I was able to speak with Katie McGrath in an exclusive interview for SciFiChick.com. Katie portrays the beautiful and mysterious Morgana on NBC’s Merlin, which has fast become one of my favorite new shows this season. The Irish-born actress was extremely witty and engaging, and offered an in-depth look at her character and upcoming episodes.
Katie, for those that haven’t seen Merlin yet, can you tell us about your character Morgana, in your own words?
One thing I’ve always thought about Morgana is that she’s sort of a modern mind in a period body. She’s not your usual warm princess, which is what drew me to her in the first place. She’s feisty… and she’s very modern. And I think that’s what makes her a great character, because women today can identify with her. And she’s a livewire. She’s the only person on the show that can stand up to the king and tell him what she really thinks.
… From where she starts as a princess to where she ends up is the most amazing journey to play. And because so much is going to happen, it gives me so much to play with.
Has the role been challenging for you in any way?
Absolutely. I mean, besides an eight-month shoot that we all came off of, that was exhausting. This was my first big role [as an actress]. There would be days, especially at the start, when I would read the script and I would look at the scene and I’d go “I have no idea how to do this.” I had no idea how to make what they want in the scene happen. And I was lucky to have the most amazing co-stars and director to help me through it. And the start of season 2, which we’re filming at the moment, is such a different feeling than starting season 1. I was so scared at the start. I didn’t know how I was going to bring it off. If you think about it, the character has already been played by Helen Mirren and Helena Bonham Carter. And then, I come along and think, “How am I going to do this mythical person justice?” So, I’m hopefully getting better. And I’m hopefully getting there. But time will tell, if I can pull it off.
Will we get to see some of Morgana’s background in upcoming episodes?
In the first season, you get to see not so much of her background, but more the relationship between her and Uther. In episode 12 that really comes to a head. And you get to see more insight into her character, and sort of enter her mind. But her background, you won’t get to see much until season 2, so you’ll just have to keep watching next year. But episode 12 is great. I found it sort of difficult to film, because I’m very fond of Tony [Head]. It was quite intense, and it was very emotional. And it was just a wonderful episode, hopefully by the end of it you understand the reasonings.
Do we get to delve into the legend of Morgana? Are we going to see a change in her? Will she become the evil antagonist that we know?
It’s a before-they-were-famous story. Everybody knows about Morgana, and where she ends up. And the moral of the story is how she gets there. So yeah, the writers have been really clever in with all the seeds that they sow in the first season they start to come to fruition in the second. So all those little bits if you watch, and you start to see that her powers are growing… and where they might be going. In season 2, they really start to pick up and move along… So yeah, if you watch the show very carefully, you do see hints throughout the whole way. It’s one of those things that you’re able to look back, after a certain episode and think… I mean, Morgana’s premonitions start in episode 2… Which I think is really interesting and gives us more to play as time goes on.
Can you talk about Morgana’s relationship with Arthur and how we might see that progress?
I think the relationship between Morgana and Arthur is very much a sibling relationship. You see them bickering… and they’ve been brought up as brother and sister. And it starts in the first few episodes, where it was more ambiguous about what was going to happen. But the producers, I think, decided that as time wore on that it was far more interesting to have them be played as brother and sister, rather than have there be any sort of tension between them. Because the story for Arthur, love-wise, is definitely Guinevere. That’s the big story. And the Morgana story with him plays secondary to that. So it’s more interesting to do the sort of sibling rivalry between them. She can pull his strings. She knows how to annoy him. She knows how to manipulate him. That’s one of the keys to Morgana. She’s the queen manipulator. She’s smart enough to know people’s weaknesses and pull on those strings to get what she wants. Classic episode is where she gets Arthur to go and to save Mordred… She does it for the right reasons, but if you really think about it, there are seeds about how she’s going to become evil in a later time. It’s for the best of intentions, but not always the best way of doing it.
You have a great chemistry with Merlin [Colin Morgan] too. Can you talk a bit about that relationship?
My favorite scenes are always the scenes I do with Colin. We were talking about this the other day. Because the Morgana and Merlin scenes, there’s always so much to play in them because there’s so much subtext between the two of them. And the more important things that go on between them are what they don’t say rather than what they say. Because obviously at the time, Merlin begins to know that Morgana is magical, before Morgana knows the pressure herself. And I think Merlin is desperate to find somebody else he can talk to about this. But he can’t say it to her. So all of our scenes have got this unspoken thing between us. Morgana wants to be able to talk to him about her fears. Merlin wants to allay them.
There’s that wonderful scene in episode 8 where they’re speaking over the bed of Mordred. And that’s actually one of my favorite scenes that I ever did in the whole of first season. Where Merlin is asking her why she wants to save Mordred. It’s got wonderful subtext in it. And we had a wonderful time playing it.
You mentioned that you’ve begun filming season 2.
We finished 9 episodes so far.
How many are planned?
How is the atmosphere on the set?
I know is sounds really weird and cliché, but it is like a very scary, weird family. Quite dysfunctional. We filmed for eight months, constantly. And the main cast, there’s only 6 of us. And we’ve a small crew for such a big show. And we were very lucky for season 2, as 90% of the crew came back. So it’s very familiar and it’s very tight. And we film on location, so we really only have each other. And especially for the 4 of us (Brad, Colin, Angel, and myself), a lot of what we’re doing now is the first time for all of us. It’s our first big job. And it’s our first time doing so much press. And to have somebody else that you can go to, who absolutely knows what it’s like… And at the same time to have Tony [Head] and Richard [Wilson], who have been through it all before and can tell you the right way and the wrong way to do it. It’s the best of both worlds. So we’ve been really lucky in that point of view.
Are you working on anything else at the moment, besides Merlin?
We just finished, at the same time, something for channel 4 about the Queen. It’s a 5-part drama on seminal points in the Queen’s reign. And I play Princess Margaret in the first episode, and the Princess Margaret – Peter Townsend affair that shocked the nation and unsettled the first few years of the Queen’s reign. So, it’s another princess, but she’s completely different. It was nice to play something different that was so far from what it is that I do on Merlin, so that I can really appreciate when I come back.
Can you tell us about the upcoming episodes?
I think the next episode is “The Moment of Truth” which is episode 10. It’s the one where the girls pick up the swords. You get to see Gwen and Morgana fight with swordplay. You’ve seen Bradley, and he makes it look really easy. So we said that we want a go. So I don’t know if it was already planned, or they just wanted to shut us up… but by episode 10 we got to do some. Angel was quite good. At one point she breaks a rake over a stunt man’s back. It was quite good; I think they kept that in. I was terrible. But by the magic power of editing… this is why I love film. They say the camera never lies, but in that episode it definitely did.
Can you talk about season 2 at all?
What I can say is that the writers are very clever, every seed that they sow in season 1 starts to come to fruition in season 2. If you have any lingering questions about any of the characters, they’ve all moved on… And I think that’s why the show is so good is that it introduces all the bits and pieces that you’re familiar with but in a new and interesting way. And that continues in season 2. So, do you see Morgana become darker? Yeah, of course you do. You start to see the moving on of her powers… Everything that you think is going to happen, but not in the way that you think.
Merlin airs on Sunday nights on NBC.