Colin Morgan & Katie McGrath
The fifth and final season of Merlin has already come to a close in the U.K., and in the U.S. SyFy starts its run of the last 12 episodes this Friday. Knowing the end is nigh for the knights, ladies, druids, sorcerers and dragons of Camelot made it a massive but bittersweet treat for us to talk to stars Colin Morgan and Katie McGrath by phone all the way from London.
Even after a morning full of interviews and a questionable phone connection, both actors were exceedingly gracious, and the camaraderie between them was obvious. Here's what we learned from the pair about their show and their characters:
While the rest of Camelot may live in fear of the Lady Morgana, Katie McGrath wishes she could take more of her character with her off-screen.
From the very start of our conversation, it was clear that McGrath was nothing like the angry, vengeful sorceress she portrays on the show. She was instantly playful and joking, poking some friendly fun at her co-stars. “Thing is,” she tells me, “we don’t have to work together anymore, so I can tell you how I feel about everyone.”
Of her own character McGrath says,“I wish I could take Morgana with me. She's the woman I wish I was. She's confident and self-assured and, you know, determined, and I'm just a bit picky and actressy, so there are a lot of times that I wish I had more Morgana around.”
Colin Morgan, for his part, feels that after five years of doing the show there will surely be elements of the actors that go into the characters, “but,” he adds, “I think we’re pretty distinguishable from our characters.”
“I wish Colin was more like Merlin,” Katie admits teasingly. “I like Merlin better.”
McGrath with Angel Coulby (who plays Guinivere)
There could “absolutely” be some kind of reconciliation between Guinevere and Morgana by series’ end – one teensy tiny stipulation, though.
Five seasons has seen a dramatic change in the relationship between these two women. In the early seasons, Morgana and Gwen lived as king’s ward and lady’s maid, respectively, and cultivated a close friendship despite their difference in rank. Now, Morgana will stop at nothing to kill or brainwash her former friend and claim Camelot’s throne. Could there possibly be reconciliation in their future?
Says McGrath: “I could absolutely see Gwen and Morgana reconciling at this point! As long as Gwen admits that Morgana should be Queen and her ruler. And that Morgana looks better in the crown. I think that really is her sticking point. (laugh)”
Well, yes, if King Arthur and Queen Guinevere gave up the throne and vowed to follow Morgana’s every order, perhaps she would be satisfied. Not a likely course of events, however…
“No," McGrath continues, "To be honest, I think by the time you get through series five, you realize that there is no coming back with their relationship. There is a big break, and once you've watched these episodes you realize that the friendship they had is gone and probably not going to come back. Morgana isn't the same person she was in seasons one and two. She has moved on from that.”
Katie’s #1 ingredient for a stellar pairing?
We know the fans love Merlin and Arthur’s bromance, romance, whatever – but what does the cast think makes Merthur so popular?
Says McGrath, “Bradley and Colin have so much fun playing those characters and the two of them together have really good chemistry as mates. And I think that translates, and you can just tell that it's a laugh. And you can't fake that kind of friendship, and I think that's what people are responding to.”
[Side note: If you’ve ever watched the Bradley James and Colin Morgan Video Diaries, you’ll know that this is true. The two actors have a hilarious and genuine friendship that shines through onto their easy rapport as Merlin and Arthur.]
We shouldn’t expect to see Colin Morgan frequenting any Merthur fanfiction archives in his spare time.
In the era of social networking sites such as Tumblr and Twitter, fans are enjoying a previously unattainable level of direct interaction with their favorite actors and actresses. With all these Twitter campaigns and Tumblr Q&As, it must be hard keeping separate from that, right? We asked Colin Morgan if his awareness of Merlin/Arthur as a popular romantic pairing ever affected his portrayal of Merlin…
Says Morgan, “I'm pretty good at keeping separate from all kind of things in terms of Twitter or Facebook or anything online. Thankfully I'm not aware of actually what goes on. So in no way does it fuel or affect what ends up going on screen. You very much look at the script and play it up and nothing else.”
Morgan as Merlin and Bradley James as Arthur
It was fate that brought Merlin and Arthur together, but they became friends on their own.
The Great Dragon (voiced by John Hurt) has given us all sorts of prophecies and confusing nuggets of wisdom over the life of the show: “None of us can choose our destiny, and none of us can escape it,“ “a half cannot truly hate that which makes it whole,” and “you and Arthur are two sides of the same coin,” etc. etc.
Okay, great. But that’s hardly a practical description of a relationship. So what exactly is their relationship?
Says Colin Morgan: “They're intrinsically linked in terms of destiny. From the beginning Merlin's been told that he has to ensure that Arthur is brought to the throne so that the land Merlin's always dreamed of can evolve…And that's Merlin's job. And, you know, if along the way they become really good friends as a byproduct then that's brilliant and that's what's happened.”
Merlin is not the jealous type.
Making the leap from prince to king must be difficult, but as a result Arthur has gained a dozen hand-picked knights as well as a just, compassionate queen. Does Merlin ever get jealous of the attention Arthur gives Gwen and his new Knights of the Round Table?
“No," says Morgan. "Merlin is not a jealous person, I don't think. …Gwen is the standpoint of the people. She's come from a humble background from servant to queen. She's the best advisor, in a way, that he could have by his side. His knights are the strongest friends he could have.”
The power of the viewer.
Few of us know what it’s like to be a television actor at all, let alone an actor at the center of a wildly popular slash pairing. We know that Colin Morgan tries to focus on the script and his own interpretation of the characters rather than dabble in fandom, but Katie McGrath lauds the imagination and enthusiasm of fans:
Says McGrath, "I think that's part of what makes Merlin such a successful show, though. There's such a scope for the audience to read in whatever they want into these stories and these characters and I think that's why it's lasted for so long. We film one thing, we film scripts that we're given, but there's such a broad interpretation of these characters and these stories that I think that's why you have such a broad audience. We feel very lucky for that.”
When asked to choose between Merlin/Arthur and Gwen/Morgana as a pairing to make canon, they’d pick…
McGrath: “That's not fair! (laughs) Listen, I don't think I can have that narrow a choice between those two options! There are so many characters, how can you narrow it down to just those two?
Morgan: “Morgana and Gaius!”
McGrath: “You've gotta give a girl choices! …”
Morgan: “Gaius and Percival!”
McGrath: “One of the things that's great about the show it that people have the option to do that themselves! They see what they want within the show. Whatever our choices are are kind of irrelevant, it's about the fans and it's about the audience. And they see what they like. Again, that's why it's so successful.”
After five years, it’s hard to say goodbye.
With the end of the series approaching, we had to ask: what would the actors miss most about working on Merlin?
McGrath: “It's a bit of a sad question for all of us. I think we all ended up with the same answers, but we'll miss the people that we're working with. I'll miss Bradley and Colin and Angel and all the boys and then the crew as well, right down from pre-production up to post-production. It's been five years and we're a slightly dysfunctional family, but we're a family, and I'm going to miss seeing them everyday.”
Morgan: “Yeah, it's the same for me on that, it's very much... we've been working on it for five years and, if not for the five years then certainly for the majority of it, it's the end of an era in which we've worked on something that we feel very proud of.”
(l to r) Merlin cast members Angel Coulby, Richard Wilson, Anthony Stewart Head,
Bradley James, Colin Morgan and Katie McGrath
Merlin season 5 begins airing in the U.S. on SyFy this Friday, January 4 at 10/9c.