The success of Spartacus: Blood and Sand, and Spartacus: Gods of the Arena have given Starz its highest profile ever. Now, the network is returning to that mix of history and legend with its new series, Camelot [Fridays, 10-9C] – a stripped down take on the Arthurian legend.
On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to take part in a conference call with series creator Chris Chibnall and stars Joseph Fiennes and Tamsin Egerton who play, respectively, Merlin and Guinevere. Much of the discussion centered on the challenges of taking such a well known legend – and such archetypal characters – and making them fresh. Note: Our interviewees were on long distance [as in across the pond], so there were some occasional reception problems…
Hi guys. Thanks for doing the call. And I’m enjoying the show so far what I’ve seen.
My question is for everybody in turn I guess. For Joseph and Tamsin I was wondering how you approached doing a – these iconic characters that, you know, literary characters and to give them like a fresh spin and with Chris sort of just the same question but about the entire legend if you could talk a little bit about that.
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Chris Chibnall: Nicely done (Tamsy).
Joseph Fiennes: I was going to ask you to go first. Oh but anyways right, I am okay. How did – how do we tackle this? I guess I kind of read as much as I could but really was speaking to Chris Chibnall and asking all the sort of pertinent questions and make me feel like we weren’t going to do an off the peg kind of Camelot which has been done or at least themes of Camelot or at least characters in Camelot have been touched upon in many films and TV series before.
So it was really to pick his brains. And in doing so I got fired up by I felt that tackling Merlin in a fresher angle. I guess use is predominant factor that we were seeing a young King Arthur and thereby a young-ish really, I’m into my 40s. Actually I guess this is being recorded, (damn) and…
Fiennes: …Merlin. And so it was sort of how to kind of tackle it from that point view. And also I wanted to have fun with it. I wanted joy to be the guide with Merlin.
I wanted to have the scope which I felt Merlin kind of has in his Machiavellian bipolar way that he’s not to be trusted yet he is fighting for this great speed of power and is really sort of the publicly a master to some degree in orchestrating Camelot and King Arthur. So he’s a strange, dark devious character and I just wanted to have fun and get away from the cloak and the staff and long, long beard and the pointy hat.
And we I think through Chris who came to the idea that he was more warrior monk that is coming to terms with his sort of – his power and how they can affect him and others. Done, sorry, long-winded.
Egerton: Well I suppose again I mean not to sound like a broken record but it was mostly talking to Chris Chibnall and seeing what he had in mind for the character.
I mean Guinevere been done quite a few times and especially as a mature, you know, young woman who either the damsel in distress or the warrior, the warrior fighting your strong-willed woman. And so I was talking to Chris and he kind of wanted both of us in a way. He wanted a variety of things in this Guinevere.
He predominately wanted her to be real and natural and make mistakes and be passionate and, you know, be the feisty young girl but then also, you know, completely naive and innocent and ignorant at the same time.
So it was yes, fantastic as an actress to be able to tell their thing and also quite confusing at times. But so that really hits me. I mean I felt I wanted to make her fashion and not take away, you know, whatever actions are done before. Because I think if you steal other people’s characters it doesn’t work with the context of the scripts in what is written.
And so I wanted to make her my own. And, you know, I was petrified in the beginning because it was such an iconic character Guinevere especially being a young lady myself. I’ve always wanted to play her. So I mean I remember being on the set constantly asking questions if she really did actually want me to be Guinevere and (after) you know, say yes, yes, you know, we’ve cast you know.
And yes so I very much have (unintelligible) but asked of Chris what he thought and he kind of steered me in the right directions. And yes we just wanted to make her fashion and young and be able to make mistakes which I think is important.
Chibnall: Oh they said everything. Now it’s – that’s very good. Yes I think things – both Joe and (Tamsy) were touching upon that I think.
First of all had to approach it and in the sense of take nothing for granted, you know. There have been so many different versions of the legend and of Camelot.
So what I wanted to do is strip it all back and sort of go back to the beginning and tell the story of Arthur from the beginning of the relationship between Merlin and Arthur from its very first meeting and also then really that where Tamsin just used of trying to make it feel real and basically looking at, going back to the source material of Mallory’s more darker which is kind of the most complete version of the myth in many ways and going well here are the events and here are the stories that we know. But what might it have been like if you lived through them?
If you kind of take it for granted that this – all this stuff happened, how would it be to be Arthur and be 19 and just be, you know, quite happy and comfortable in your life and then this mad shaven-headed man turns up at your house and says oh you’re adopted and by the way you’re the king, you know, and come with me halfway across the country. We got to sort out some war lords, really looking for the emotional truth in everything. And that’s the way I kind of approached it. And from then on you just start to ask questions. You don’t want to go with the received images.
So the conversations that Joe and I had were absolutely not going for the kind of stalk and received way of betraying Merlin but more about asking what does he want? Why is he so keen for Arthur to get to the throne? What is he seeing and then taking that for example into the (mantic) and going what will it be like to have those powers because nothing really in like comes without a cost and nothing comes without consequences.
