The hit series Merlin returns to Syfy with Season 4 debuting Friday, January 6 at 10 PM ET. Series star Colin Morgan, who portrays the title character, recently held a conference call to discuss this new season on Syfy. Here's what he had to say below.
Can you kind of tell us like something about the season, kind of how it's going to be different and just some of what we can expect this year?
Colin Morgan: Yes I think one of the first things people will notice will be it looks very different. It's got a different tone to it this year. We're shooting on 35 MM. So it's got a real movie look to the French kind of theme. Stories have become a lot more powerful. They've become a lot more complex. They're pushing connectors in directions that really there's no going back on. So big shifts, big steps, big changes. The tagline of the season this year is the darkest hour is just before the dawn. So that is a hint of the tone of the series. It definitely is much stronger.
I have a question from Twitter. They want to know if you can compare Merlin's friendship with both Arthur and Gwen.
Colin Morgan: Arthur and Gwen are destined to see the future of the king and queen. And it's Merlin's destiny to ensure that Arthur becomes the greatest king, you know, the king of the land. Then Gwen is probably the right person for that. And Gwen's a great friend of Merlin's also. So I mean there's a huge amount of respect and loyalty among the three of them. But really this series a lot of things have broken up, certainly about that trio of Arthur to Gwen and Merlin. There's a huge thing between them, kind of halfway sort of towards the end of the season which is going to be very difficult to repair.
Because it is a lot darker and everything, does that present new challenges for the actors or the writers? Is that harder to sort of work in the humor that you guys always get in there?
Colin Morgan: Well what's great this season is that it struck a really good balance. As dark as the stories go they never go in the realm of complete darkness. There's always an element of fun to them.
One of the big draws for our readers and I guess for a lot of Merlin viewers is Merlin and Arthur's relationship. Can you talk a little bit about how we're going to see that grow and change over the course of season four?
Colin Morgan: Yes I mean it's one of the most iconic relationships in history. It's very much about bringing Arthur to the point that is fit for him and that he's fit for himself. And in the fourth season we see them grow apart a little bit actually. There's a new character called Agravaine who's Arthur's uncle who goes on the scene who very quickly he realizes he's not all that he seems. He's exactly where Merlin should be. And Merlin very quickly kind of sort of aggravates the situation. It's about Merlin trying to regain that position to try to get by Arthur's side to be there for him and to get him to make the right decisions. Because as things very quickly change and Arthur gains more responsibility and it's exactly what Merlin should be.
Colin Morgan: I would say it's the variety that I like. It's the facets of the character. It's that part that fascinates me. I think variety is the spice of life and getting a chance to place yourself in all directions, where there is a complexity that I enjoy the most.
At this point does Merlin believe Morgana is beyond redemption or does he still hope that he can save her from her dark destiny to be her greatest enemy?
Colin Morgan: No, she's beyond redemption. I think that Merlin's definitely come to that conclusion. He's given her chances. He's tried to show her the good prop. Merlin knows that if magic part of you then you choose where to pick it. It doesn't choose you. And he's always chosen the good path. And she's just gone by further, further. She's kind of a bit power hungry now and she just wants - she wants power for herself and she wants the throne and she wants it all for her. That's irredeemable. And she is his ultimate nemesis in the series.
Does Merlin continue to resent the fact that he must keep his magical abilities secret or is comfortable hiding in the shadows and being the man behind the great man?
Colin Morgan: I think it's very frustrating for Merlin. I think his great objective, his great dream is to live in a land where magic is free under the rule of the greatest king ever known. He wants to be right in the open that people can live and gather that there isn't the segregation, that there is no hiding anymore. And yet for him it's usually frustrating because it's a lonely existence. So whenever the time comes, I think Merlin will grasp with the full hands and ensure the future of magic.
I'm getting the impression from all the things that I'm seeing online right now is that season four is going to be a bit of a game changer in regards to the whole Arthurian legend. Am I off base on that?
