Merlin – Katie McGrath: “Bad girls get all the best lines!”

The actress who plays scheming sorceress Morgana in the BBC1 drama talks big breaks, walking in heels and what's in store for series five

What’s in store for Morgana?


In the last series Morgana stopped being a good little princess and started to become the evil sorceress of legend. It is really nice to play someone who is that in control and that powerful, and to be a woman playing that is fantastic – and so fun! Bad girls get all the best lines.

What skills have you acquired in five series of Merlin?

This series I’ve finally learned to gallop on a horse. I could sit on a horse and just about be ok but as soon as the horse started trotting – there is something very inelegant about a horse trotting and I swear to god when you’re wearing a corset it doesn’t get any better!  So we’ve bypassed trotting. I’ve decided that Morgana doesn’t trot; she gallops.

Anything else?

I can say old English in a hispanic/Italian accent. I made a decision back in series four that when Morgana casts spells, she should sound really sexy so I started adopting an accent. I can also walk in heels which I couldn’t do before Merlin. When she was good Morgana, she had very high heels; now she gets to wear flats, which is another good thing about being bad – she’s a far more practical girl!


Has becoming a villain involved any other costume changes?

Far fewer, happily. I used to get really jealous of Gwen – Angel – because she’d be in the same costume all day whereas I was constantly being pulled into wardrobe to get changed and have my makeup redone. It really wasn’t glamorous. 

Now it’s the reverse. I get to relax and have a nap while Angel has to spend an extra four or five hours a day changing and sitting in the makeup chair. Plus, Morgana’s corset now only goes as far as her waist so I can walk, whereas before it was very long. Eight months in a corset is not comfortable. I swear I can feel my organs moving round after I’m released from it. I shouldn’t really complain because Bradley’s in chainmail but I still do!

Can you reveal any of the guest stars in series five?

Liam Cunningham, who plays a magical rebel freedom fighter that Morgana allies with for a couple of episodes. It’s really nice to have another Irish actor in the show. The cast list for Merlin just gets better and better every episode, every season – people I’ve admired and been in awe of my entire life, and then all of a sudden they’re standing in front of me, chatting and having a cup of tea. It’s when all of a sudden that becomes normal that you realise: wow, life has got pretty fantastic.

Are you ever starstruck?

I’m glad I never met Warwick Davies because I would have dissolved into a puddle on the floor. I’m a bit of a sci-fi geek.

What’s it like behind-the-scenes?

What’s really nice about this is that for all four of us this is our first big job. We’ve come from nothing to being broadcast in 180 counties and we’ve gone every step of the way together. So we share a bond that anyone who has been through that wouldn’t understand.

Was there been any romance on set – with one of those swashbuckling knights perhaps?

People always say “but they’re all so handsome how can you not…?” Because I’ve seen them bleary-eyed at six o’clock in the morning and sweating in their chainmail and cranky after a long day. It’s like having six extra brothers. We all look out for each other: when things are tough you get through it together and when things are great you celebrate together. I know it sounds cheesy and clichéd but it’s true. When we’re not filming, we’re always texting.

Any weird and wonderful fan mail?

It all goes to the BBC and my agent who take out anything they don’t think I’ll want to read, so I only get lovely letters going: I think you’re amazing, can you sign this? I’ve had dolls, hats, jewellery, a couple of marriage proposals and a lot of food – apparently Morgana looks hungry!


Do you have anything else in the pipeline?

In spring I’ll be in a Channel 4 drama with John Hurt, Jessica Brown-Findlay, Tom Felton and Vanessa Kirby, which we filmed last November. It’s an adaptation of a Kate Mosse thriller called Labyrinth. I know Morgana inside out so it was scary to be thrown into a different role, a different cast. I felt like a fish out of water.

Is it true you didn’t go to drama school?

I’m from a small town in County Wicklow in Ireland and I didn’t know any actors growing up. Other people in faraway places became actors whereas normal people like me became nurses or lawyers. But when I finished college, I got a job on a film set and all of a sudden was surrounded by people who thought acting was a normal job; so it suddenly became attainable. At the same time, if I’m very honest, I was looking at all the actors having a laugh and being brought cups of tea and thinking “that’s a great job, I can do that!”

How did you get your big break?

I was working in the costume department of The Tudors and they needed models for the billboards – I’m one of the headless women! The following year the producer offered me a tiny, tiny part and on the back of that I found an agent. That was October and by January I was filming Merlin.

If Merlin were to continue for another five series, would you?

Because I’ve played Morgana since the start, I want to see her through until her story finishes. I’m quite attached to her now. Wherever she goes, I’ll go. 

A Merlin movie is rumoured…
It would be fantastic but I don’t know when we’d fit it in with the eight months filming that we do. Do you know, in four years, this is the first time we’ve done a photoshoot together? It’s virtually impossible to get all of us together in the same place because one of us is always filming.


Series five of Merlin starts on Saturday at 7:45pm on BBC1.