So I think the big thing was making sure that the show was full of character, full of emotion and also that every decision and every action had costs and consequences and then it could start to feel emotionally resident to now. So that was the big thing and also to have fun as well as Joe said at the beginning. You know, we had to have a laugh doing it.
All right, great. And I talked to Philip Winchester the other day. He said that off camera in that one filming you guys spent a lot of time searching for the perfect pint of Guinness. Anyone care to comment on that one?
Egerton: Yes we did a lot of that.
Chibnall: How did you do on that Tamsin?
Chibnall: How did you do on your search for the perfect pint of Guinness?
Egerton: I think (Adron Hughes) on Merrion Row is close up there for the perfect pint of Guinness. And I – yes, I had a few. I wasn’t too bad, but the lads brought me out so I became one of the lads apparently according to the knights.
Chibnall: (Unintelligible) say I will say that the producers put me in a house opposite a pub for the time I was in Ireland which did serve as fantastic…
Egerton: I don’t think you cannot be opposite a pub in Dublin isn’t…
Chibnall: So, you know, and all the time I’d be saying to Joe you – come on because we didn’t live far away from each other. I’d be saying well we’ll just have a pint of Guinness. And he was very controlled because of the – you know, because actually the amount of wake up at every Dublin…
Fiennes: It’s 5 o’clock in the morning quite…
Fiennes: I’ve learned my lesson by this age.
Egerton: Yes. Well actually I had to a scene where I was in the Irish Sea at 6:00 in the morning. And the night before I made sure I had a couple of Guinnesses and some pasta because I wanted the calories to burn off the next day because I just knew it was going to be a life saver. So that was my excuse.
Chris, they say no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. So I would imagine martialing an army of TV personnel would be very similar. What things have surprised you as Camelot has developed, you know, going from concept to actual production with this miracle cast in these iconic roles?
Chibnall: Oh that’s a really good question. That’s oh, what has surprised me? I think the moment – I mean I think you’re right, you know, in terms of this – did you say miracle cast because I think that’s absolutely right. I think what surprised me was and what kind of delighted me was the level of cast we managed to bring in and to get to commit to the show.
And then I think once you’ve got actors of this caliber in place and, you know, I would say that even if two of them weren’t on the phone line, but actually what you do is it – it’s the joy of a series is it becomes a dialogue. So, you know, you’re putting stuff down and then you’re seeing, you’re discussing it in rehearsal but then you’re also seeing what comes through in the dailies in the rushes. And you’re molding and shaping the characters as you go along. And it becomes a response to what’s on screen.
So I think the characters take very interesting developments and you refine them and they take interesting turns because you see a little emphasis in a performance in a particular scene and you think oh there’s a whole facet and a whole emotional storyline there I want to follow. So that was probably the biggest thing. And that was the delight of it to be honest.
Great. Joseph and Tamsin, you’ve spoken about how you prepared for playing these iconic roles. What do you like most and least about your characters and why? And if anything, what has surprised you about them as they’ve been developed?
Fiennes: You’re very, very faint but I think you’re saying oh, what was it like to – what was it I like about the I iconic role? Is that what you said? I’m so sorry I’m so – I can barely hear you.
Yes, what do you like most and least about your character not necessarily as an iconic character but as it’s being presented in this series?
Fiennes: Well, I see. What do I like and dislike about Merlin as he’s being presented? Well I like the fact that and you said not necessarily as an icon but we’re stripping the icons away.
And we are – they’re sort of the Wikipedia I guess – not Wikipedia, WikiLeaks forgive me. We’re the sort of WikiLeaks for the age that we’re revealing with the transparency the characters. We’re unearthing the sort of the truth beyond the myth or underneath the myth. And I love that aspect. And Merlin is really at the forefront in that regard. We get a glimpse into the sort of the dark Machiavellian corridors of power.
I like the fact that he, although that he has powers, his powers is almost in his political guile as much as what he relies on in the – in darker forces.
I guess there’s nothing I don’t like about Merlin in the presentation if I’m interpreting your question correctly and forgive me if I’m not. But there’s – I love everything, even the things I find despicable and abhorrent in Merlin. Actually they’re a joy to ride on the tailcoats of.
Egerton: Well I love the fact that she’s young and feisty and passionate and so naive in the beginning. And I love that quality about her.
But I – what I don’t like about Guinevere is the fact that she can’t control her passions and her urges. And she gets herself into quite a love triangle and quite a web. And I find – I mean personally I would – I find that very difficult to relate to. But yes, it wouldn’t be interesting if she did everything right. And that’s what’s (interesting) about this series is, you know, we’re real characters making mistakes and having to deal with the consequences.
And, you know, she is, she’s young, she’s naive. She’s whole-heartedly going into her passions in everything that she feels in the series. I think she’s so used to having her life mapped out in front of her and it’s – and as growing up knowing her future and suddenly this young person comes along who’s like her and actually, you know, turns her life upside down and says I don’t know what I’m doing. Do you know what you’re doing because actually the world is, you know, our oyster and we could, you know, we can do anything.