Colin Morgan: In terms of the very legend of a true telling you mean or...
Yes maybe it's like it might bring the series a little closer to the mainstream stories of Arthur and Merlin?
Colin Morgan: Yes it's definitely moved in that direction I feel because the characters are maturing. It's moving more towards the legends that we know. And as our characters grow up we're become more synchronized with the legends that we know because of characters grow older that's when some juicy stuff could start coming along. And we certainly start fading into that stuff in this season. And there are some huge iconic moments that any fans of the legends will recognize and anybody who doesn't will probably be intrigued to find out a bit more. But it's definitely driven more towards the legends. But that was never the theme of the producers and the writers anyway. It was always nice to have the legend of the business and have a sort of layer to work off and tell stories and you're not expected with. And that's certainly the theme that's carried throughout this season as well.
What I liked about it is that Merlin, this one is focusing on Merlin's back story. I mean Merlin to me was always a mysterious character and I like that. Is he going to be, in season four and five, will he be taking more of that puppet master role that I was used to seeing in a lot of the previous stories in previous tellings of this legend?
Colin Morgan: Yes that's a big thing actually coming up in this season because that's absolutely what Merlin's striving towards. He's gaining wisdom and a certain kind of power in that wisdom and certainly imparts a lot of Arthur. And you've seen Arthur listen to him a lot more. You're seeing Arthur in fact change the way he's thinking sometimes because of what Merlin says. But they're also growing a little bit further apart. So Merlin has to work awful hard to try and be heard. And hopefully by the end of the season you'll see that the relationship has come to the point where maybe they're ready to set rules and set grounds and perhaps become a good team to rule the kingdom.
We're just wondering why do you think the Camelot legend has such staying power in pop culture?
Colin Morgan: I think because it's problem that stayed right through the centuries is because it's been retold and retold and - in different ways so you're never saying just the CM legend all the time. It started out as a legend then Tennyson did them, you know the wants and future King. We've even got the Disney version of it. We've got everything. It's just been retold and retold and added to and added to. And that's something that we're doing as well in a fantasy setting. And that's something it seems to be a timeless topic that people constantly seem to be inspired by and moved by. It's just a platform for a lot of different things - magic, loyalty, friendship. It covers all the grounds. And that's something that I think works in any time in any age.
In what ways have you seen Merlin further grow and develop as a character in season four? And have you discovered any new acting challenges would you say associated with that growth?
Colin Morgan: A big thing is the maturity of the character this year. He's really, really studying what Arthur is going through. You know, he's actually in a way experiencing what Arthur is experiencing. Arthur has got so much on his plate. And the kingdom is in its most dire need of strength at this stage. And it's very much about Merlin engage in exactly where he is and what he should be doing. At one point in the season four he gets the biggest opportunity he's ever going to get to change Arthur's opinion about magic. And he takes it and it's a big risk and he does and it's one of the boldest decisions he's made. And as an actor it's interesting to really study the emotion he has about - that he's going through. And in terms of friendship what's - what do you do for good friend when they're going through hell and yet you've got such a motive to make sure he gets through the other side to the future? And for again, a little bit of selfish reasons because Merlin wants to live in a land where he can be free. And so he's got to keep everything as a balance and he's got a lot on his plate. He's literally, you know, juggling plates at one point. But there are bigger stakes and bigger objectives. And, you know, I don't think Arthur's never been in as much need of Merlin as he is now. The only problem is he doesn't realize it.
I also wanted to ask you about Merlin's relationship with Gaius in season four. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about that and also what's it been like working with Richard Wilson in the series?
