Ten years ago, before the long reign of Game of Thrones, a British fantasy series debuted on the BBC. Loosely based on the legends of a wizard called Merlin and his relationship with King Arthur, the series was highly influenced by Smallville. Whilst many would laugh at that comparison, both shows followed the younger years and shone an insight on the ambitious journey before they reached their full potential.
Starring Colin Morgan in the titular role, Merlin pieced together a stellar ensemble including John Hurt, Bradley James, Anthony Head and Tom Hopper; one of the reasons the series would become an overall success, despite its ending leaving audiences divided.
To celebrate the anniversary, Kapow has managed to contact two long running cast members to reflect on their time on set, one that continued to be trapped in time. Our first interview welcomes Alexander Vlahos to the round table.
Vlahos is best known for his role of Mordred, a role that would soon gain rave reviews from all around the world, including a land down under. Mordred was a troubled character from the beginning, and ultimately left audiences saying one thing… “You ruined Christmas for me in 2012”.
Despite the hatred many upheld for the character, Vlahos is quite the opposite. “I owe everything to Merlin,” Vlahos said with a sense of endearment. “Playing Mordred put me on the map, and it gave my career a lovely trajectory that wouldn’t have been possible. I stayed memorable in the fans eyes due to the portrayal, and they have stayed with me throughout the rest of my career. Doors were opened thanks to the role and I will forever be indebted”.
The actor has never shied away from a historical drama, including his heavy involved with theatrical productions including Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and Richard III. But it is safe to say Merlin was the gateway for his portrayal of Philippe I, Duke of Orleans in the French-Canadian historical fiction Versailles. Being immersed in these productions give an actor a better understanding of the world they are stepping into, as they are living and breathing that era from the clothes to the furniture. “…[Stepping back in time requires] the clothes,” Vlahos said. “Put on that chain mail and get on a horse with a beautiful castle in the background and you’re all set. The locations, the props, the scenery… it all helps an actor create the world so they can concentrate on the acting. We were lucky on Merlin that the budget was enough to make Camelot a reality”.
Scrolling through the Merlin bloopers on YouTube is enough to make you realise the drama was not all-serious business. Each to their own, every actor looks back fondly on their own experiences, holding one key memory closest to their heart. For Vlahos, that memory was his first day stepping on set. “We were filming in Brecon Beacons on a gloriously hot day. In the script it was a barren snowy landscape, so they covered the mountains in fake snow… tissue paper. We had about 40 extras, 10 horses… and that was when I quickly realised the size of the show. It was mad and fun and joyous”.
Played by Asa Butterfield, Mordred already had a significant role in the shows progression. When it came time for Vlahos to succeed Butterfield in the role as an older version of Mordred, he knew exactly how to appease the fans. “I knew the character in the legends had a great deal of importance and a huge part to play in the climax of the show. I never took playing Mordred lightly. The fans had a big expectation and so I tried to deliver them a Mordred who had touches of Asa, but also tried to make him my own. The scripts on the show were always in a good place, that’s what you get from five fantastic seasons… it has its voice and knew how to tell it,” he said.
The Arthurian legends have served as some of the best historical fiction, prompting numerous productions from the silver and small screens and even novella. It is true to say that we have all come across these legends at one point in time or another, and should be carried onto the next generation, with Merlin as a sacred text.
“I’d read bits of it as a child, but I wasn’t at all interested in it. It’s not my sort of thing if I’m honest, but obviously since appearing on the show as the guy who (SPOILERS) killed King Arthur, there comes with it a lot of responsibility – the fans. They care and they expect you to care too, so I made sure I was in the knowledge of all aspects of the legend. It’s quite mad really, but bravo to the BBC for giving it the platform and telling the stories as well as they could”.
Last week was the 10-year anniversary for the premiere of Merlin, and what a crazy decade it has been since then. We received countless historical pieces in the same tone as this one, but only a few of them did the era justice. From an outside perspective, there are many unique elements of the show, including the cast and the way it was produced. But from an inside perspective, it seemed much more than that.
“Well for me, it was the green screen element. They never teach you that at drama school, so that was a whole different ball game. It was a jump in the deep end sort of scenario, a baptism of fire if you will – as the rest of the cast had been so well versed in that technique. For instance, that guy holding a stick with a green ball on the end of it is a dragon? Sure, I had to learn that pretty quickly”.
As for first impressions on the show overall, Vlahos offers a perspective no audience member could ever comprehend. “[the most surprising part was] the size of the show,” Vlahos said. “By the time I rolled into series five I couldn’t quite comprehend what a juggernaut of a show it was. It was a well-oiled machine, and it was about turning up and keeping the cogs going. What didn’t surprise me however was the talent on the show. The crew was a family, some of which had been on the show since the first episode… you could tell. It was an incredibly warm and encouraging environment to be a part of. Also the cast, Colin Morgan was exceptional – I learnt a great deal from him, he was a true company leader”.
To celebrate ten years, we highly recommend you revisit the series in any way you possibly can. Merlin formed the foundations for many productions that followed, and whilst being revolutionary in so many ways, was traditional in many more.
Next week, we offer a seat to Sir Leon, or better known in 2018 as Rupert Young, the rough around the edges but equally as endearing Knight of Camelot.