pleased about that because it’s had an aspect of developing the show as well, which is a great thing about Season 3.
Where do you feel your relationship is, as characters?
COLIN MORGAN: Well, Merlin and Arthur will always have that issue of servant and master. That will always be there. But, these are guys who’ve been friends for three years now. Anyone who’s spent that much time together gets used to the quirks and those little idiosyncrasies that each person has. But, it’s unique in the fact that these characters have huge things ahead of them. Arthur knows he’s going to be king, and Merlin does, too. He also knows that there’s greater things at stake that he’s the one who’s supposed to see and make that journey to be there. It’s just lucky that, as time has gone by, they’ve become closer friends.
How will the relationship between Merlin and Arthur evolve this season?
JAMES: I think they’ll get to a point where Arthur will no longer see Merlin as a servant, and they will be equals. I don’t think that will happen too soon, but I think that’s where the progression of that relationship goes. That relationship has to be quite steady in its progression and it can’t make any major jumps because it’s quite important to the show. If you suddenly made too much of an adjustment to it, I think the audience would find it a little bit weird. I’d say that there’s that progression to them becoming equals, and the high levels of trust, in these seemingly endlessly lethal situations they keep finding themselves in.
MORGAN: You’ll see Arthur change a lot, but while his father’s still around, there’s an incidence there. In any kid’s relationship with their parents, there’s always an influence there. You always want to do them proud. With magic being such a big thing for Uther, it would be hard for Arthur to change that. Certainly while Uther’s still around, it would be very difficult for Merlin to justify coming out in something so huge.
JAMES: We need to get rid of Uther. Then, we can get on with it. I’ll say it, if no one else will.
Will Arthur start to suspect that there is more to Merlin than just being a squire?
JAMES: Arthur has to turn a blind eye quite a bit, when Merlin wants to do a magic trick. That’s something that the audience can see as questionable about Arthur’s intelligence. I think it’s not so much about becoming aware of Merlin’s actual abilities, but more his abilities as a person without the magic is what Arthur’s becoming aware of. When Arthur gets to the point where he can appreciate Merlin for who he is, as opposed to what he is, it might be the perfect time for the unveiling. I don’t think we have any idea how they’re going to play that out.
Bradley, if Arthur finds out about Merlin’s magic, what do you think his reaction will be?
JAMES: Were Arthur to find out, previously we’d perhaps have had a problem because Arthur would bring it up to the powers that be and Uther would become aware. I think we have reached the point, or at least we’re not very far away from it, where Arthur would be able to accept it. Without spoiling too much of Season 3, certainly with the direction that the show goes, we’re not far away from it.
Were you big fans of the Camelot and Merlin mythology before you signed on to be on this show?
JAMES: I certainly was very aware of it. Growing up in Britain, you find that it’s ingrained into your psyche a little bit, without your realizing it. They’re very inspiring, heroic stories. I always had an interest in it beforehand, but it was not a specific interest that I followed it religiously or anything. Certainly, when the opportunity to work on the show came up, I’d already had a previous knowledge of what the story was about and what the legends told. That’s obviously been enhanced, by doing the show. Research for the show just improved my knowledge of various aspects of the legend.
For people who may not have seen the show before, what separates this version of the story from all the others that have come before?
JAMES: I would say that we’ve completely butchered the legend and reworked it for Saturday night escapism. Anyone who’s quite strictly religious to the legend will perhaps take a bit of time to get used to what we’ve done to it. The producers like to compare it with the Smallville idea of showing Superman before he was Superman. This is Merlin before he was Merlin, and Arthur before he was King Arthur. It’s the prelude story to the familiar tale that everyone’s aware of.
As an actor, do you ever wish you could get to later parts of the story quicker?
MORGAN: 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 is accepted as Arthur’s advisor and a wizard, and that magic is out in the open – it can lead to a sense of frustration, when you want that to happen quickly. In reality, things don’t happen that quickly. It takes time for those things to happen. From a story point of view and a producer’s point of view, they don’t want to rush things too quickly. I do believe that things are happening at quite a pace already, in terms of character relationships. It’s just that, as an audience, we’re in the know about where they’re supposed to be.