Colin Morgan: He is an absolute gentleman. You speak to anybody on set or any of the cast members and they will have nothing but praise for him. He is a pleasure to work with and an honor. And the relationship between Merlin and Gaius is one that I love hugely. I think it's fantastic. And what's great there's an episode this season which takes the two of them away from each other for a while. And it's really interesting to see how Merlin reacts when Gaius isn't around because maybe you don't realize how much he needed him until he's gone. And it's a really interesting episode about their relationship and the love that they have for each other. My guess at some point Merlin is going to use Gaius and he's not going to be around forever. And it's just a taste of what that will look like and how it will be like. At the minute Gaius is the only one that really Merlin can confide in. So if Gaius wasn't around, you know, it - life becomes even more lonely. So it's a really good relationship. It's a father son relationship. Merlin was, you know, was always sort of a father relationship and it's always been missing in his life. And Gaius and him are very much a sort of surrogate father and son.
Will we see Merlin's powers kind of evolve a little more this season?
Colin Morgan: We do quite a bit. I think one of the big things is the power of his words and in this season and understanding that, you know, magic is good for a lot of things but sometimes you've got to talk to your friends and you got to understand what they're going through and think more and use things more wisely. I think from previous seasons we've seen him use magic very sporadically and very instinctually. And although he is - it is his instinct sometimes he needs to put the brakes on and say hold on, what's best for me, what's best for Arthur? What's best for the kingdom? And those are questions. He's becoming up a lot wiser now. He's becoming a lot more clued in to when he should use his logic and how he should so that's something that's really, really interesting.
You were talking a little bit about how things are going to be changing and getting darker this season. And I'm really interested about Merlin's relationship with Morgana this season. Can you talk about has Merlin had any regrets as far as when Morgana really needed him he really kind of turned his back on her?
Colin Morgan: Yes, yes. I mean it's a difficult call because Merlin has tried a lot to show her the right (prop). And it became very clear early on that he was told that Morgana would be and would be his downfall and his doom and would be the one who is in direct opposition to all his goals and his destiny. And that's been his most important thing about his focus as difficult as it is or has been he's had to so much aside, you know, for that for the future and for the future of his kind and if that means sacrificing her or anyone, as ruthless as it is, that's what he signed up for when he came to Camelot. That was the deal. And it says a lot about him as a character the fact that sometimes your emotions have to be shoved aside and you've got to do that. And Morgana is definitely - they're definitely beyond redemption. She has chosen that path. As far as Merlin's concerned she's had her chances. And I think you try to build a boundary in what you're definitely going to get burned. And I think Merlin's stopped building the banner and he's ready to just really just put it out. And he's very focused on that this season. And Morgana has dropped off a huge spear of this figure called Amorous who is what Merlin is known as among the Druids. And as she has an image of Amerous as old Merlin so throughout the season whenever Merlin changes into old Merlin she has this terrible, terrible fear of him. And he doesn't quite understand it but of course it's great from his point of view because we don't often get to see Morgana in such a state of distress. And she certainly as ruthless as she is she has a huge fear of Amerous as well. And that's something - that's a real strong subplot throughout the whole season too.
Colin Morgan: Yes what's great is we get the mix so as old Merlin. And it's fun because as Merlin gets the opportunity to use magic openly to say what he's really thinking and the interaction between Morgana and the old Merlin is a confrontation that takes place which is now pretty epic. Between Merlin as himself and Morgana there's such a history there of it's everything of the betrayal of hope, of love, of friendship. It's very, very complicated. And so when they come to a head in this season as they do on a number of occasions it's fueled with such a - with such a back story of complications that it's sort of charged with electricity. The only problem is Merlin can't use his magic at this stage and it's hugely frustrating. But we see him pushed to the brink and we see him in situations when he overcomes that fact. And we think this a lot powerful wizard that he's going to become.
Do you foresee the series exploring any of the back story of Gaius or Uther? To me that seems like a very interesting material but just really just been touched on on the surface.
Colin Morgan: Yes I think that's a really, really interesting thing. We've heard hints of what went on. It was certainly I think a flashback episode would be fantastic just to get a glimpse of what it was like back then, what exactly - what was details or circumstances under which Camelot became that really paranoid state and paranoid of magic. I think it'll also be very interesting to even get a glimpse of Merlin's circumstances because he -when he first came to Camelot his past was a little bit shrouded in history - in mystery and we didn't quite know what that is. I think it'd be interesting to again explore those aspects a little bit more and certainly get a good ground of exactly where these going - these animosities sort of built up and their frustration.
