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BBC Merlin: Series 4 British Film Institute Q&A

Merlin Series 4 British Film Institute Q&A
15 September, 2011

Watch it on YouTube

Julian Murphy: Usually a series is commissioned in the middle of its run, so we usually hear, I don’t know, around November time, and we knew, you know, a few months back, and that meant we could plan the story arc, really, over 26 episodes, which is, erm, fantastic to be honest.

Johnny Capps: Well, I did make a mistake in an interview saying that it gave us more creative space.

Julian Murphy: Yes.

Johnny Capps: And so, when every-- the scripts, you know, were late, and of course they’re always late, everybody kept on saying, “So you had a little creative space, then.” (laughter) So, I kind of thought I’d died by saying that. And it’s actually a huge relief, I was so nervous watching that this evening, ‘cause like you said, we only finished it at 2:30 this afternoon, and one of the HD players broke, so we only had, like, about 45 minutes to review it. So, thank God it worked. I tell you. (laughter) And my heart’s been going [makes quick thumping noises] through the whole thing.

Katie McGrath: He was actually curled forward in his chair the entire time. (Katie imitates him hunching down in his chair. laughter)

Julian Murphy: Pretty scary.

Interviewer: Erm, just to start off with, in terms of season four, you’re trying to make it more cinematic. I mean, can you tell us about your kind of ambition in that respect?

Johnny Capps: Well, I think it’s always at the end of each series, Julian and I get together and go, “What can we improve?” And I think the one thing that we had last year is we started having these fantasy landscapes, but we always felt that we couldn’t find sort of sets or locations big enough that gave us that kind of fantasy feel. So, we sort of decided to take the bold step forward and do some more kind of green screen sets to give us, erm, you know, much more kind of epic scale, and be more Lord of the Rings you know--

Interviewer: And the Isle of the Blessed is a really good example of that.

Johnny Capps: Yes. And the other thing that we did this year was we brought the map painting in house, didn’t we? Which is--

Julian Murphy: Yeah, we got a great team. They’ve done a very good job.

Johnny Capps: Which has been-- They’ve done an amazing job with the look of the show, so all of our landscapes now in this series, we’ve got a great much more sort of epic feel to it. So that’s been very exciting.

[01:48]

Julian Murphy: I think for these guys [indicates the cast], they’ve spent a lot of the shoot in green boxes, (laughter) which is different.

[Katie raises her hand.]

Julian Murphy: Katie spent most—almost the entire shoot in a green box.

Katie McGrath: Yep. That Isle of the Blessed was the altar, Millie, and the floor. That was it. (laughter) Everything else there is added in the imaginations of our execs. Not in my imagination, didn’t look like that for me. (laughter)

Interviewer: So, Colin, when you’re doing a scene like that, say, for example, when the skull’s flying at you, erm, how does that work in terms of when it’s being filmed? How do you know where to react and all that kind of stuff?

Colin Morgan: Er, a bit of guess work, a bit of imagination, and a bit of someone shouting “Dorocha!” (laughter) Erm, so, er…

Julian Murphy: It’s very exciting.

Colin Morgan: It’s a good 3-0 combination of, er, (chuckles) of, er, being afraid of a Dorocha. But, yeah, again, it’s just a big imagination thing, really.

[02:32]

Interviewer: Can you just tell us a bit about how the kind of commissioning process works in terms-- I mean, for example, if I’m right, it was ten episodes originally and then it became thirteen, and then you were doing season four and you found out you were doing season five and, I mean, how does that—is there a kind of constant negotiation going on or at what point are these sort of things decided?

Julian Murphy: Erm, to be honest, to most of us, it remains a mystery. Erm, no, er, you know, these conversations are had within the BBC and often it’s a combination of people in the drama department at Wales and the controller, BBC1, deciding how many they want and what we can deliver and, you know, whether they want another series. And that’s based on all sorts of factors. It is very unusual to be given two like we were before we air. It’s incredibly valuable, and we’re very grateful, but it is unusual, absolutely.

Johnny Capps: And it gives us lots of creative space. (laughter)

Interviewer: Erm, we’ve kind of touched on this before, but obviously you’ve got the kind of core cast of six, four of whom are pretty much, you know, enslaved for 30 weeks non-stop, and then you’ve got Richard and Tony, who have other commitments and they’re kind of brought in, and so what happens—do you just work around those actors when you have them and everything is just kind of flat out to get all their scenes done?

Julian Murphy: Yeah.

