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Merlin Anniversary: An Interview with Rupert Young

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 Merlin and his relationship with King Arthur, the series welcomed a stellar ensemble including the likes of John Hurt, Bradley James, Anthony Head and Tom Hopper; one of the many reasons it would become embedded in the hearts of fans.

For Australians, Merlin was an asset to Channel TEN’s Sunday nights, unbeknownst to its audience that it would soon become a solid stepping stone for shows that would follow.

Previously inviting Alexander Vlahos to the round table to talk about his troubled character Mordred, Kapow now offers a seat to Rupert Young, known for his portrayal of, Sir Leon, Knight of Camelot.

“I was always interested in the stories of King Arthur and Merlin growing up, but I definitely became more immersed in it after becoming involved with the show,” Young said.

Unlike other members of the cast who had heavy source material (and even Alexander Vlahos whose character had been portrayed by a younger actor), Young had the ability to be more flexible… all in all; Sir Leon was never intended to be a long running character. “When I was first read the script and auditioned for Sir Leon, the character was only in a couple of scenes. It was a jousting episode and they were these great scenes where I jousted with Arthur,” Young said. “At the read-through the producers decided to give me a couple more scenes and slowly the character that Leon become began to evolve throughout season two”.

As an English actor, it is hardly surprising that Young had been involved with historical pieces before and after his time on the show, including the stage productions of Gaslight in 2017 and Much Ado About Nothing back in 2010 (most of which was done during the filming of Merlin’s third season). Involvement with these productions is almost like stepping from one world to another, so it certainly helps having key elements to immerse the actors into a different era. “Costume plays a huge part, as do the sets,” Young said. “When you are in chainmail riding on a horse into a castle, it is very easy to step right into the past,” he added. “[The most unique feature] for me was the fact that we filmed a lot of the scenes in an actual castle in France. A lot of our interior shots were filmed in a studio in Wales, which had fantastic sets and were great to film in, but the magic of filming in Chateau Pierrefonds usually with hundreds of fans of the show watching was truly special”.

Though hosting a plethora of household names, Merlin essentially lowered the drawbridge and opened doors for many of the other actors. “Merlin definitely opened doors for me,” Young said. “Being in a worldwide hit show definitely has got me into audition rooms I wouldn’t have got in before and so pretty much all of the jobs I’ve had since the show finished, I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to audition for had it not been for the show”.

Not giving away too many spoilers for those who have not indulged to true beauty of the series, Rupert Young’s character found a more fortunate fate compared to those of his on screen co-stars. Despite death scenes and characters being written off at the snap of a finger, Merlin provided a feeding ground for countless relationships that were soon to flourish and priceless memories that would never be forgotten.

“There are so many memorable moments on set, everyday was a joy going to work,” Young stated. “For me two moments were standouts. One was the battle against the dragon at the end of season 2. We filmed in the castle and it was raining and there were flames everywhere whilst we ran around firing flamed arrows and sword fought. The other was when Eoin [Macken], Tomiwa [Edun], Tom [Hopper], Santiago [Cabrera] and myself first rode over the drawer bridge in our capes as a unit. It was the first time we all shot together and became the unit we were both on and off screen”.

Celebrating the 10-year anniversary, we highly recommend revisiting the show in one way or another. Laying the foundations for so many shows that were yet to come, it is astonishing to see how the fandom has retained through the years. “What surprised me most was how well the series was received,” Young concluded. “I always knew I was joining a great show with brilliant people and a fantastic story that people would enjoy, but the sheer volume of people who watched it and connected with it from all over the world was staggering”.

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