The new Starz original series Camelot, premiering on April 1st, is a dark and brutal take on the famous legend about people with complex and conflicting desires, who are in a battle for power. When the sorcerer Merlin (Joseph Fiennes) has visions of a dark future, he turns to the young and impetuous Arthur (Jamie Campbell Bower), King Uther’s unknown son and heir, who has been raised from birth as a commoner. But Arthur’s cold and ambitious half sister Morgan (Eva Green) will fight him for power to the bitter end, summoning unnatural forces to claim the crown in this epic battle for control.
During a recent interview to promote Camelot, show creator/executive producer Chris Chibnall and The Twilight Saga star Jamie Campbell Bower talked about the process of casting, the training and sword fighting necessary for the role, the underlying love story, and presenting this world in a way that audiences have never seen before. Check out what they had to say after the jump:
Question: Chris, since everybody knows how the story of Camelot ends, if this is a big hit, how many seasons can you go before you hit the Morte d’Arthur?
CHRIS CHIBNALL: Have you held in your hands the Morte d’Arthur? It’s enormous. It’s a big, thick book, and we haven’t even started yet. I think the great thing is that you think you know where the story is going, but we’re going to take a lot of pleasure in confounding some of those notions, in having fun with them and in taking you down different paths. Also, we’re using the structure and skeleton of the myths and Malory, but then what happens is that, once you start writing, the characters take on a life of their own. Once you start seeing what people like Eva [Green] and Joe [Fiennes] and Jamie [Campbell Bower] are doing with the characters, you follow the emotional lives of those characters. This material has just so much potential and so many avenues we can go down. The one thing I’m not worried about is the possibility of getting more episodes and multiple seasons because it’s the great legend and myth. There’s loads we can do with it.
Chris, because of the grandeur of the setting, did you have to create a lot of these structures, or are you using some of those wonderful castles that exist now?
CHIBNALL: No, we’ve pretty much created most of the things you’ll see on screen because, when you talk about Arthurian legend, you’re talking about the Dark Ages, essentially in terms of when the myth is supposed to have taken place. Really very few of those structures are still in existence, so what we’ve done is found great landscapes to put those in, and a lot of it is down to our amazing design team. We have an extraordinary production designer, Tom Conroy, and some great effects work as well. So, pretty much all of it is constructed. There are a few Irish ruins in there, but mostly it’s stuff that we’ve constructed ourselves. The landscape is a real part of the show’s voice, and doing it in Ireland has been amazing for that.
Do you see this as something akin to Spartacus, which is an adventure show, or as a historical romance for grown-ups, or as more of a family-oriented affair?
CHIBNALL: I would say this is absolutely a drama for adults. I think there are aspects that older members of the family will enjoy, but we’ve approached it as a drama for adults about characters with complex, conflicting desires. There is some sex in there, there is some violence in there, but I think it’s its own beast. It’s a show for adults. That would be my main thing. It’s not really a family show. There are other versions of the myth that have been told in family shows really brilliantly, but we’re more in the Rome mold, or the Spartacus mold.
Chris, as a child growing up, do you remember the very first version that you encountered of the King Arthur legend? What was it about the story that inspired you to revisit it in now?
CHIBNALL: My embarrassing confession is that my father is a Camelot: The Musical obsessive. So as a child, when we were going to visit relatives on the weekend, whenever we were driving back on these three-hour drives, he would be playing the musical soundtrack on repeat, on the cassette in our car, to the extent that we begged him never to play it again. That was my first exposure to Camelot and King Arthur, and the whole thing. So, it’s been in me ever since then. But, particularly growing up in Britain, it’s ingrained in you and it’s just part of the legends that you grow up with. It’s an extraordinary story, and there are never-ending variations on it. That’s the thing that appealed to me in this. I really felt that the version I wanted to tell, and the version that Michael Hirst was talking about, and we brought to life, working from that basis, was very much what it would be like if you or I were in the Dark Ages. How would we use modern emotional lives and put them into the middle of the myth? What could be the possible truths behind the myths? If you were living that day, when a hand came from a lake and there was a sword attached to it, how could that happen? That’s what appealed to me about it. The inspiration was really to make it as real as possible, and to find some real emotional lives, and create some characters that were modern and conflicted and great parts for actors to play now. The inspiration is always, “Oh, I’ll write some great parts for actors to get their teeth into.”
