§ Merlin works his magic again

September 16, 2009 manchestereveningnews.co.uk Ian Wylie

THE magic is back with an even bigger spell of Saturday knight sorcery.

Merlin star Colin Morgan says the second series of the fantasy adventure is bolder and more ambitious than before.

“Massive steps have been taken in terms of storylines. That was really exciting,” smiles the Irish actor who plays the young warlock.

Merlin (BBC1, Saturday, 6.40pm) certainly appears to have upped its game after the global success of the first series.

“The difference was instantly noticeable,” recalls Bradley James, who co-stars as young Prince Arthur.

“Colin and I were quite amazed that they were going to be able to get everything that was in the script into 45 minutes of television.”

Over six million viewers were enchanted with the first 13-part series, also sold to 130 other networks, including NBC in America.

“I was over there on holiday recently visiting some friends,” explains Colin, “and I was surprised at the response I got on the streets ? it was great.”

Filmed on set in Cardiff and on location in France, the cast were excited when four German girls turned up as their first ever “groupie” fans.

“And then they were there literally every single day,” sighs Angel Coulby, who plays Gwen, about to begin her journey to become the Queen Guinevere of the Arthurian legend.

Colin later saw them at Dublin Airport. He laughs: “I hope that was a co-incidence. I just flew home that weekend to see my family.”

A recent cinema preview screening of this week’s opening episode attracted a feverish audience of adult fans who left the cast in no doubt that this is not just a drama for children.

Colin, Bradley, Angel, Anthony Head (King Uther), Katie McGrath (Morgana) and Richard Wilson (Gaius) were taken aback by the reaction, having been locked away for several months making the new series.

Pirates of the Caribbean and The Office star Mackenzie Crook guest stars in the first story as conman and thief Cedric, determined to take Merlin’s position as Arthur’s right-hand man.

He reveals: “I was a big fan of the first series of Merlin. I watched it with my son, Jude. He has met everyone from Johnny Depp to Al Pacino to Steven Spielberg ? but he has never been more starstruck than when he met Colin.”

Other guest stars in this series include Sarah Parish as “a disgusting troll” masquerading as a beautiful lady, Adrian Lester, Charles Dance and the return of Heroes star Santiago Cabrera as Lancelot.

Colin comments: “We were all pretty excited when we heard about the guests that we’ve had coming in. Mackenzie is fantastic because his character starts off as this jewel thief trying to infiltrate his way into the castle. But something happens midway through that changes him completely.

“So he had to do two completely different characters in a way. Seeing him do that was literally freaky towards the end.”

Mackenzie remembers Bradley being a little nervous of him at first.

“For two days Bradley couldn’t open his mouth without putting his foot in it and saying something inappropriate: complimenting me on my performance in a film I had nothing to do with, bringing up spectacular failures in my career.

"But after larking around on set together we became firm friends.”

Colin has enjoyed playing Merlin growing up on screen. Now he’s about to discover how women can cast their own particular spell, with his first proper screen kiss.

He protests: “They’re not real kisses are they? It’s about, ‘Is the light right? Is my head at the right angle?’

"There are so many technical things going on. Merlin has always been caring but this is, I guess, a love-crazed kind of affection. But his love interest has a very dark secret.

“He arrived at the end of season one realising a lot about his future and his destiny, who and what he’s going to become. He’s now more driven about seeing it through to the end. He also has a much deeper past that is explored as well.”

Colin and Bradley have developed a winning screen double act. “Merlin is becoming more of a friend than a servant,” points out Bradley. “I find myself just picking up on this strange wavelength that we’ve created between the pair of us.”

Although we are still a long way from reaching the main legend, seeds of what is to come have already been planted. This year they include the beginning of the story of the Lady In The Lake.

It was a memorable scene for Bradley, in more ways than one.

Having waded into the lake on his horse, the animal then decided to sit down in the water. But luckily it didn’t fully submerge.

“It was teasing me,” he laughs. “For a moment I thought I was going to be crushed.”