And he happens also to be very good-looking. And Guinevere’s just, you know, head over heels and doesn’t know how to handle these new emotions she’s feeling as a young woman and unfortunately can’t reign it all in all the time. And even though she tries to do the right thing and tries to be the good girlfriend and, you know, has her morals. She slips. She slips up a little bit.
But it’s interesting as an actress that as – personally I find that – if that is your question, you know, that’s something I wouldn’t – I’m worried that audience again start judging me personally rather than Guinevere. But that’s fine. You know, it’s, you know, and mistakes happen so yes.
Tamsin in what way would Guinevere betray Arthur? And what is it like for you to play this role as a seducer?
Egerton: Oh sorry, can I hear that question again?
In what way will (Jenniver) – Guinevere sorry, betray Arthur? And what is it like for you to play this – to play the role of the seducer?
Egerton: Who – that – who – is that – who’s that to?
For you, I’m sorry.
Chibnall: That’s for you Tamsin. You can’t get out of this one.
Egerton: Really. Sorry I thought – is it – did you say – sorry. I can hardly hear. Did you say what’s it like to be the producer?
Chibnall: No seducer.
What is it like for you to play the role as a seducer?
Egerton: Oh I clearly thought that was…
Chibnall: That’s right because we want you to play the executive producer.
Egerton: I was like surely this is not my question. Well can I say how she portrays Arthur? I don’t know. I don’t think we’ve got that far yet actually in this season. I mean we’re taking baby steps. There’s so much. It’s such an epic story and there’s so many twists and turns just that – that we’re – I mean this season only covers a very, very small amount of the story. So for now she hasn’t betrayed Arthur yet. That’s not to say she won’t but she hasn’t yet.
What it’s like to play a seducer? It’s interesting. It’s – I’m not – if Guinevere is not the Morgan type where she’s, you know, she’s sultry and she knows she has this incredible female energy that she can use and utilize. And she’s not necessarily used to have this power over men. She’s not necessarily – hasn’t necessarily been aware of it before. Though I think she’s innocent. She’s an innocent seductress.
And so it’s quite – it’s very interesting to play with that and go into these scenes where it’s very passionate on the page and just going – throwing Guinevere straight into it and also having, you know, being the actress you know what’s going to come and it’s – kind of you wince because you know what’s happening at the – you know, at the end of the episode.
So it’s been very fun playing a different side of it. I think a – yes, a seductress is a very interesting term cause I think people always think of them as these – as a victim. But Guinevere isn’t. I mean she’s very much just a young girl who’s learning her heart and that means listening to herself and actually what she wants for once. But unfortunately the consequences of that are a lot higher than they would be nowadays for a normal 19-year-old especially she falls in love with a king. I mean that makes it a little bit more complicated as well.
But not, it’s very fun. It’s been wonderful. It’s – you know, the complexities of it has been quite interesting in a love triangle in particular and seeing how she handles each situation and each man. She’s a very different person with each man. She’s very much under Leontes’ wing as it – well I suppose. And she’s – he’s – she’s his childhood sweetheart. He’s her childhood sweetheart. And in a way that sort of big – that big older brotherly love.
But with Arthur it’s – she’s a completely different person. She’s not there to cook dinner and to be, you know, the – maternal. She’s actually there to have fun and have a more sexual relationship. So it’s very interesting. And I hope that answers your question. I think I went off on a meander a little bit. I’m sorry.
That’s fine. And for Tamsin and Joe, what attracted you to the role originally? And can you talk a little bit about your preparation and what were some of your setbacks or you – and your experiences?
Fiennes: I think Mr. (Tiber) was to blame for a lot of the attraction as well as an iconic character that has definitely inspired I think the characters like Gandalf or Dumbledore or Obi-Wan Kenobi and how to do it in a completely different way without too many long beards and pointy hats. And the challenge is sort of finding the sort of modern conduit for the audience and having fun and really looking at the duality of this particular character that is sort of both devil and angel that on the cusp of losing control of the pagan background to this newfangled religion called Christianity.
So there’s a great sort of backdrop there. And just there’s a whole sort of dark side and the magic and he’s sort of slightly from another world and place Merlin. So how do you tackle all of that? So it’s sort of having fun and presenting it in a new – in a new way. Maybe he’s a bit more (sluggish) in the sort of the corridors of power. He’s more of a politician, slightly Machiavellian.
And but also there’s a lovely relationship as sort of slightly kind of wrinkle Charlie/Willie Wonka relationship going on between Merlin and Arthur. So there’s so much to be had really.
Egerton: Well for me I’m – I – it was again, trying to keep her fresh and young and likeable for an audience. I mean the things she – the mistakes she makes it’s very easy to judge her. And so my challenge was to keep the audience on her side and just in a way understand where she’s coming from and try and feel sorry for her and still like her at the same time even though, you know, your shout at (town) or shout at the tele to, you know, for her to stop doing, you know, making the same mistakes again and again.
But also the physical preparation was learning to horse ride, that was a big part of it and doing some sword fighting and just trying to make her a bit more base. I mean it’s quite a basic way of living back then. And I just wanted to make her more earthy and quite a strong character. I didn’t want her to just sit in the corner reading and twittling her hair. I wanted her to be, you know, I mean this is about Chris Chibnall as well. This is very much his thoughts.
