Colin Morgan fans have seen the actor grow up from a young wizard in Merlin to police detective in The Fall – but now he’s returning back to his magical roots for the Radio 4 adaptation of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s 1990 novel Good Omens (beginning tomorrow).
Morgan plays former clerk Newt Pulsifer, who joins up with a still-operating “witchfinder sergeant” to give his life some purpose – only to get sucked into a plan to save the world from the Antichrist, spearheaded by a disillusioned demon and angel (Peter Serafinowicz and Mark Heap) and aided by a young witch (Charlotte Ritchie) with explicit flashcards.
That’s only a brief summary of a narrative which also includes tunneling Tibetans, UFOs and demonic midwives, and if it sounds quite complicated that’s because it is – but for lifelong Terry Prachett fan Morgan the dense plot was not something to fear.
“I’ve read a lot of Terry Pratchett’s stuff, probably from when I was like 14,” he says. “I immediately knew who was involved, immediately knew the story, the characters. I knew Newt. And it was adapted absolutely brilliantly. It’s very loyal to the book, very loyal to the characters.”
In fact, appearing in the series was a “no-brainer”, according to Morgan. “I’ve always thought this about Terry’s books and Neil’s book, is that they’re an absolute pleasure to read personally, but they’re an absolute honour and a privilege to get the chance to perform them professionally.”
He also had another link to the material – Morgan’s character Newt, isn’t a million miles away from the gawky wizard Merlin who made the young actor’s name. Well, in some ways.
“Newt, very much, you could put him in the geek category,” he says. “I think when you meet him in the drama, he’s at a point in his life where he needs a change.
“He’s the most unlikely witch-finder you’re likely to come across. And yet he’s pulled into this story of Armageddon and the Antichrist.”
Morgan’s fairly new to radio (he’s only previously appeared in Cry Babies), but there are plenty of old hands in the cast including director Dirk Maggs who previously brought Good Omens co-writer Neil Gaiman’s novel Neverwhere to Radio 4 last year, with a cast including Benedict Cumberbatch, James McAvoy and Natalie Dormer.
Clearly radio drama can now attract blockbuster talent – and Morgan thinks the genre has a certain appeal for actors that on-screen roles cannot deliver.
“I think TV is a fantastic medium right now because of what you can do visually, it’s phenomenal and it’s just getting better and better, but in a way there’s no beating the personal image you can create in your head, with those personal aspects, which you can only get from reading or radio dramas.”
He added: “It’s great. It’s an opportunity to reinvent yourself in a way that you sometimes can’t really do on screen – in fact, that you definitely can’t do on screen. You can’t take on the qualities of a character that you’d never be cast in, and no one would ever cast you in.”
He’d definitely be back on board for another adaptation, he says, and has a favourite in mind for a future Terry Pratchett project – 1987 novel Mort.
“Yeah, that’s one of my favourites. And I believe it has been written as a stage adaptation, as a play. The work’s half done – come on Dirk! Before I get too old to play Mort.”
For now, there’s always Good Omens, which Morgan maintains is perfect for Christmas listening despite its subject matter.
“You think ‘It’s about the antichrist at Christmas – nothing more festive than that!’
“But it’s the heart and the soul. It’s the escapism, the fantasy element of it. It’s the charm and magic that surrounds Christmas, I think. There’s something about these kind of stories around that particular time when literally the whole family can sit round and listen to this.
“And it’s pure escapism. It’s pure enjoyment. I think everybody can get something from this.”
Good Omens begins on Radio 4 tomorrow (22nd December) at 11.00pm