Johnny: With Richard and Tony, they—I mean, Richard’s amazing, because he does Merlin, but he’s also artistic director [?] for Crucible, he does documentaries. So, you know, his schedule is kind of like playing three dimensional chess, kind of getting him in the right-- and the same with Tony. We gave him a little bit of time off this year to do what-- he’s in America at the moment, so we had to shoot all his stuff just before he left. Erm, but, you know, it’s great to have them in the show and I think they like to be in the show because we allow them to do other things as well and they’re not sort of tied in to it, you know, and they give us great value, and you know, both of them have got great things to do this year, so it’s been really exciting working with them.

[04:18]

Interviewer: When we were talking with [?] last year, and I was probably—Well, I’m kindly kind of casting you as the pantomime villain and kind of talking about Morgana--

Katie McGrath: I remember. (laughter)

Interviewer: --in kind of real—in real kind of boo, hiss kind of way, you very eloquently talked about actually the real kind of motivation behind what made—what makes Morgana tick, and where she is, and obviously, as an actor, you thought about that in a lot of detail in terms of—

Katie McGrath: I was lying. (laughter)

Interviewer: --of understanding where she is.

Katie McGrath: I’m just kidding.

Interviewer: I mean, from your point of view, erm, is that important as an actor to be able to kind of connect with your character, and to know exactly why they’re behaving in the way they’re behaving, rather than just say, “Oh, well, they’re just bad, and that’s because they’re bad.” Because, actually--

Katie McGrath: Well, absolutely. Morgana is more than one thing. She’s a character that has many facets to her, and I think this episode shows that, and I think you’re gonna see it throughout this series, ‘cause what I didn’t want, and I’m sure that’s not what Johnny and Julian wanted, was her to just be a boo, hiss villain, a one dimensional. And she’s not, because they’ve spent three years creating this amazingly well-rounded character, and season four only continues that. And, yes, she might be slightly misguided. (laughter) Slightly. But I think when you see it, I hope that, maybe you don’t agree with her, but you understand it.

Johnny Capps: And our intention was always that you would, to a certain extent, sympathize with Morgana on her journey, and understand why she went down the wrong path. I think that was essential—

Katie McGrath: Wrong path? (laughter)

Johnny Capps: The wrong path.

Interviewer: [?]

Katie McGrath: Back to me sympathizing with my character, really.

Johnny Capps: Well, actually, I do.

Interviewer: And, Angel, you have got some kind of quite major storylines coming up in terms of, obviously, Arthur now you had your kiss in front of the Knights of the Round Table at the end of the last series, so you’re out in the open in that respect, erm, and, erm, I don’t know, can we talk about the fact that in the Arthurian legend we know that Guinevere has more than just one love interest ?

Angel Coulby: Yep. (she laughs)

Interviewer: Are we allowed to talk about that?

Angel Coulby: Two, not that many. (laughter)

Johnny Capps: Yeah, we are.

Katie McGrath: Didn’t you snog Merlin?

Julian Murphy: Oh, no, there’s another one.

Katie McGrath: Didn’t you snog Merlin as well? (points to Colin)

Angel Coulby: Oh, yeah, I did. Yeah. (Colin raises his hand briefly. Laughter. Angel mouths “forgot about that.”) Er, yeah, no, the—there’s--

Katie McGrath: I’m just bitter, okay? (laughter)

Angel Coulby: No, yeah, obviously Lancelot is back in this series, erm, and, er, he does maybe throw a bit of a spanner in the works at some point. (laughter) Erm, but at the beginning of the series, you know, she very much focused on…

Julian Murphy: Gwen is entirely blameless.

Angel Coulby: …Arthur. She is. Erm, it’s very much focused on Arthur and, you know, being there for him and there for his father who’s not well, and—yep.

Johnny Capps: But I think that one of the big Arthurian legends that we explore in this series is the love triangle between Lancelot, Arthur, and Guinevere, and there’s some really, erm, intriguing twists to how that love triangle plays out throughout the thirteen episodes.

[06:59]

Interviewer: The show is showing, I don’t know how many countries it plays in now, but it plays all over the world, doesn’t it?

Johnny Capps: It’s 183 territories. (awed murmuring)

Interviewer: That is—I mean, that’s huge, isn’t it?

Johnny Capps: Yeah.

Interviewer: And, in fact, it’s getting a round of applause from the back from somebody. (laughter & applause)

Johnny Capps: I think North Korea’s the only place it’s not playing at at the moment. (laughter)

Interviewer: I think that might be a [?]

Katie McGrath: We don’t have it in Ireland.

Merlin: Ireland.

Katie McGrath: But we just rob it off the BBC. (laughter)

Julian Murphy: You just steal it from the B.

Interviewer: Is it not playing in Ireland?