And we wanted to make her an instant character, you know, with different sides. And so yes, physically I did a lot of work and immensely I just chatted to Chris. And, you know, I mean it’s hard doing…
Chibnall: It’s also a little work.
Egerton: Yes, it’s hard doing a series when – because you’re finding the character yourself. And I think you can tell. I know I can when I watched some of the episodes. And in order I can see how I’ve grown into that role. And I can see how Guinevere’s grown up. And it’s very interesting dealing with that each – in each episode and also dealing with the – not only the overall story but also what happens in that one hour.
So it was – you know, the preparation as well was (certainly) to keep myself and my character growing in the right time and in the right places and showing each new thought. And I think yes, I think that’s was all my challenges and that’s how I – yes – stop talking Tamsin.
Chris, if I may, all the epics and classics are being transformed into stronger and more unpredictable stories. How different is Camelot from the original story and what changes have you made to suit the 21st Century audience?
Chibnall: Well there’s so many different versions of the myth. You know, there really isn’t that one definitive version of the story. And that’s the kind of joy of myth in a way is it’s re-invented every, you know, generation to kind of – to resonate with the concerns of that particular generation of people. So the thing that I kind of focused on really was making sure that everything we did and every decision we made was emotionally motivated.
So what I did was, you know, with these first ten you’re talking about the foundations of Camelot. You’re talking about how are Arthur and Merlin, everyone bring in all the components that they’re going to need. So really it was a question of I think for me what was interesting and what made it relevant was like well how on earth do you become a ruler and how do you, you know, what do you promise as a ruler? And if you’re a leader and you’re out there promising hope, how do you then deliver on that promise? How do you bring something as abstract as hope into existence and deliver it for people?
So it’s not hard to find modern resonances and relevancies. It’s really – it’s all there in the great material. But you just choose what to emphasize. And for me it was about making kind of credible characters that you could relate to that didn’t feel like they were behind a guise which sometimes you get (into) your drama if it’s slightly removed from modern life.
I wanted it to feel very immediate and very fresh and very dynamic. And then, you know, I think, I guess in terms of the narrative, the sort of the big decision really was ensuring – well I mean every decision tweaks it to be honest making Merlin a very clear king maker and more of a spin doctor than an out and out, you know, as Joe said we ditched the pointy hat and the cloak and the staff and the beard in our very first discussion, you know. And so Merlin is much more of a Donald Rumsfeld Karl Rove type character which changes the emphasis of things immediately.
But I think the story in this first then of the parallels between Merlin – between Arthur sorry, and Morgan really it’s a tale of two houses, you know, a brother and a half sister who both want the crown, both have equal legitimacy to it and how they go about trying to get it. You know, that was where we found the emphasis for this first batch.
I know that, you know, this station is really known for doing more realistic portrayals, you know, really showing the sex and the violence and all that which is frankly refreshing. So I’m curious how far do you go and does it free you as a writer and does it free you as actors?
Chibnall: Shall I jump in first? I think…
Fiennes: I can’t quite hear. It’s so distant to me. I’m so sorry. I couldn’t hear the question. Chris, could you tell me the question?
I’ll say it again. I’m just – I really like the way that this particular channel produces things and go – they go a lot further with reality with the sex and the violence and all that. And it’s refreshing. And I’m just wondering how that frees you as a writer and how that frees you as actors?
Chibnall: I’ll jump into this (right) before. You all talked about being actors and having sex on set. I think as a writer what’s great and what’s key to Camelot is it’s a story about passion in both the personal and the political. So, you know, the political aims are brought down by personal passions all the way through the myth. And what’s great is we’re able to show that.
And, you know, you don’t ever want to be or I don’t ever want to be gratuitous for the sake of being gratuities but when it serves the stories and serves the characters it’s nice to be able to do that, you know, realistically and with credibility. And so you don’t want to do it for the sake of it. And you don’t want to shoehorn it in. But it’s a great – it’s another, you know, good tool to have in the toolbox he says worried about his metaphors.
Fiennes: You nailed that Chris.
Chibnall: Thank you.
What about the two of you as actors. Does it change the way you deal with things?
Egerton: For me yes and no. I think yes to the extent that it’s all about the writing. If the writing is allowed to breathe and to be, you know, more realistic and you can up the ante a bit more then that’s fantastic as an actress because obviously you’re going off what is written. So to that extent yes it’s fantastic.
And I also have to agree with Chris, I mean especially with Camelot. Guinevere and Arthur’s story is so about the passion and the – not – more like it’s about the sexual attraction between them. And you can’t have that story and show that sexual attraction with them kissing and then shutting the door. I mean it just doesn’t work.
You have to – I mean it’s such an important part of their relationship and what happens in Camelot later on and who they are and how they bond. And so I mean as an actress obviously you don’t want to, you know, run into these scenes and willy-nilly. But I found – I thought it – you know, these – you know, the couple that I did do were important for the character and were essential for the plot and to show what actually was going on between each character.