JAMES: We haven’t started on Season 4 yet, but I would say that, had Season 3 not gone in the direction that it went in, then those frustrations would have been there. But, Season 3 takes the show in the direction it needed to go. In Season 3, things change and I think that was needed. The producers answered the call with where they went with the direction of the show.
Are there any changes that the show has made to the classic legend that have surprised you?
JAMES: I suppose it’s all been a surprise, really, in the sense that they’ve had to introduce aspects of the legend in a completely different way. I don’t think there’s ever been a straight-forward way of telling the story because it’s not really a way that the story’s been told before. I think that’s one of the aspects of the show that works for people. They’re not aware of where this story’s going to go, even if they are familiar with the legend. It constantly is a surprise because there’s no set way of doing.
How do you feel about Starz doing their own version of Camelot? Do you think that will have any impact at all?
JAMES: I’m quite looking forward to it, actually. I’d like to see what they do with it because I think it sounds like it’s something that is going to be very different from what we’ve done. The one area of concern is that people will do to death Camelot and knights, and all that. I think there needs to be a little bit of caution over that. But, I’m quite looking forward to seeing it because it’s another take on a story that certainly, in this country, people can relate to. It’ll be interesting to see what they’ve done with it.
MORGAN: I agree with that, as well. Anybody who’s into Arthurian legends will appreciate that they are being re-told. The Arthurian legends have been developed and re-told, over the years. To have two versions of that on TV, possibly at the same time, it’s going be fascinating to see how each one’s done.
How is the return of Morgana going to change the vibe in Season 3?
JAMES: When Morgana (Katie McGrath) turns up in Season 3, there’s been a year-long search for her as decreed by Uther (Anthony Head), 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, so it’s basically the beginnings, within the first episode, of where she’s going to go, what she’s going to create and what she’s going to change.
You’re getting quite a few guest stars in Season 3, including actors from the Harry Potter series. How do you think that will add to the show?
JAMES: 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 and enjoying hanging out with them. And, the guests we get seem to be very fun people to have around. For us, personally, it’s always a lot of fun. We’ve had a great time this year because the people who were brought in were lots of fun. But, in terms of commercially speaking for the show, Harry Potter is 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’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. That’s how it’s felt on set for us.
Bradley, how does Arthur see his relationship with his father?
JAMES: Arthur has grown up with purely his father, and his only parental figure has been his father, so his father is such a huge influence on him. But, as time has gone on, and as the show has gone on, you see Arthur starting to figure things out for himself, where he has disagreed with his father. I think, in time, it’ll lead to Arthur making the choices as king that will be different to how Uther does it, which you would imagine would be in stark contrast, in the way that the pair of them rule. So, as time goes on, I think it just becomes a lot more questioning from Arthur, in how Uther does things. I think what Arthur does see is that, on one side, he has the liberal argument from people, like Morgana and Merlin, who are saying, “Oh, you should do this, you should do that.” And then, he’s got this hard-nosed, conservative line from his father, who’s going, “You need to kill people with magic.” What he does have is the ability to see both sides of the argument, and that’s what 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, but I think Arthur has the ability to be able to see both sides of the argument.
Colin, who do you consider a greater enemy for Merlin, Morgause (Emilia Fox), Morgana or Uther?
MORGAN: Definitely Morgana. Probably a combination of Morgana and Morgause, but Morgana purely because of the part she has. Merlin tried to kill her, and she’s got the biggest dirt on Merlin, so she threatens to use that against him. And, she’s in a position of power. Merlin is the only one that knows what her true power is and how she can use that.
A lot of the great comedic moments of this series come out of the relationship between Arthur and Merlin. How did that develop between you? Is it all acting, or does any of it carry over, off-camera?
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. I suppose that then takes itself onto set, when we’re performing the roles. And, it helps that fluidity and that ease, when it comes to doing scenes with comedy involved. It’s a lot of fun to work with Colin. We work together a lot. Once we get on set and get through the course of filming the series, we have a very good time. I feel very fortunate about that because it could have been a hell of a lot worse.
MORGAN: Yeah, I agree. 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 dramatic ones, or ones that are a bit heavier. We also can tone it down and focus on it, as well. We’re both challenged with the work, in that way. Because we get on so well, it never feels like work, which is great.
Do you end up with a lot of bloopers then?
MORGAN: There’s loads of bloopers. They tend to be all of me, messing up my lines. That’s about it, really. Other people laugh, every now and then, but it’s pretty much consisting of me not saying the right thing.