Katie McGrath: Well, no, because we can watch it on the BBC.

Interviewer: Why would you need to?

Julian Murphy: Yeah, they watch on the B.

Interviewer: How much influence do those international territories, particularly America and the SyFy channel, have over the production? Obviously the BBC has influence--

Johnny Capps: Yeah.

Interviewer: --over the production, because of your deal with them, but do they have any influence at all, or are they just receivers of the content?

Johnny Capps: They just buy it. They don’t have any, er, any creative input, it’s, er, we—Julian and I and Shine just work with BBC Wales, and that’s you know, what’s so brilliant about it for Julian and I is that we work with, you know, [?] and BBC Wales, and they allow us to follow our creative vision and sort of—but keep us on track at the same time.

Julian Murphy: I think—

Johnny Capps: And that’s been very liberating.

Julian Murphy: That has, and it’s quite rare, as well. I think we’re lucky in a sense that the material is quite universal and the legend’s very well known, and I think that does help it travel.

[08:15]

Interviewer: And, obviously, in terms of the families who watch the show, they’re growing up with—as each season goes on, they’re kind of growing up with the characters, but presumably there are still, kind of, judgment calls about how scary you can make it, and it did feel, I mean, not in a critical way, but it felt this was a pretty scary episode, actually, to sort of start off with, and I mean, how far can you kind of push the envelope in that respect?

Julian Murphy: It’s a very interesting and delicate line to tread. Erm, obviously we didn’t make 13 episodes like that, and it would be wrong if we had, some episodes are very, very funny and quite light. Erm, I think the series has grown up. It’s got more sophisticated as we’ve all got more sophisticated with it. And, as our cast has grown, and the characters have grown, you know, the Merlin now you couldn’t imagine Merlin being the naïve character he was in series one. He’s miles beyond that. So, I think you have to go with that, because that’s the story you’re telling. And the advantage of a show like this is, your audience sort of goes with you, and expects that growth. And you saw Harry Potter’s the obvious example of that process. And I think you can do it. You have to be careful. We’re incredibly careful about things like violence. But I think a bit of suspense is something that this genre’s known for, and, you know, Doctor Who trades on-- has traded on for 40 years—so, I don’t think that’s a wrong thing. I think there are many things, erm, that we are careful of, but I think a bit of suspense can really work.

[09:41]

Interviewer: Just, erm, over to the actors, erm, I saw recently, like, one of the [?] that you have, and obviously actors always say, “Oh, we have terrible long days,” and you think, “Oh, you’re actor’s get on with it,” but actually, the [?] that I saw is astonishing. I mean, you start filming incredibly early and you already do work throughout the day-- I mean, could you just sort of just talk us through how it’s kind of just start off-- what time on an average day you would wake up and when you get to the set and you’re in make up and how that kind of the day pans out for you?

Colin Morgan: Erm, I’ll go with, if you’re on a normal day, starting from half-seven to half-seven, your pick-up time would normally be just before six, erm, depend-- if you’re at the studio, erm, if you’re on location, then it might be earlier, between five and half-five, maybe. Yeah, you get there, go through your hair and make-up, erm, to be on set for half-seven, so your hours start from when you’re on set.

Interviewer: It’s what you’ve been doing today as well.

Colin Morgan: As well as this morning, yeah. (Colin chuckles) So, erm, and then, yeah, right through to half-seven and then, erm, get out of hair and make-up and then I guess you’re—what time? You’re back in—back home for sort of around eight o’clock. So—

Katie McGrath: I would like to point out that the boys take far longer to get out of their costumes and take their makeup off than the girls do. (laughter) I am ten minutes in the car waiting to go and sitting there waiting for Bradley.

Johnny: I think it’s the knights of Camelot--

Julian: The knights of Camelot take a long time.

Katie McGrath: The knights of the occasional table, is that what you said? (laughter)

Julian: The knights of the occasional table.

[11:08]

Interviewer: How does that fit in terms of—just touch on the knights of Camelot, you’ve got your ensemble cast of six, and you’re obviously a very strong six, but that has now properly expanded now, hasn’t it? I mean, you do have the Knights of the Round Table there as well. I mean, how is it being kind of allowing people into your inner circle?

Angel Coulby: Erm, we love it. I mean, we enjoy working with each other, and that’s great, but it’s always really exciting to kind of see the new scripts and there’s new characters coming in and who’s it gonna be? And the knights have been brilliant. It’s just been lovely having then around. It’s really—it’s nice having-- kind of expanding the world of Camelot and also just having nice people to work with and they’re all genuinely lovely characters, lovely people.


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Tags: bbc merlin, interview
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