So yes I find it – I mean it is great to be able to have that and to be able to say certain things and have certain passions.
And I mean I know that the battle scenes as well are quite gory and they’re quite and they’re quite strong. But, you know, battle was romantic and it wasn’t, you know, it’s far from being easy. So it’s nice in both respects to have that – have it a little bit – have the color and contrast kind of turned a bit. So yes, it’s good for an actor.
Chris what about you? Is Merlin getting any?
Chibnall: Well I think what Merlin’s getting and I think what the audience is getting is rather than heads rolling and bottoms going up and down which actually quite frankly we’ve seen day in, day out and there’s not much reinvention on that regard. But I think the reinvention and in particular in Camelot is the sense that we’re showing what everyone knows is an age of chivalry and knights and honor. But we’re showing the people who are famous and icons in this regard. We’re showing them warts and all.
And I think that’s the true gutsy reality. I think that’s what makes is modern and stark is that we’re being revealed these wonderful characters, these heroic characters. But we’re being shown all their doubts and faults and warts and nasty sides. And I think that’s what really much more engaging than just a sort of the rump or the violence.
And I think that’s really what underpinned it is the fact that you have a king which would jump into bed with someone that’s betrayer to someone else or you have Merlin who is taking a mother’s child one or two days old and whipping it from her arms barely out of her womb and then stealing this boy to become a future king, you know, with no sort of warning until the sort of the day has come.
So there’s these star kind of revelations. And I think well people then really know. And if they do it’s kind of – it’s reminded in a really vivid sense. So that to me is where it becomes as an actor, more engaging and more modern and real is that we’re getting to see their faults and their true human conditions of these mythological icons and they’re being brought back to us in a very vivid real sense.
And also, you know, I’m curious as Joseph mentioned, you know, the old religion versus Christianity and, you know, that’s been a major part of the modern versions of the myth cycle. So how much of that are we going to see?
Chibnall: I think it’s there in the background.
Fiennes: Could you shout the question? I can’t hear. I can hear the – I’m so sorry, forgive me. I don’t know if you can hear me. I can’t – I can hear something on Christianity. I’m so sorry.
Chibnall: Joe it was a question about really how much are we going show of the difference between the pagan and the Christian religions and the…
Fiennes: Oh I see, I see.
Chibnall: I’ll jump in and just quick (one) which I think is really – it’s there in the background of the show. And you’ll see it referenced. And certainly, you know, Arthur comes from a much more Christian background. Merlin is clearly from a more pagan time.
But then you’ll have other characters in terms of the from where Morgan has come from is a very complex religious background. And you’ll see in episode four you’ll see Sinead Cusack come in as (Tibal) who is a nun connected to Morgan. And take on religion is going to be interesting.
And then we also have the character of (Leontis) who’s very – his belief in God is very important to him and really important to a lot of his decisions. So it’s not the kind of central theme of the show but it’s absolutely there as part of the texture. It’s a changing world, you know. You have pagans and Christians all kind of vying for space.
Chris, you know, what was it about this material that really appealed to you? And, you know, for the actors, why did you want to take on this project?
Chibnall: I’m jumping so wait. I think growing up as a Brit Arthur and Merlin and Camelot and the idea of it is just embedded in the culture and kind of in your souls growing up.
You know, the King Arthur and – is alongside Robin hood as those kind of great British folktales and myths and icons. And you go and visit, you know, Tintagel and all these kind of great sites. So it’s, you know, it’s a once in a generation chance to tell that story for a new audience and to kind of refresh it and give a kind of version of it. So it’s one of the great myths. It was an absolute no-brainer to do and to tell. And the joy of doing it is it’s kind of infinite in its possibilities so for a writer is a real joy and a gift.
Thank you. Joseph, Tasmin, how about you guys? Why did you want to…
Fiennes: I was tricked.
…take on this project?
Fiennes: I was tricked. Chris told me that I’d be up for Guinevere playing as a transition and…
Chibnall: That’s only because you wanted to play Guinevere…
Chibnall: …got that.
Fiennes: But really just in terms of what Chris said it really was – it’s very exciting to turn the myths upside down and to get to the legend in a visceral modern way. And it’s just – it’s done in a beautiful – it’s told in a wonderful cinematic way. It’s a great team of actors. And there’s so many of these episodes that we’ve kind in the back of our mind know about the sword and the stone, the lady in the lake because it’s great to visit them and get them coherently in a really exciting way. And I think what’s really (switched) me in.
Great. And Tamsin?
Egerton: To me I mean I did – one of my first episode 11 result was the Mists of Avalon. So I’m very aware of the (unintelligible) legend and from such an early age. And I think as Chris said, I mean being a Brit you are so aware of this kind of – I mean this icon (unintelligible) Arthur and King Arthur and Camelot and Guinevere. And then you’ve got, you know, Morgan the witch.