Is there anything that you wish you could change about your characters?
JAMES: Oh, Arthur gets knocked unconscious quite a lot.
MORGAN: And, Merlin tries to bring him back from unconsciousness quite a lot.
JAMES: Yeah, learn the spell already for how to do that.
Colin, if you could become a wizard would you want to?
MORGAN: Definitely. Who wouldn’t want to be wizard, at least for a day, as long as you didn’t have the dilemmas and the situations that Merlin was thrown into. I’d be happy, if you could actually use the powers to have a bit of fun and do something good for the world and maybe for yourself, whereas Merlin’s kind of limited, in that he has to look after Arthur. But, it’s all for the good, definitely.
If you could do something fun with it, what would you do?
MORGAN: I don’t know. I guess there’s always a search for happiness. Whatever that one thing is that makes people happy, if there was some spell that could give people that one thing each, I guess that would be a good thing to do.
Was there anything about Season 3 that you particularly enjoyed doing?
MORGAN: Because it was one of my favorites from the Arthurian legend, one of the things that I really enjoyed doing was the legend of the crystal cave. In my head, it was fun to imagine what it was going to look like because there was a lot of CGI involved, in seeing visions of the future reflected within crystals.
JAMES: For me, it was doing a scene where a certain group of guys sit around a certain piece of furniture and get together. That was easily the best moment for me.
What skills will you take away from your experience of working on Merlin?
MORGAN: You learn so many different skills on the show. You’re constantly asked to do green-screen, horse riding, comedy scenes, dramatic scenes, everything. The ability and the skill to adapt under a tight schedule is one that I’ll definitely take away.
Bradley, after three seasons, how good are you at broadsword?
JAMES: I’m really good when someone tells me what they’re going to do and what moves they’re going to make because I can make it look like I didn’t know what they were going to do and then block those moves and kill them. If someone was to attack me without any previous choreography, I don’t know. It’d be interesting to see what I would do. But, it wouldn’t be interesting to me, it’d be bloody scary. I would imagine that I was better than when I started.
Colin, how did you originally come to work on the show?
MORGAN: It was the same process it has been for any other acting job. It was a case of a script that came through, I auditioned for it, and I got called back. I think there was a series of maybe four or five call-backs, and that happened over a period of maybe three or four weeks. Obviously, the more you go back, the more you want to be a part of it. We could see that it would be a fantastic adventure to embark on. And, to arrive at the point where you get offered the role was amazing. That was my journey.
How did you each get started in acting?
MORGAN: For me, it’s all I’ve wanted to do. I did local plays and productions, local theater groups and anything that involved it. And then, I went and studied it, attended drama school and got my first lucky break in the theater in London, and just went from there.
JAMES: For me, it was about wanting to impress a girl. I initially got into it when I must have been about six or seven. Every Wednesday afternoon, in my school, these kids used to disappear from lessons. I would be like, “Where the hell are they going? What am I doing here, working my butt off in lessons, and they get to disappear and go have fun?” I found out they were doing drama class, so I was like, “I’m doing that, if that’s going to get me out of lessons for Wednesday afternoon.” It started out with that. And then, it got re-introduced to me by a certain female who showed an interest. I said, “Yeah, I’m interested in that. I’ll do that.” And then, it took over.
As actors, who do you admire and who has influenced your work?
MORGAN: For me, one of my favorites, director wise, is Tim Burton. I also really admire the work of actors like Sean Penn. He is probably my favorite actor because of his dedication and commitment to roles, and the ability to morph and change himself when he needs to. It’s about dedication and commitment and a passion. I think anyone who has a passion for what they love to do, and who pursue it, is inspirational for me.
JAMES: I couldn’t really just say one name because I’m constantly learning, all the time, both with things I watch that I’ve got nothing to do with and when we’re filming the show. I’m always finding inspiration from people who do good work.
MORGAN: 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. The promotion wagon has kicked off with those. And, I’ll be starting a project in London in the new year, but I can’t say what it is. It’s nice to 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 ready to sleep for a month, whenever it’s finished.
JAMES: I’m nowhere near as interesting as that. I’ve just been trying to play as much football as possible.
Season 3 of MERLIN premieres on SyFy on January 7, 2011