When you look at the relationship with you and Arthur I think that there's always some danger in storytelling when you take a heroic iconic figure like Arthur and kind of make him a bumbling fool in the sense that he doesn't recognize Merlin's power. Is there any conscious effort to kind of balance that a little bit to keep Arthur heroic despite the fact that we're trying to build Merlin up as a hero?
Colin Morgan: Well I think obviously big changes with this season certainly because I think as an audience, we're in the know. We know that Merlin has magic. We know that he's the one who is doing all the behind the scenes stuff. But to everyone else there's absolutely no way they would wouldn't suspect Merlin. I don't think there's any sort of dumbing down of the character as such and because I think certainly since series one Arthur has grown significantly and he's a lot more mature. So and you're certainly seeing the transition period.
Since the whole season's already aired over on the BBC and now that it's just airing over here in the States does it feel like it's a year round thing for you because you're not really getting too much of a break in between the different airings or is it just like Merlin all the time for you now?
Colin Morgan: Yes I mean we film for eight months of the year so it's quite a long filming period. And then there's quite a lot of publicity and promotion to do around that as well. You know, we get a chance to chill out and have a break. And I've run some projects in previous years in between so you get a chance to have a bit of variety as well. But it's definitely a massive commitment and one that's hugely rewarding by the end of it. It's a lot of hard work but it's really worth it.
I had talked to Katie over the weekend when she was going back to see her mom for the holiday and she had mentioned that you and Bradley are quite big joksters and pranksters. Do you think that really helps your guys relationship on screen?
Colin Morgan: Yes. I mean I think it helps that, you know, we like to have a bit of fun and have a bit of a laugh whenever it's needed for scenes and but also, you know, equally is important is to focus and concentrate on scenes that are a bit more emotional or require a bit more focus. So it's about making the calls in the day and, yes it's not all fun and games but it's not all serious either.
I was wondering since the dragon basically escaped in season three I think we haven't really seen much of it. And I was wondering are you guys going to be showing or are we going to see more aspects of Merlin's dragon lord side?
Colin Morgan: Yes for sure. That's something that's really explored in season four as well because Merlin - this is maybe what Merlin's part is about the dragon lord. And it also shows his separation, his independence from the dragon in a way as well. Because at the beginning in season one the dragon was a confident, someone that Merlin needed help from. And slowly and slowly they grew apart and the dragon's motives became slightly jarred and slightly unclear. And so there's been all these questions of trust between them. But the dragon is a creature of magic as much as Merlin is. And there's that connection between them. And Merlin having very few people to confide in, the dragon is one that he can also confide in too. So the relationships are always going to be strong between them. But as dragon (unintelligible) he can always command the dragon which is a great quality. And certainly Merlin and everyone thinks that in prior situations and when, you know, the dragon's help was needed. What's going to be interesting to see is if Arthur ever meets the dragon what his reaction to him would be.
You've done a bunch of different spells during the show. Is there any spell that you can think of that you'd love Merlin to be able to do or power that he doesn't have that you'd love him to have?
Colin Morgan: Possibly, let me think. I mean I always thought teleportation would be a great one which he hasn't figured out how to do yet. I think that would be a really good one. It might cut out on all the quests that we have to go on though. That might be a shame. But yes I think teleportation would be a great one.
Merlin had this really sweet storyline with Freya last season. And I was just wondering if maybe you'll have another romantic encounter this season?
Colin Morgan: Sorry to disappoint but no, there's not going to be any love interest for Merlin this season unfortunately. It's not something that the writers have explored. And but I think maybe in legends, you know, Merlin was notoriously messed over by all the girls. So maybe they decided to keep him well away. But maybe I can have a few words and try to get someone going for the fifth season.