And you’ve got, you know, Merlin who’s this mad magician who’s kind of cloaked in mystery and is it real, is it not? I mean I know it’s got of loads of (unintelligible) who believes in it – was – thought that Camelot was indeed in a (coal) in England. So they have that kind of mystery about it. And it is – it’s the same, you know, same (unintelligible). So for me I mean I kind of – I mirror that. And it’s a lead role for a woman who’s strong and has a real journey to take and to go.
And she has some fantastic storylines and, you know, really grows up in the first season. And you can see her journey and (unintelligible) to have such an interesting and strong female role to play. And yes, that’s really why I want to do it. I want to be a part of like Chris said, this generation to be telling of Camelot and also to get the chance to play a fantastic complex, interesting, emotionally passionate young lead role.
Chibnall: It wasn’t so cool (as well). I’ll just say it was great. One of the great joys of the job was just going – I mean you’d be looking at come on Joe, do you want to be Merlin? You know, Merlin? It was just – it was – there were – it was never a difficult sell, you know?
And to be able to say to Tamsin okay you’re Guinevere, that kind of where iconography is so powerful and really then it just gave us permission to have fun with it after that.
Oh great. Hey Chris one follow-up. And what kind of pace is the story going to go over ten episodes? I mean how far can you take the story in the first season?
Chibnall: Well I think one of the key things we wanted to do in the first season was really set the foundations, you know. There’s no rush with the story. And it was one of the things that when I spoke, first spoke to Chris Albrecht at Starz about it, is one of the things he was very strong about, he said, you know, take your time, don’t rush. We’ve got time.
And really what he wanted to see was how all these characters come into this world. So that was a great kind of permission from the boss to really spend time with people. So as I say, you know, you – you’ll see a lot of the iconography this year. You know, you’ll see the Lady in the Lake. You’ll see the Sword in the Stone. You’ll see the very, very beginnings of a round table right to the end.
But this is about, you know, this ten is really about bringing together the group of people and the building and some of the artifacts of what will become the legendary Camelot. It’s not really didn’t want to come in with Camelot as a great glittering golden place in it’s prompt, wanted to – the three for me was telling the story of how Camelot is built and earned and achieved through blood and sweat and tears and a lot of mud.
Question for all of you, I can’t help myself when it comes to the King Arthur, Monty Python and the Holy Grail that’s seared into my consciousness and I wondered if that was true for any of you if for example in the first hour when Joseph as Merlin announces Camelot if anyone was tempted to, you know, compelled to point out that it’s only a model or if in the castle someone was compelled to do the Knights of the Roundtable spamalot dance or any of those things, if someone was tempted to bang two pieces of a coconut together?
Chibnall: Yes, don’t think we haven’t done – yes, absolutely. I think we absolutely had a sort of Monty Python alert actually during production. And, you know, sometimes I’d see people in the background with, you know, the beards would be a little too comical or the, you know, things it’s that kind of stuff that you do have to watch out for.
I think you’re right, you know, I’m the same. You have it hard-wired in so you definitely had a – we had a – an alert for that. And actually it was part of Joe I think it was in our first conversations it was just like, you know, explain to me how this is not going to be spamalot I think was one of them.
Fiennes: Yes. I mean it – I mean all the whole of I think getting us through five months of filming is really leaning on the fun side that you don’t see. Obviously that’s core on the digital. But all the actors of course there’s all that wonderful tongue in cheek interplay. And we do our own sort of rift on Camelot all the time. It’s what gets us through very cold days where it’s snowing and raining.
So the gag reel at the end of the season might be filled with scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail?
Fiennes: Could be.
Chibnall: It’ll be locked away forever.
For Joseph and Tamsin, did any of your previous roles help you prepare for your character or was this just a completely new experience for you?
Fiennes: I’m so sorry, I can’t – I’m…
Chibnall: I can say it again. Did any of your previous roles prepare you for this or was this a new experience for you?
Fiennes: Sorry Chris, say that again?
Chibnall: Did any of your previous roles prepare you for this experience or was it a new experience for you?
Fiennes: Oh thank you. Tamsin you go ahead, thank you.
Egerton: Oh no I don’t think I’ve ever done a character like this before so I couldn’t really draw from previous roles.
I’m – recently I do – I’ve been known for doing a lot of comedies in England. So if I brought back those previous school girl roles, comedy school girl roles to the setting it would have – I just don’t think it would have worked.
So I actually no, I completely went from scratch with this one and just I’m – I just went straight-forward with it. And then and my thoughts of what I read from – I think from, you know, Guinevere research and – I mean there’s a beautiful poem about Guinevere and things that I, you know, just trying to mold to myself from past research and in speaking to Chris and also from what was on the page. So no, I’ve – it’s all from in my mind rather than drawing from previous experiences or roles.
Egerton: Having said that actually – sorry Joe. Having said that…
Egerton: Sorry Joseph. Carry on.
Fiennes: No, no I – sorry. I do after you finish. Go ahead. Go on.
Egerton: No. No I have finished. Don’t worry. I was going to ramble on a little bit more but don’t worry. Go ahead.
Fiennes: No, ramble. I love your rambles. Go on.
Egerton: No. Seriously go. Joe just go, go, go.
