In brand new thriller Dead Shot – which arrived on Sky Cinema and NOW last week – former Merlin star Colin Morgan stars as Irish paramilitary Michael, who is on the verge of retirement when his pregnant wife is brutally murdered by a British army soldier.


Based on an original screenplay by Top Boy creator Ronan Bennett and directed by brothers Tom and Charles Guard, it's a harrowing film that takes place during the height of the Troubles in 1975, following Michael as he embarks on a revenge mission that sends him to the heart of IRA operations in London.

When Morgan first got his hands on the "page-turning" script, he was struck by a number of things, not least the contradictions inherent in his character, and he was especially won over by a certain ambiguity regarding who the audience should be rooting for.

"As a Northern Irish guy, you think I'd be biased to one side, but it's absolutely seeing both sides of this tale and this drama," he tells in an exclusive interview. "And so it says quite a lot that I was kind of on both camps, I think that's quite an achievement.

"Contradictions are the main thing I look for," he adds. "You see somebody in a cause that some men were drawn into in the late '60s and early '70s in Northern Ireland, particularly in the border counties. And I'm wondering, if I was born around that time would I have been any different? Might the times have dictated what I needed to do to survive as a man?

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"Those are the things that are compelling to me... he wants to be a dad, he wants to survive his future. At the very beginning of the film it feels like he's just about to begin the rest of his life, he's left the cause behind, and it just gets taken away from him in a second."

In preparing for the film, it helped a great deal that Morgan himself grew up in Armagh, the same town that Michael is from. Despite growing up in a different era, the star was very much able to draw on his own personal experiences when it came to getting a handle on the character.

"One thing I said to the Guard brothers before I started was I'm gonna bring everything I bring to the character from my point of view, but also the stuff of just being someone who grew up in Armagh," he says.

"You get that for free, because that's the complication of living in a place like that, even though I grew up in the tail end of things – it is just part of your culture and in your blood. You see all those things growing up, and they're just in my own kind of memory bank. So while I didn't go through the times, I was certainly surrounded by adults who did."

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Dead Shot isn't Morgan's first project in recent years to be set against the backdrop of the Troubles. In 2021, he had a key role in Sir Kenneth Branagh's Oscar-winning coming-of-age film Belfast, and the actor has clearly found it an immensely rewarding experience to see audiences drawn in by these stories.

"Particularly with Belfast, there's something kind of amazing about seeing something that's such a part of you reach the world and resonate with people in a universal way," he says. "When you see your story, or you hear your accent, there's just something about you that connects with that.

"And then when you hear other people the world over do that as well, you can't help but feel a sense of pride that your identity is being recognised."

In addition to the knowledge of the conflict he had accumulated while growing up in Northern Ireland, Morgan did plenty of research into the Troubles to prepare for his role in Belfast. He says this came in handy once again for the new film, but stresses that Dead Shot itself is not necessarily "concerned about trying to educate people about the times in Northern Ireland".

"Not every film that deals with the Northern Irish issue has to go into all those details," he says. "That's what I thought was refreshing about this. But it's important as an actor just to be familiar with those things, whatever period that – it's always worth doing, and I always do it."

Dead Shot
Colin Morgan in Dead Shot. SEAC

One of the most intriguing aspects of the film is the complexity regarding Michael's adversary Tempest, played by Aml Ameen. Although by no means portrayed in a straight-forwardly sympathetic light, the character is not presented as an out-and-out villain either – but rather a vulnerable person who has been thrown into a horrible circumstance by odious bosses. Meanwhile, the fact that Tempest is a Black man living in a time when racism was commonplace undoubtedly adds to this complexity.

"One of the things I said to the directors right from the start was that there was a lot more that bound these two guys than divided them," Morgan says of the relationship between Michael and Tempest. "They're both in London, which was a place at the time that had [signs saying], 'No dogs, no Blacks, no Irish'.

"So these are actually both very outsider characters who were treated differently – when an Irish man went to London in those times there was complete shunning of them as well. So they're guys who know what it is to be shunned, rejected, and treated as the other. And the fact that they find themselves caught in this tragedy against each other, it's a shame in a way.

"The sad thing about that particular time in Northern Ireland was that so much division between religions and nationality prevented so much integration," he adds. "And it's still unfortunately very present in Northern Ireland to this day – it's getting less so, but it's hard to think it'll ever go away.

"It's terrible to think that people connecting on a human level is prevented by something like a label or identity or nationality, whatever it is. Your best friend could have been the one that was serving in the army except you were just on the other end of the lines."

Although the film is set primarily in London, the shoot itself actually took place in Glasgow – with a number of London buses and other identifying features brought in to help transform the Scottish city into something resembling the UK capital. This was an interesting experience for Morgan, especially considering he has his own history with the city.

"I actually went to drama school in Glasgow, I went to the Royal Scottish [Conservatoire]," he says. "And the odd thing was that I hadn't really been there since I graduated and I found myself staying in an apartment that was right opposite the apartment I stayed in in my second year at drama school.

"It was this weird kind of full circle moment of suddenly there I was, like 15/20 years later. I could practically still see through the window of that apartment and see the 20-year-old me wondering, 'Oh, I wonder if this whole acting thing will ever work?'"

Of course, it wasn't long after graduating before Morgan's acting career very much did work. Following a number of early roles on stage and screen, including the Doctor Who episode Midnight, his big breakthrough came in 2008 when he was cast as the title character of BBC One's fantasy series Merlin – a show that went on to run for five highly successful seasons.

The series has retained a cult following since it ended in 2012, and some fans have long clamoured for some sort of reunion or reboot. But although Morgan thinks back fondly on his time on the show, returning to the role doesn't appear to be something he's considering any time soon.

"I think most actors are more about progression and moving forward and don't often look back," he explains. "Even on stage, sometimes plays I've done have wanted to remount and come back again, and I often found I don't take up those opportunities because I've wrung the towel dry and I've rinsed what I could out of it.

"That's certainly what I've tried to do with every project, it's like I invest every 110% into it so hopefully by the end of it, I feel like I've done all I could. And certainly on projects like Merlin, I felt like yeah, we definitely did that together as a team and it's certainly [something I] look back on and feel very proud of the work that I and everyone did."

Colin Morgan and Bradley James in Merlin (BBC, HF)
Colin Morgan and Bradley James in Merlin.

On the subject of moving forward, Morgan has a number of other imminent projects in the pipeline. He has a key role alongside Jessica Lange, Ed Harris and Ben Foster in a new film adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's classic play Long Day’s Journey Into Night; he will star opposite Emma Appleton in the upcoming Paramount Plus legal thriller The Killing Kind; and he is currently filming a project which he can't yet disclose. The keys to the roles he's been looking for in recent times, he says, are variety and collaboration.

"I look for things I haven't done before, I look for challenges, I look for versatility, I look for passionate people," he explains. "I think more so than anything, what seems to be top of my list now is collaborators – people who have this kind of notion of bringing you into the fold and wanting to work with you not just to deliver the acting goods, but to know what you feel about the scripts and the story and have your input.

"And that's my background. My first jobs were all new writing in theatre and working with writers and developing and progressing and shaping things together. And that's what I thrive on more than anything in the world.

"That seems to be what people are wanting these days, I think the landscape has changed. People are really wanting multidisciplinary actors, and that's worth knowing for anybody wanting to come into the business: don't just be thinking about the acting, think about 360 degrees of everything."

Dead Shot is now available to watch on Sky Cinema and streaming service NOWsign up for Sky TV here.

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