Can you talk about the creatures Merlin and Arthur will have to fight this season?
Colin Morgan: Yes the in the opening two-parter of the season there's one of the darkest things we've had come on, it's called the Derocha, which are these free roaming spirits from the underworld. At the beginning of the episode there's a festival called Sowen which is celebrates the day of the dead. And it's at a time whenever the veil supposedly between the real world and the underworld is at its thinnest. And Morgana takes advantage of that and creates a (tear) which releases all these demons out. And they only function at night. They are repelled by light. And they literally kill and freeze people in a second. And the big thing that is one of the scariest things about these creatures is that Merlin's completely powerless against them. They literally absorb his power. So they are one of the most formidable creatures I think they've come across. And that's right on the - in the opening episode.
I also want to know what does it do to Merlin when he discovers he has to make a huge sacrifice to save Camelot from Morgana?
Colin Morgan: Yes. Merlin is completely focused on his destiny. He will do whatever it takes. He has to put a lot of his emotions aside. He has to not think about himself, not think in a way about his personal consequences and think about the consequences of what it will do for Arthur and for the kingdom and for the future of magic. And he sort of has to cast aside a lot of the personal feelings and - in a way. And Morgana has had her chances in a way. She's had her - she's been given more than enough chances to prove that she's - that she could be good and that she could turn things around. So Merlin will do whatever it takes.
I was wondering if Merlin obviously believes in his Destiny and Arthur's Destiny and like you said he's willing to do anything to make those happen. But at this point does Arthur believe in his own destiny to that extent as well?
Colin Morgan: Yes it's a good point actually. That's one of the huge things of this season is that Arthur's raising a lot of belief in himself. And he's listening a lot and gaining a lot of advice from his uncle. And Uther at the beginning of this - of the series, of the season is really a shadow of himself. He's really gone a little bit mad. He's not in his right mind at all. And so the responsibilities fall to Arthur to really make big decisions. And but he's not confident in himself at all. I don't think he feels ready. He doesn't feel that he can make these decisions alone. He wants to make his father proud. And Merlin's trying to be there for him. Merlin's trying to make him see that things are right. But Arthur has a stronger bond with his family, his uncle over his friend. And that's a difficult thing for Merlin to try and overcome because he knows that regardless of circumstances situation Merlin needs to be where Arthur's uncle is and that's by his side being his most trusted advisor. And that's a big, big challenge for Merlin this season is to try and get Arthur to accept him as well.
We've also seen throughout the series other knights like Lancelot and so forth that eventually become the Knights of the Roundtable kind of drift through the series. Is there going to be a point where Merlin maybe realizes that he needs to start kind of positioning or gathering these other knights around Arthur?
Colin Morgan: Yes that's a big thing. I guess it comes to a point whenever Arthur has his strong bond of knights. And what's good about this season as well is we're really seeing that very, very strongly and knight quests that Arthur and Merlin go on together or used to go on together by themselves they're not accompanied by a whole gang of knights. And Lancelot, Percival, Leon, Elyan, Gwen. They all come along. So there's actually a real camaraderie and band of brothers feel to a lot of the episodes this year. So you're definitely seeing the Knights of the Roundtable take information already and without Merlin's influence so and so that's pretty exciting to see that happening.
When do you think it becomes imperative that Merlin has to reveal his magic to Arthur? Like at what point does it become that their relationship doesn't survive once he's been lying for so long?
Colin Morgan: Yes I think it needs to come to the point Merlin needs to be absolutely 100% sure that at this stage, if Merlin was to say that he had magic he would no doubt be either educated or exiled for his betrayal, for his abuse and for his ability not to be trusted. And that's - that would be a big problem. Merlin is the one thing that's keeping him focused on his path for the destiny is the fact that he's just regarded as a servant. So he can act secretly and he can do that. The minute that he comes out that, you know, that he has magic is a huge risk so it would be - he would be stupid to do it at that stage.