Fiennes: Well just I guess there’s a couple of films I’ve done where I’ve had to get on a horse and wear a pair of tights. So that helped in one regard. But nothing could have prepared me for the fun there is to wield magic like Merlin does and especially in the perverted mind of Chris Chibnall has given me lots of great reign in the dark side of those powers. And so that’s been the joy is something very new to me is wielding not all the time, but at certain times great magical powers.
Chris, there are plenty of Camelot and King Arthur enthusiasts out there. Are you interested to hear their thoughts on your adaption?
Chibnall: I don’t really – I try to steer away from reviews and things like that. I think you just have to do the best work you can. And then if people like it that’s great.
But I shall be, you know, hiding under a rock somewhere. You know, I hope people like it. I think, you know, the great thing about this myth is if you don’t like it there’s plenty of other versions you can enjoy. And, you know, I think yes, that’s all I can say. That’s a question that slightly makes me shiver.
This question’s for all of you. While I understand that you’re approaching the legend with a contemporary perspective it looks to me like it must be a lot more fun to work on a period piece as opposed to the contemporary stuff. Has that been your experience?
Egerton: Almost always. I actually loved doing period pieces and purely because it takes you into a different world mentally. The clothes you have to wear are so far from our everyday clothes that it immediately helps with the character and putting you in that mind frame.
And the sets that they get to build are just so beautiful and just so new and fresh, it’s like going to a completely foreign country and experiencing a new culture that you’ve never seen before because the things you get to – you know, you’re exploring different worlds as it were, especially at Camelot. I mean it is so – I mean it is – it’s so – it’s just so magical I suppose. And no one really knew what it was like. I mean, you know, there’s actually – you know, is it myth or is it legend? Is it- you know, no one knows if it’s real of not.
So we were – I mean I know that Chris and the art director went to India to get a lot of his materials and dress the set with some incredible artifacts he’d found out there. And so seeing these, you know, these sets and the costumes are very by (Joan) were just absolutely beautiful. And yes, so much more -so personally so much more interesting than wearing jeans and a t-shirt and walking around somebody else’s house. Yes, absolutely.
Fiennes: Yes. I kind of echo that. I mean I think just probably going to – just say the same thing. I think really an actor, a large part of how an actor works and their process, this is on an outside, not an inward but on an outside level which ultimately can affect your inside interior world is the stimulation of what’s around you and none more so than in a period piece. And I say period with caution because this is a modern piece as much as it is set in a different time, age and myth.
But it’s relevant or else we – it wouldn’t be made and we wouldn’t be putting our energy into it. It’s relevant for us today because in some way it throws up a mirror to all of us.
But having said that the – and from the outside perspective it’s great to have, you know, the atmosphere and the world that’s invented for you. And as an actor you really – you get stimulus and you’re effected by that whether it’s costumes or wonky funny beards or wobbly sets, castles or actually just being in the real deal, being in the Wick low Mountains in County Dublin is pretty stunning. And you really feel like you’re in – you’ve sort of been catapulted in a sort of quantum leap into the Celtic times. And that’s really good and exciting.
And you feel the ghosts of the past in that environment I’m sure.
Fiennes: Yes the goats?
Fiennes: Oh the ghosts.
Chibnall: The ghosts.
Fiennes: I thought you said goats. Ghosts, yes you do.
Because Dublin’s known for its goats. Chris period piece versus – again I understand the approach to the material is contemporary. But the esthetics…
…could you speak…
Chibnall: Yes. Yes it’s fantastic. As a – you know, as a writer and show runner you’re not just kind of creating a set of characters and putting them down in the modern world. You know, you’re world building. And I think particularly with this where it is in the history it is absolutely myth, you know? There might have been an (Nupha). There might have been an Arthur. You know, there’s various interpretations of history.
But, you know, the myth that we’re telling here with Merlin and all that, it’s so open to be manipulated and created. So yes, you’re building this whole huge world of castles and sword fights. And then you can have some magic and, you know, it’s fantastic, yeah and absolutely wonderful. But also then, you know, we wanted to place it within a real context so there’s a real – you know, did a lot of research about the period when it is set. And we have a kind of, you know, an idea of kind of when that is.
But it’s also the great thing about the dark ages is there’s very little documentation available. There’s very little evidence. There’s a certain amount but some of it’s contradictory. A lot of it’s contradictory. So, you know, it was a – it’s joy doing something, you know, in a different era. Yes, absolutely fantastic. Plus, you know, you got stuff like…
Joseph you were…
Chibnall: …the Lady in a Lake, you know?
Yes, exactly. And Joseph you were talking a bit about the process. I’m just curious, do you think any of your Shakespeare, your previous Shakespeare work on stage or on film helped in your preparation for a role like Merlin?
Fiennes: I don’t know. I think all experience is in some way, shape or form filtered down to helping you in your present moment.
I guess that, you know, Shakespeare might do. You’re desperately… with Shakespeare you’re trying to with a fairly archaic language although in certain aspects it’s deeply modern but you’re trying to phrase it rather like a jazz player or something it – for a (modernaire) to make it scan and be understandable.