Jamie, you played a very interesting and somewhat pivotal role in The Prisoner, but now with Camelot, you’re moving into playing a very iconic character. What does it feel like to be stepping into such a high-profile role?
JAMIE CAMPBELL BOWER: I approached the part with fear and great trepidation. It’s a part that has been played many times. It’s a part that many people have done very well, and some have not done so well. I was scared about being such a high-profile character within a television show. It’s a very scary prospect, being on television for 10 hours and possibly doing this for an extended period of time. But, what we had in the cast and what we have throughout the show is a great love for one another. We supported each other. And, goodness knows, I needed support because there were times when I just felt like I didn’t know what I was doing or I was nervous, but we all had each other’s back, and Joseph [Fiennes] particularly was very helpful in helping me through and guiding me, like the shining light that he is.
Chris, how did you choose Jamie for the role of Arthur? Did you have him in mind, or was it a long and arduous audition process?
CHIBNALL: Jamie was always there, all along. I think particularly because of GK-TV, one of our main producers, and Craig Cegielski and Graham King. Graham worked with Jamie on London Boulevard, and he had tipped us off about Jamie, early on. We did a pretty exhaustive search, but Jamie was always there, at the forefront. It was like any audition process. You just fall in love with people and you see the kind of chemistry between the actor and the character, and the actor and other actors. Jamie and Tamsin [Egerton] did a screen test together. So, we put him through his paces, but he was always pretty close in the lead, all the way. I really hope everybody who sees the show has the same process that I had, and everybody who has worked on the show has, which is just falling in love with Jamie, as a performer, and the Arthur that he has created and brings to the screen. He’s very modern and very real, but still a really interesting king and very rooted in the myth and the period as well. One of the great joys is working with actors like these people. I don’t have to say that now, because we finished shooting. I actually genuinely mean it.
Jamie, what was your preparation and experience, in playing this role?
BOWER: Well, before we started shooting, we had a month of what was officially known as Boot Camp, which being English and middle-class, I was very, very nervous about doing because we don’t really like to do much physical work. But, my conversation with Chris [Chibnall] and the producers was that we find this character when he is in his late teens. What I didn’t want to have was this aloofness and this beefiness to him because I think that people should be able to see that he’s a boy and that he’s got to grow into this man. I think that’s something that we can explore as we progress through the series, and hopefully there will be many more seasons to come. And so, with respect to beefing up or becoming like the guys are in Spartacus, for instance, there was a very, very clear idea that he was always going to be this boy, and then grow and grow. As we actually carried on filming the series and we did more training and sword fighting, my physique did bulk up. But, at the beginning, I very much wanted him to stay fleshy. I like that word. It’s a nice word.
There are a lot of epic myth stories right now, not just on Starz, but across the landscape. Does that say something about our times right now? Is this a particularly good time to revisit these very big and complex stories?
BOWER: I think that behind every story at the moment that’s doing well, and stories throughout history that have done well, are stories that, behind them and underlying everything that’s involved in them, is a key love story. Particularly with the Camelot story, people are fascinated with the relationship between Guinevere and Arthur, and also the bizarre, almost sexual chemistry between Morgan and Merlin. I don’t know if it’s something that people are revisiting due to economic times or the stress that they’re under, but I would say that, particularly with this and with what we’re trying to do, underneath it all is a love story. I think people are generally and genuinely interested in that, and just want to be taken away and fall into the arms of lovers.
CHIBNALL: I would also say that, in uncertain times, I think you want to look into stories that are knitted through time and threaded through centuries and myths, to work out what the human condition is, and how we strive against difficulties and conflict. I think it offers a reassurance that this has been lived through before and people have prevailed before, and that there is a way through all this uncertainty. That would be my sense of it.
CAMELOT premieres on Starz on April 1st