Merlin – Colin Morgan: “Old English chat up lines don’t go down well with modern ladies”

Ahead of the series five premiere, the star of BBC's drama talks marriage proposals, being bad at sword fighting and getting recognised in the street

What’s in store for Merlin this series – we’ve heard it’s a little bit more grown-up?


For sure. Until now it’s always been Merlin as a boy and when’s he going to become this great warlock that he’s destined to be and that we know from legend. For the first time we’re seeing that legend – or flashes of it.

Merlin’s so different to who he was when he first came to Camelot: he’s no longer naïve; he’s no longer dependent so much on others; he’s very much thinking for himself. He’s a lot more ruthless – this season he doesn’t hold back.

How old is he now?

Interesting question. Essentially we’re ageless; we’re cartoon characters like The Simpsons, so we don’t change. Hence why I’ve been wearing the same costume since I first arrived in Camelot – that scrubby brown jacket and scarf – and why Merlin has never had to learn to shave.

What’s the average age of your fan?

I think it’s important to grow with your audiences. Merlin definitely started out as a kids’ show – and it’s turned into something that I think is very sophisticated. We meet people in their 20s right up until their 80s. It always surprises me!

What skills have you acquired in the last four years?

Horse-riding is one skill that I’ll be putting on my CV. I learnt for the show and I’m pretty good – but I’m by no means Olympic standard! I think learning to relax and respect the horse is the main thing; they seem to have a sixth sense for people who are nervous…

I’ve got a vivid imagination, too, because Kilgharrah – our dragon – sometimes gets tired, so I have our scenes without him, unfortunately. And Old English. Sadly, Old English chat-up lines don’t go down so well with modern ladies; they tend to run the other way.  

Anything else?

I’ve learnt a lot from Richard (Wilson), from Anthony (Head) and from all the guest stars. As a young actor you’d be a fool not to see that they’re masters of their craft and to try and absorb it.

Do you do your own stunts?

Mainly. The fight scenes are all us. As much as I want to be good with a sword, I’ve been specifically told not to be good because magic is Merlin’s talent. So I’m deliberately bad at sword-fighting. Honest. 

What are you all like behind-the-scenes?

We have a lot of fun and it can be very relaxed but generally speaking there’s quite a focused feeling on set.

Sometimes the crew can see that you’ve got some tough stuff coming up and you can see that they’ve not got the ideal weather conditions to be shooting it in, and everybody just seems to band together and make it work. We’re like a band of brothers…and sisters!

You’ve worn the same costume for four years and you’re still wearing it series five. Are you sick of it?

As an actor, I’m wondering: why would I wear my scarf when I’m eating my supper? It doesn’t make sense. But when I once appeared without it the producer almost had a heart attack.

But there is an element of familiarity and I think I’d probably be disappointed if I was watching a show and suddenly the main character started to look different.

Do you get a lot of fan mail?

You can’t say without sounding arrogant! But yes, there’s a lot of support from fans: it can be a little five year-old from Canada who says he wants Merlin wave at him next week when it’s on TV because he thinks it’s real; or you could have a 50-year-old woman from Germany who believes you’re meant to be together. No proposals of marriage yet but it does get filtered so I never see the really weird stuff…

Do you get recognised in the street?

It happens more and more each year. There are days when you don’t want it to happen and others when you don’t mind – but people only have nice things to say. 

What are your ambitions?

For me it’s about the quality of the story and the strength of the character. Sometimes you read things that genuinely move you and those are the kind of projects I want to do. 

Perhaps one where you’re a bit more dapper?

Like a young James Bond? That would be good! 


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