And I guess it’s the same not with language but with this sort of the visual syntax and the world that’s nothing to do with us and yet we’re trying to make very connected for a modern audience. So really it’s all about human condition ultimately. So that’s what you’re looking at. You’re also looking to have some fun as well because that also translates.
And I think the preparation, maybe wearing tights once in a while helps, getting up on a horse a couple of times before might help. I think on those sort of practical levels maybe it has helped.
Well it – you know, just in looking at the brief piece that I’ve seen so far there it – there are hints of like Prince Harry. There’s hints of the Iago I see in your performance. That’s just something that I’m, you know, projecting on there but I feel like it’s there.
Fiennes: Well great, all projections welcome in that regard. And, you know, there is a definitely I guess that sort of Iago, that I wouldn’t say he’s ruled by jealousy, Merlin. But he is not to be trusted. And he says one thing and means another whether he’s deeply bipolar or he has a duality and he’s sort of part angel, part devil. And he’s other worldly as well.
So, you know, all of those sort of characters that Shakespeare writes that regard. But maybe there’s a flavor in there. There’s – I guess it’s complexity and the complexity that we’d love to try and find out what’s the sort of mechanics behind it.
And Chris provided there is a season two — and we’ve got our fingers cross, all of us Camelot geeks — provided there’s a season two, can we expect to meet Lancelot in the first episode of season two?
Chibnall: You’re off to spoilers and we haven’t even done season one yet. That is – you know, I’m still putting the music on episode ten.
It’s, you know, it’s show biz. We’re moving fast, you know.
Chibnall: Yes. No, I like your style though — well done.
I have actually two really quick questions. The first is that this is primarily for Chris. Chris you’ve been somewhat the whisperer of getting shows across the pond.
Chibnall: The show whisperer.
Chibnall: I love that.
…Law and Order to the UK and bringing Torchwood here. But…
…here you’re bringing a very traditional iconic – it is the mythos that somewhat defines England and bringing it to America.
What interests me about that is you’ve referred several times to Merlin as somewhat of a Machiavellian king maker. I think once you referred to him as Obi-Wan Kenobi mixed with Donald Rumsfeld.
And I’m interested in how you’re bringing this traditional British epic into America and trying to make it satisfying for that audience.
Chibnall: Well you’re always looking for the big resonances. And I think, you know, Rumsfeld was such a pervasive figure all, you know, across the world that, you know, he was one of the references that Joe and I talked about right from the start.
And when I pitched the show to Starz and to Chris Albrecht early on, you know, we talked about leaders who promise hope and then how difficult that is to deliver on a daily basis. And, you know, it’s the resonances there are really clear and I think it’s the great thing again about myth is hopefully if you – you know there are certain preoccupations that every era has. And hopefully we’re tapping into things that are going on at the moment in terms of fractional countries, in terms of leaders promises, in terms of the complexity and duality of how you rule and the morality of how you rule.
So you just hope that those themes kind of, you know, will resonate with an audience throughout. And I think I’ve been really lucky on the show. So I’ve worked on the – actually we’ve just – I think the more specific you make things the better they travel funny enough. I mean you guys are just about to get The Killing on AMC which we’ve had over here on the BBC – the actual original Danish version. And it’s – I’m absolutely addicted to it.
And I think you do your best to kind of tell your own story in the most specific way and then you hope that that travels and storytelling and particular myths I think is, you know, hopefully travels well when it’s done with kind of heart and honesty.
Okay and my last is for Tamsin. And that’s – it’s been many, many years since there was any controversy about Keeping Mum. And I don’t know if it even crossed the pond. But was it one where getting into a medium it seems like Starz is looking for chancy risky really demo oriented kind of content where you said this is the kind of chance that I want to take again? Was there something about this specifically that said, you know, this is the kind of show I may want to be attached to for several seasons?
Egerton: You – sorry, I don’t think I understood the question. Is it because of the risqué version of the part of the series is why I might want to be part of it?
No, no, no.
Egerton: Is that…
Because I know in the past and maybe for people on this side of the pond that didn’t quite seem the same way, but I know as a very young actress when you were in Keeping Mum there was somewhat of a controversy about your role in that.
And now you’re in another series that has somewhat of a risky, more contemporary kind of role for you as a young actress is it something where you said this is what I want to take a chance with to go forward with on something that may go several seasons despite that or maybe in part because of that?
Egerton: I think it’s despite that. I don’t think any actors love getting her kicked off. And I, you know, I think unless you’re an exhibitionist which I’m certainly not, it’s one of those – it’s the scenes that you actually dread doing. But and (it goes) so much more go into this role and this job than it does – just so there are I think three scenes that turn up into an episode.
I mean as an actress it’s all about reality. And I’m not a prude. I’m not someone who judges other people for getting their clothes off for roles. And I believe that if, you know, I don’t know, you know, I’m not going to take – show everything. But the odd thing here – you know, the nudity here or there, it doesn’t faze me. I mean I’m…
Coordinator: Her line has disconnected.
Photos courtesy of Starz.